Accountability Education Reform NCLB (No Child Left Behind) Race to the Top Teachers and Teaching

Bob Shepherd: How “Reform” Ruined Teaching

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Bob Shepherd returned to teaching after many years in the education publishing industry, where he developed curriculum and assessments. He writes about what changed while he was away. Thanks to State and federal mandates, he found himself ensnared by stand

I taught at the beginning of my career, had a successful career in educational publishing, and then returned to teaching at the end of my career. What a difference these years made!!!!

At the beginning of my career, I had English Department Chairpeople who were highly experienced teachers. The general attitude of administrators was that English teachers were the experts on English, History teachers the experts on History and the teaching of History, etc., and they pretty much stayed out of stuff that wasn’t their business. We in the English Department would hold regular meetings and discuss what was and wasn’t working in our classes, choose curricula, share tips and lesson plans and materials (many of which we had developed), and set policies and procedures. Once a year, the English Department chairperson would do evaluations of the teachers in his or her department. We made our own tests. There was enormous opportunity for innovation because we could actually discuss with one another various pedagogical approaches and curricular materials and make our own decisions. Our discussions/debates about pedagogy and curricula were vigorous and spirited. Many of the teachers were older women who had been doing the job for years. They were, almost to a person, scholarly and highly knowledgeable. The kids learned a lot.

I loved teaching. The only reason I left was that the pay wasn’t great. I started a family, and the year I left, I almost tripled my salary.

Flash forward 25 years. When I returned to teaching, everything was micromanaged. We still had department meetings, but these had devolved into sessions in which the Department chairperson read to us the latest mandates from our administration or from the state. Curriculum materials were chosen for us and were HORRIBLE, test-preppy crap. We were expected to follow a day-by-day script from the state. Formal evaluations were done four times a year by APs or the Principal, using mandated checklists, and in addition, there were four other informal evaluations and a system of demerits for not completing an enormous list of requirements (if, for example, an AP came into one’s classroom and the standard, bellwork, essential question, daily vocabulary, and homework for the hour’s lesson weren’t posted on the board; if one’s Data Wall or lesson plan book (each class had to have a two-page lesson plan in a folder) were not completed and up to date; and so on (there were hundreds of such requirements–far too many for anyone to keep track of them). In short, the Department Chairperson and the teachers had lost all autonomy. We were expected to do enormous amounts of test prep because what mattered–to the evaluations of the students, of us, of the administrators, and the school–were the scores on the invalid, sloppy, ridiculous state tests. My pay depended upon the school’s state rating based upon those demonstrably invalid tests.

And the teachers had changed. They were mostly young. They were not scholarly and not knowledgeable. “What’s a gerund?” the 26-year-old English Department Chairperson asked me, looking at the month’s required grammar topics. “Oh, what’s that book?” a fellow English teacher asked me about a volume I was carrying. Never heard of this guy. YEETS?”

“Yeats,” I said. “His collected poems.”

“Oh, I don’t read poetry,” she said.

The Reading Coordinator informed us that our 9th graders had to read ALL of the Odyssey, in her words, “the ENTIRE NOVEL.” She freaking thought that The Odyssey was a novel!!! When we met to discuss a classical literature unit, she had no idea that the term referred to the literature of ancient Greece and Rome.

And there was enormous churn. Between a quarter and a third of the teaching staff every year.

To teach at all sanely, I had to pretend to be following the rules while secretly making my own curricular materials in the form of handouts.

I spent most of my time carrying out required tasks that were of ZERO value to my students, most of the related, in one way or another, to supposed “accountability.”

The profession had been utterly ruined in the name of “reform.”

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