Tuesday, April 12, 2011

NCLB was written backwards

Teachers know to plan with the end in mind. I wish that our legislators had done the same.

The NCLB laws mostly focus on students as a way to measure teachers. There are many, well documented problems with this approach, and many problems centering around using standardized (culturally biased) tests to measure student progress. The biggest of these, in my opinion, is that even if the test were the best test ever conceived, it still measures a class at a snapshot in time, not their progress as they learn and grow.

NCLB should have been written for teachers. After all, no real change is ever going to reach classrooms unless it starts with teachers. Adding more unfunded mandates for teachers and schools in the hopes of improving student learning is something only congress could come up with. Those in the lawmaking bodies seem to think that unless we force teachers to do things, and then force them to prove that they are doing what they were forced to do, and then having them document that they did the proof of what we forced them to do, nothing will get done.

The reality is that the best teachers desperately want to do what's best for their students, but mandates, paperwork to and requirements often bog them down to the point where they don't have time to plan quality lessons or grow professionally. There are new things added all the time, and rarely is anything removed from teachers' 'to-do' lists. Even if government and administrators took every opportunity to remove anything that wasn't completely necessary from teachers' plates, teachers are still responsible for more today than even five years ago. Character education and anti-bullying initiatives speak to that truth.

So what to do? Standardize teachers instead. No, we don't want carbon copies of teachers in every room, but we want a consistent level of quality nationwide. Build the system to evaluate teaching and learning, not snapshots of students. Build in supports for teachers who need help to grow, and make it easy for administrators to help those who should be in another profession find the doors.

Time should be built in, funded by the federal government, to allow for professional development. Teachers should have a baseline requirement for planning time as well as collaboration time with peers. Extra time can be added by districts, but everyone should expect the time they need to do their job well. Teachers, not students, should be required to show progress on learning goals and growth over time.

With the best teachers in every classroom, the learning will take care of itself.

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