Today we cover a couple hot button education issues…
Wallyhood’s School Reform Question: There’s been obvious tension between the top-down, test-centered school reform movement and school teachers. School reformers argue that it is necessary to measure the effectiveness of teaching in order to achieve better outcomes. Teachers argue that tests are a poor measure of a teacher and that administration should be focused on supporting school communities instead of passing judgment on them.
How do you plan to navigate this rift, and what path do you see for improving schools without alienating teachers?
Rick: As the husband of a teacher, I understand the need for classroom autonomy. As an engineer and small business owner, I recognize the value of systemic evaluation methods and performance reviews. As a School Board Director, I believe that I can contribute a balanced perspective to this adult issue, while keeping the focus on positive impact to students.
Teaching, like every other profession, includes a broad range of expertise and commitment. There is no disagreement that great teachers make a huge impact in student learning. The rift opens up when defining the attributes which comprise a great teacher and assessing the teacher against those attributes. For me, the approach should not be more testing; rather it should be to adopt a transparent 360 degree evaluation process for teachers and principals which incorporates supervisor, peer, and family feedback. This evaluation should be closely coupled to professional development and peer mentoring opportunities for emerging teachers, and respectful retraining paths for individuals who aren’t cut out to be educators or administrators.
Laura: SPS needs to find a better balance with testing teachers, and testing students isn’t always an effective way to measure the teacher’s skills. Students all learn differently and testing is not a one fit all for students which skewers the results. I believe this also affects the students’ self esteem. SPS needs to find other ways to evaluate teachers and students and support the students at the schools.
Wallyhood’s Achievement Gap Question: A vast amount of resources at SPS and in the Families and Education Levy are concentrated on trying to close the achievement gap by focusing supports on schools with high levels of free and reduced lunch students. Some of these efforts seem well intentioned but ineffectual, while others seem so focused on drilling minority students in order to raise test scores that schools are drained of their sense of community and joy.
What do you think of current efforts to close the achievement gap, and what changes would you like to see made to it?
Rick: The achievement/opportunity gap is a difficult problem. If it were easy, it would be solved by now. We have to catch struggling students early and provide supports, including academic, social, and behavioral, before the gap becomes insurmountable.
One overarching focus needs to be maximizing the teaching and learning within the classroom. When the responsibility for learning sight words or practicing math facts is delegated to families, this opportunity gap gets amplified, since some students don’t have the home support to take on this critical component.
We need to identify and emulate successful schools. This is a place that standardized assessments can add systemic value, highlighting schools which make a difference. Mercer Middle School is an example of a success story. With over 75% free and reduced lunch and high ethnic diversity, the 8th grade students from Mercer outperform the district average in math, reading, and science. Over the past 9 years, they have raised the achievement of black students from ~10% meeting standards to 60% meeting standards in math and 68% meeting standards in science.
Laura: I need to learn more about what SPS is doing with closing the achievement gap. I can relate to this as a person with a disability. We need to shift our focus on teaching, building self esteem, and a safe and comfortable environment for students to learn and thrive instead of being singled out because of race, socioeconomics or disability. Our students need to feel valued and that they belong in school.
If you have follow up questions on the topics of school reform and the achievement gap, please chime in in the comments, I’ll look to get the candidates to follow up.