Thursday, January 14, 2010

Race to the Top?

Educators are rushing to cash in on the latest government initiative to reform education: Race to the Top.

Race to the Top? The first thing that comes to mind is a scene from It's a Mad, Mad, Mad World (the original Spencer Tracy version, thank you very much). No particular part of the film jumps to mind, just any of the various near collisions, disasters, and pitfalls as the competitors "race" for the hidden prize.

The "mission" of the initiative is noble enough:

But the part that screams out to me is found in number 3-- Recruiting, developing, rewarding, and retaining effective teachers and principals....


Could it mean Merit Pay?

I think it might, which raises a number of issues in my mind. Who establishes the criteria? Who judges it? Will teacher rewards be based off student performance on state tests? Etc, etc., etc.

The answers could be scary. But it appears the movement is afoot.

This past fall, New Haven teachers ratified a contract with elements of merit pay hidden inside, including other hints of linking bonus pay to student achievement. While some have stated that the system of rewarding teachers will not pit teacher against teacher, but rather reward all teachers based on student performance, it still leaves me with an unsettled feeling.

The awarding of merit pay resting on the backs of student test scores sends a strange message to both teachers and students. Many in the educational trenches contend that there already exists too much pressure with these high-stakes tests, couple that with tying it to teachers' paychecks and it may have crossed the line.

The notion that we have created a nation of test takers is not new. We measure, quantify, and study data during professional days. And for what? Most data collected in a contrived classroom setting is not valid and quite often the PowerPoint presentations thrust before staff compares the proverbial apples and oranges. "Look at this year's sophomore scores against last year's." Different test. Different batch of students.

It's time someone with courage changed a school mission statement to match what is really going on... data, funding, high-stakes testing.

No more archaic messages of "instilling a love for learning, appreciating a work of literature, or creating anything on your own."

The message is clear from on high.

There obviously isn't time.

There are no resources.

And most importantly, it's simply not on the test.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

2010 begins

So, another year rolls in and we're once again bombarded with the notion of creating the good 'ol New Year's Resolution.

Not happening here.
I refuse.
Totally nada.

Wait, that's not considered making a resolution, right? Just because I'm being resolute in not making a resolution does not necessarily make it a resolution.


Just for the record, that's my stand on the topic.

I came across a list of the top ten resolutions Americans make (according to the South Carolina's cold here, so I'm checking news in a warmer region of the country):

1. Spend more time with family
2. Get in shape
3. Lose weight
4. Get out of debt
5. Enjoy life more
6. Stop or control drinking
7. Quit smoking
8. Get organized
9. Learn a hobby
10. Volunteer

That's a nice list. A respectable list. Can't really argue with anything on it, I mean they are all noble pursuits, the kind that look good on resumes.

But it's the first one that kind of confounds the other's on the list.

Think about it a moment. I mean, spending more time with the family usually means eating more, less exercise, more debt, the need to drink more, etc., you get the picture. It essentially gets in the way of the other resolutions.

I suppose one solution is to get a Wii. We decided to spend more time as a family so what better way than play video games together. The Wii-playing family looks so happy and "together" on the TV commercial.

So, for Christmas we got a Wii.

We actually got a Wii with Wii Fit Plus.

Initially I was excited about the idea. But then I stood on the electronic platform and attempted to prove my agility during the balance portion of the program.

I'm 43 years old, but after I nearly fell off the two inch high platform exercising like a Russian contortionist, the Wii Fit Plus proclaimed that I am the equivalent of a 56-year-old male.

Thanks for the pep talk Nintendo. Way to kick a guy when he's falling down.

You know what, I've changed my mind on that resolution thing.

I am going to make a resolution.

Tomorrow, I'm returning the Wii.

Happy New Year.