To the Editor:
What is wrong with the pictures you prominently displayed in your article “Pushed to Improve—Race to Top, or Not” (March 30, 2011)?
An elementary student clutches a computer mouse and stares at the screen, trying to evaluate his progress. The caption says: “Race to the Top money will help pay for and expand the data system.” Another photo shows a dozen high school students looking from papers to computer screens. That caption says students are being helped by an “intervention specialist” with a data system the school district “will use Race to the Top money to expand.”
As a retired teacher and a grandparent of schoolchildren, I cringe at these images and your article about precious school resources—time, money, and personnel—being so misdirected. Not one of the students pictured was smiling.
Policymakers place great faith in data systems, believing they will enable teachers to track and respond to students’ individual progress and allow educrats to link teachers’ salaries to students’ test results. Data systems may contain personal information tracking children’s academic and behavioral performance from cradle through college. The concept of allowing kids a clean slate as they mature and become more motivated students will disappear, along with their privacy.
At a Los Angeles magnet school for grades 7-12, I taught 200 students daily, divided among five math classes. These ranged from general math for remedial students in grades 10-12 to Honors Algebra 1 for advanced students in grades 7 and 8 and Algebra 1 for average students in grades 9 and 10.
If students’ academic performance determined my salary, by which students would I be judged? If I wanted to do data mining and create individualized lessons for my 200 students, how would I find enough time? Recognizing diversity—of socioeconomic conditions, attitude, and previous preparation—among my students, how could I ensure success for them all and fair evaluation and compensation for myself?
If we direct precious school resources at building data systems while starving schools of funding for effective learning programs; if we blame and punish teachers for all the variables that affect student learning; if our classrooms have unsmiling children staring at computer screens to check their progress, then who will want to teach our children?
Betty R. Kazmin
A version of this article appeared in the April 27, 2011 edition of Education Week as Directing Funds to Data; Starving Schools in the Process