Saturday, April 28, 2001

Smoky Mirrors

Posted 4/28/01 by Jim Morrow
University of Maryland Listserv

Does anyone else hope the smoke will clear and the mirrors will crack so people can see and recognize that teaching and learning is a cooperative enterprise; that giving students what they want is not necessarily what they need; that just berating teachers and their methods without addressing students and parents and their responsibilities in the cooperative process amounts to abuse?

Some thoughts of education today about why so many teachers are leaving the public schools....

I have noticed lately, in my 30 years of doing this wonderful thing I called teaching, what I call the “Lake Wobegon Effect.” That- all the children are now above average. When I was a child my father used to take me when we bought steamed crabs to Gordons of Orleans Street... Up on the wall were three crabs... the sign said “small—“medium”—“large”.., The other day I saw those same three crabs, -- listed now as.. “#1Large”, “Jumbo” and Texas Jumbo”

At my schoolð Our crabs now read..(oops I mean our courses of study) are scheduled to become..—instead of B course and A course .. we are now “TA DA”--- “College Preparatory and Advanced Studies (AP or IB”). We ve gone through calling it “Special” College Prepèthen that “EVERY” student at City was an HONORS student, rename after rename to make OUR students appear to be the best in Baltimore City.. Now we are no longer offering honors coursesðOur “Honors” courses are being disbanded since the EOC (BCPSS “End Of Course” exams) and HSA’s (High School Assessments) do not distinguish between honors and regularð So why should we? We will be offering Pre-AP and Pre-IB coursesðto 9th and 10th grades.. Could it just
be to force students to take AP or IB. and enlarge our new “ADVANCED STUDIES PROGRAM”?

Statistics and data are now manipulated to make the results say anything we want. For example... over the past 5 ç(FIVE) years we have had (whoa) 35 total students take the AP calculus exam (AB). In 96- 0/15 passed (3 or higher) or 0%..., 97 -1 out of 7 passed or 14 %, 98-1 out of 12 passed or 8%,---- BUT in 1999- 1/1 passed.. That’s 100%. A chart of this was created stating our 5 year trend was 100%. .... the people at the State and City must be impressed!. Our percentage passing went from 0% passing to 100% passing in just 5 years. We are a National Blue Ribbon School of Excellence and a MD State School of Excellence.. Nancy came by personally to help raise the flag and join in the celebration.

But a recent Brookings Foundation Report suggests “that the 18çyr old program is too often an award for impressive paper work and fashionable teaching methods and too infrequently a measure of academic achievement” (çJay Matthews, Washington Post, Sept 6, 2000)

Of course OUR average SAT scores are in the 800’s.. We’re Blue Ribbon (with the flag to prove it.), but this allows the powers that be to claim the fame, and the Abell Foundation to give and additional $30,000 grant to PROMOTE our new excellent curriculum. (the AP-IB Advanced studies program), on top of who knows how many $100,000”s (seriously) to fund the “International Baccalaureate Program, for 50-60 kids out of close to 1300.

Isn’t education wonderful?

Our principal has never taught in a public high school. He has his doctorate, and is a lawyer. Most definitely, he, Ms. Grazmick and other powers that be need to go back (or for the first time) to the classroom and teach. NOT to the Montgomery Blairs, and the Centennials, but the everyday High Schools, Teach a full load for one full year, with Portfolios and MSPAP and all the other Bureaucratic @#$%. Only then will their suggestions have meaning or relevance. (Did you ever want to be the Principal at a school that was marked for “STATE TAKEOVER”? To ask our State superintendent to bring herself and her “staff” and demonstrate how it’s to be done..? Let them take over the school for a year, WITHOUT additional funding, outside intervention, privatization, additional staffing, etc, and implement THEIR policies of “how WE should do it”.

I doubt they would last for 3 months let alone a year, My students are wonderful kids.. but typical kids.. bright, lazy, energetic, happy, angry. good days-bad.. I love teaching them.. I feel bad, dirty about the immorality of inflating them to believe that mediocrity is excellence. I get angry that people who haven’t, don t or no longer teach, just change the names of courses to make them sound better, more advanced, more elite. Ashamed that it does such a disservice to them as future adults and will never address the roots of the problems they face, we face.. (but it does make the upper powers look good, feel better about who they are and justifies their job and salaries I guess)

But alas like you and others.. I am cast aside as a lowly veteran, who’s not up to date with the latest jargon and statistics data trends and practices of which none address the parent or student's accountability for their on actions or inactions.

As long as our “Lake Wobegon” society ans system wants no failures and all excellents.. and no one seems to remember or understand about the Bell Curve of normal distribution, theywill continue to just change the names, and manipulate statistics to prove that mediocre is excellent.

Hang in there sports-fans. We’ve done (DO) a good job, fought (FIGHT) the good fight, and have taught and provided students the skills and abilities to accomplish great things.. (even though we never bothered to count and manipulate the data, correlate and extrapolate future trends, shamelessly self-promote or rename ourselves to look better.

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