Saturday, September 21, 2013

Do Recent School Reforms Enhance or Hinder Real Learning?

Yesterday, I posted a question (below) to the Facebook pages of Badass Teachers’ Association and In Defense of Teachers:

I was curious—and still am—about what other teachers think. How would you answer from what you’re seeing?

Consider all the reforms since you started teaching, whether it be increasing use of technology, more charter schools, the push to grade schools, new ways to certify teachers, emphasis on standardized testing, and many more.

Do you think learning, which is the true goal of education has been greatly enhanced, stayed the same, or been hindered?

That’s my concern: that recent “education reforms” have hindered learning. It’s the same concern I was feeling in May 2008 when I retired from teaching. And I loved teaching.

First to respond was Nomde Plume, an educator with twenty years’ experience: “No question about it—hindered.”

Peg Cummings Carbone was second: “Without a doubt, hindered.”

Melanie Miday-Stern was third: “Hindered—15 years…CCSS is CRAP.”

Capital letters! I think Melanie feels as I did. (I have noted some of my concerns in earlier posts.) But is it possible all of us are wrong? I find myself hoping we are. I hope our system of public education is on the threshold of great improvement. I just don’t see it. Earnestly, honestly, I do not see it.

Nomde Plume added details in a second response:  
Hindered from real, effective, engaging teaching due to over-testing, ratings tied to tests, constant references to ‘data driven instruction,’ [including] grouping based on test data, data walls in classroom, data walks, bulletin board standards, lesson plan standards, quarterly goals standards (meaning these are all for someone else and not for teaching or the kids learning)…The requirements are endless and have nothing to do with actually teaching students. There is so much more! I am too tired to write about it. I was in at 6:30 yesterday and today, worked last night till after 10:00 p.m. And today till six. If my tired brain can actually calculate this, I worked 27 hours in two days…

Elizabeth Mays jumped into the conversation: “Not only hindered, but because so many ‘latest and greatest’ [reform ideas] have gone through the pipeline, I try to ignore them the best I can…since it will be replaced with some other ‘latest and greatest.’”

I can add from my experience here, that in the late 80s, the State of Ohio designed its own Ninth Grade Proficiency Tests. These tests were supposed to greatly improve education in the Buckeye State.

After a little more than a decade, these Ohio tests were scrapped and replaced by new tests tied to No Child Left Behind. And we all know how NCLB worked out.

Next to answer my original question was Margaret Sanderson: “Hindered.”

Ed Dziedzic took his turn: “Hindered. But when I started an old timer told me every time some damn fool new program came out ‘this too shall pass.’”

Priscilla Sanstead weighed in: “The whole purpose of Badass Teachers Association is to fight CC$$. ‘Hindered’ is a candyass, lightweight term for the child abuse that IS Common Core.”

I agree with Ms. Sanstead and particularly like her $ signs, because I think corporate school reform is a growing danger. But I keep thinking maybe I’m wrong. The education reforms of recent years seem crazy to me.

I don’t feel crazy, though. (I think my wife would tell me.)

Megan Bartley commented next: “Well it has been one hell of a waste of money. That is for sure.”

(In 2012, it was estimated that states were spending $1.7 billion annually on standardized tests. All those tests—tied to NCLB—are now recycled paper.)

Maybe Barbara K. Yohnka, next to comment, would respond favorably. One can always hope!

Nope:  “No question—hindered.”

Lauren Green-Mainowski: “Hindered! With all the assessing who has time to teach?”

Lauren’s comment reminds me of the dilemma I faced my final year in the classroom, in 2008. Our entire social studies department was taken out of class for three days so we could design practice tests to prepare students for the social studies section of the Ohio Assessment Test (OAT). We devoted three more days to giving the practices tests. In May, our students spent four more days taking the OAT.

So we lost ten days to learning, just so we could prove our students were learning! Was I crazy? I told my principal I thought this was educational malpractice. Is Barbara crazy, too? Is Lauren?

Maybe that’s the real problem. Maybe America’s teachers are crazy.

Lauren offered this additional insight: “Don’t get me wrong. I’m on board with the idea of CCSS. I just wish we could have the resources and be left alone enough to actually teach that way, theme teaching is how I was raised and I like to think I turned out pretty well and loved learning.”

What! “Loved learning?” How do we measure that when it comes to testing?

Joan Jefferson Lanier Bennett was next to offer an opinion: 
The amount of paperwork to support all the ‘data based’ teaching with proof you have data, not to mention days lost testing to see if there has been progress, which generates more data to record/put in portfolios, HINDERS time to plan and execute real teaching and student interaction.

And here’s a real kicker. Joan continued: “I am on year 54—yes, I retired once and thought I was dying of boredom—and I base my remarks on all those years’ experience!”

If Joan is right, I’m more worried than ever. And I think she’s right.

Anna Davis agreed: 

Hindered, I have been teaching for seven years, all of it in the data driven frenzy. During pre-service I was told that the district who hired me would help me develop as a professional. The only thing that seems to matter is how high we can get the numbers. I get canned lessons to teach but very little real professional development.

I may steal that phrase: “data driven frenzy.”

Holly Clouse followed:  
You know, it comes down to thinking, asking, trying, adjust—that’s what I do with my kids. The whole corporate takeover, robo-thinking, scripted plans are just stupid. Don’t get me started on data collecting—the pendulum has swung too far right and will swing back. Meanwhile, I’ll teach my kids to think, question, try, adjust and celebrate. I refuse to let idiots ruin my students’ education. 

Tera Wolf had this to say: “[I teach] Special Ed students only: I would say services are better for Special Ed students now but the testing mania has hurt them.”

Amen to that. I suspect almost all teachers would agree with Ms. Wolf that schools do a much better job integrating Special Ed students in regular classrooms now, than they did when I started teaching in 1975.

Megan Bartley rejoined the conversation:  
The only good data is the data you collect as a teacher, day to day in your classroom. All of the rest is fluff! Administrators should hold teachers’ feet to the fire to show how they are using information on formative assessments to help individual students. Time spent on Marzanoing and NWEAfests and MAPtatic Multiple Choice Extravaganzas is a pure waste when the rubber hits the road.

Over on the page for In Defense of Teachers, Geralyn Pfaff added: “Greatly hindered. Special education students should not be forced to take the same extremely difficult standardized tests as their typically-developed peers. And Special Ed teachers should not have to have their livelihoods held accountable to those scores.”

Charmaine Wilks went with the one word I fear says it all: “Hindered.”

Finally, back on the BAT page, Kelly Braun offered a little reassurance: “Post [the comments] after you write it and we will all badass back you up.”

So: am I crazy? Let me say again:  I loved teaching. I never doubted that what I did in my classroom mattered.

In my heart I truly felt focusing on Songhai trade and Shay’s Rebellion (two topics covered on the social studies section of the OAT) might not be the best way to enhance real, broad-based learning.

In any case, I retired in 2008. In 2009 the social studies section of the OAT was killed by the State of Ohio which had designed it and implemented only five years before. Today the entire OAT is dead. 

No Child Left Behind, with all its emphasis on standardized tests, is no longer among the living.

Coming soon to a school near you: New tests! New test preparation! New expenses tied to all the testing! New and onerous paperwork for teachers and administrators, and Common Core Curriculum!

Call it the Standardized Testing Zombie, the creature it was almost impossible to kill!

If I’m wrong, if I’m crazy, I hope real teachers will take time to weigh in and reassure me. Care to comment, anyone?


Addendum: Over the course of three weeks, more than 1,700 people took a look at this post. Eventually, Kevin Barre, a principal, weighed in with a pro-reform response.

The tone was probably harsher than he intended and he went on to qualify his comments in response to questions and comments by other educators. I still have my doubts, but, again, I hope he turns out to be correct. I fear that the future of U.S. education hinges on getting this question right. He explained: 
I’m actually enjoying the dialogue created in these OTES pre and post conferences. News flash: principals that whine about the time they are spending and teachers barking about the extra paperwork are forgetting that time management is part of the game. I’ve got 14 years in the biz, and I can promise you that the extra five hours of educational dialogue this takes per teacher only cuts into the negative and idle time wasted daily in a school building. Yes, I said it. It’s holding people accountable, I think, once people get over the insecurities of change, they’ll see how it’s good for growth and amazing for kids. I believe many people, admins included, need this push to reinvigorate growth. It’s a breath of fresh air, pedagogically speaking. It makes us talk.

Anyway, I know, because I taught history, that in matters of opinion we can almost never prove which side is right.

I will say it again, however. I fear the testing trend is doing irrevocable damage in U. S. education.


  1. First let me say that I love your picture, it really reflects the tone of education in through the eyes of an educator. I began teaching in 1996 and when began to teach I was told to teach and I did and it was good. I was beginning teacher so I was observed a few times a year but then they saw that I had a real talent for teaching science and they just let me teach. My classes were never the same, I was never told what to do other than teach a very broad variety of standards. I am not conventional, I don't look like a "teacher" (no one ever believed I was a teacher, guess it was the tattoo's, vegetarian, bohemian-style) however I was allowed autonomy in classroom and both my students and myself flourished. That all changed. I now am forced to teach 2nd grade since they didn't find my program worth funding and this is just where I was "put". I had quite a bit of remarkable achievements but I am now someone who just has to spend never-ending time collecting data on children who are expected to do tasks that aren't scientifically sound, aren't developmentally appropriate, and lack both reason and relevance. The system is broken,they are breaking me, I mourn the loss of my career.

    1. Your comment is exactly what I fear: that we destroy teachers. I loved teaching; but I'm not sure I'd want to start my career again under the present circumstances.

  2. I wanted to add more last night; however, with the blazing headache I had, I couldn't formulate any coherent sentences!

    CC$$ is a diabolical overtaking of US Public Schools by Corporate America because they are seeing the dollar signs. They have been leaches on the government dollar for so long and now that local, state, and even the federal monies are few and far between, they see Education as the next gold mine for them! HOWEVER, our CHILDREN are NOT for sale, thank you! Mr. Art Pope, the Koch (COKE) brothers, et al, you need to pack your carpet baggin' selves and go back to hence you came. Public education is free for ALL children and is not going to be turned into come circus of wealthy charter schools for your buddies to run while the rest of the American children are suffering in dilapidated cash short schools.

    Education is NOT FOR SALE! Period! The one and only thing anyone can not take from us is our education. Once we learn something, it is ours forever.

    We as members of the Badass Teachers Association will be flying in to post, tweet, comment, call, or whatever it takes to let our government officials know that PARENTS along with the teachers of the community know what is BEST for the children in their school! Not some dirt bag with deep pockets who have friends in government! This means, Bill Gates, Koch Brothers, Art Pope, Wal-Mart, and many more! Do your research parents and teachers. Search ALEC and find who is supporting this corporate greed with YOUR child's tax dollars!

  3. OMG! That is just the word I have been thinking, diabolical! I don't need to say any more. This post says it all. Thank you!

  4. I am consistently shocked at how much money goes to these administrators and "reformers"---billions at least-to administer these idiotic reforms and yet they have actually made me a worse teacher. They are wasting my precious time that could be spent teaching students, mentoring younger teachers, and assisting other faculty in my school. Instead they antagonize me and make me want to leave the profession.

    1. Again, what I fear...real teachers wanting to leave the profession, because people who don't teach have stupid ideas that almost drive us out.

  5. After I added a comment on the Badass Teachers' Association page, Jim Mandingo had this to say:

    "I like the word hindered, but my 27 years of experience (plus 5 in the Army, John) was always a process of taking a step forward and then two or three steps backward. Sadly, most of the backward steps were initiated by so-called budget issues and the meandering focus of administrative leadership too intimidated by politics to do what is educationally right."

  6. Kevin Howard Hill responded on Opt Out of the State Test:

    "Hinders. Common standards are needed. Common testing is harmful. Trust the experienced teachers."

  7. Nikk Enser had this to say on BAT: "Think that most folks are, generally, good natured.

    "Most of the reformers likely either have, or began with, good intentions, but they were, and are, being manipulated by those with Capitalistic or more of a basic Ill-intent. This, especially, goes for the general public Joe and Jane, who hear bi-partisan support and figure it *must* be good.

    "BATs need to keep up the good fight, never ceasing to point out what is wrong with this, current, overhaul, and even the few areas where it is right. This is about education, after all, and we have the expertise to trounce the opposition's love affair with assessment after assessment.

    "Although it has been a difficult start, and we are still trudging up-hill, we have what others do not - heart! BAT On! ^o^"

  8. Kira Bush Joseph added this comment: "I have been in education for 7 years and as a current third grade teacher I think the idea of having a common agenda nation wide is a great idea, however I believe the new standards are not leveled appropriately. I also am against teacher evaluations being based upon a single score. So long story short I feel they are hindering. This coming Friday from 1-3pm there will be a group of principals visiting our classrooms and they will be expecting to see signs of "Rigor". Really?? On a Friday at the end of the day???"

    I call that another (qualified) vote for "hindering."

  9. Kathy Fleischmann Stemmer also says: "Hinder! Still teaching, year 35."

  10. I don't have a problem with Common Core per se. What I do have a problem with is giving me standards with NO materials AND taking away the materials I had (throwing away perfectly good ANTHOLOGIES in order to have ME purchase the SAME titles individually). There is also this "mindset" that we weren't teaching before. Standards aren't NEW!!! We've been teaching them for years. Hobbling teachers by taking away materials, however, that's a new one.

    1. Yep, I felt I was teaching "standards" every day, starting in 1975. I fear the word "hobbled," as you apply it is what the experts are doing to teachers.

  11. Let me say first, I am a "new" teacher when compared to the experience of some teachers mentioned in your post. I began in 2007 and since then the turn my classroom has taken is a sad turn. Education has been greatly hindered! Most recently my 3rd grade team and I (combined total of more than 70 years of teaching experience) have been so overwhelmed with the amount of test our 3rd graders have been expected to complete in the first month of school created a chart of these tests. We took this to our principal, superintendent, and school board. Any change? NOPE. Attached is a list of tests our 8 and 9 year olds are taking and how much of our class time it is taking. At the bottom is a note regarding how much of our reading instruction is taken by testing since most occurs in the morning during our now "90 required uninterrupted minutes of reading instruction". Various 3rd Grade Assessments:

    Required Testing:

    MAP (Reading, Language Arts, Math 3 times per year Fall, Winter Spring) 1hour per testing session= 9 total hours per school year

    MClass (Reading Fluency, Accuracy, Comprehension 3 times per year Fall, Winter, Spring) average 1 hour per student per testing session, averaging 20 students per class= 60 total hours per school year

    Beginning of Grade Test (Reading, 1 time per year) average time per class 3 hours per school year

    End of Grade Test (Reading and Math 1 time per year) allotted time per test 4 hours= 8 hours per school year

    CogAT (Cognitive Abilities Test 1 time per school year) 3 total testing sessions at 1 hour per session= 3 total hours per school year

    Pets (Primary Education Thinking Skills throughout school year) 4 thinking skills; 3 whole group lessons per skill (1 hour per lesson)=12 hours whole group lessons

    PETS 3 small group lessons per skill (.5 hour per lesson)= 6 hours small group lessons

    Total Testing hours: 101 hours per school year

    101 Hours per school year or:

    101hours / 8 hour school days= 12.625 full school days (no lunch non stop)

    From reading instruction:
    101/1.5 reading instruction hours= 67.3333 reading instruction days
    Thats 37.4% of reading instruction time in a school year

    Makes me cry that in 7 years that this is what my job has become, train children to test. Gotta Love NC

    1. Your answer so perfectly encapsulates my fears that I could erase my entire post and let your comments stand. If you are right, and I am right, and the others, we need to be very afraid.

  12. I teach in NC and have been in education 30+ years. I am so dismayed about the changes, especially CCSS. Presently I teach kindergarten and the amount of testing and assessments are ludicrous. Here are my figures for time lost for teaching because of the constant testing. In k all the testing and assessments have to be administered INDIVIDUALLY. And since our idiot legislators removed the cap on class size I could end up with as many children as the fire marshall would allow in my room. At present I have 22 five and six year olds. We also administer DIBELS 3x year for benchmark and it takes a minimum of 10 minutes per child x 22=220 minutes x 3pr year=660 MIN/YR or 11 hours which is basically 3 days of REAL teaching time (taking out lunch etc). Then there is TRC, the reading part of mclass. This takes on average over the 3 times it is administered 30 min/child x 22=660 min x 3=1980 min or 33 hours yr. That would be about 7 days lost. Then you have the WR OR SIGHT WORD assessment 3x year at average of 10 min/child x 22=220 min x 3 pr yr=660 min or 11 hours or 2 days lost . Now this does not include the progress monitoring that has to be done every 2 weeks on children that are in RED and every 4 weeks for children in YELLOW on the above tests. I spend approximately 2 hours every other Friday on this. So x that by 15= 30 more hours lost. Then there is the Math Summative given at the EOY. This is new and aligned to CCSS. There are 12 subtests x 10min/child =120 min/child x 22=2640 min or 44 hours lost. This does not count ANY of the other assessments required such as formative ones etc. And on top of all of this, much of the CCSS at least for kinders is NOT DEVELOPMENTALLY APPROPRIATE. I don't care how good you are, how hard you work, how many conferences you have, if a child is not developmentally ready to learn a concept it is not going to happen period CCSS OR NOT. Can you tell I'm fed up? Our education is being ruined by legislators and others who don' t have any clue about teaching or how to teach. That is like me telling a brain surgeon how he should do surgery. Just hope I can hang on for 4 more years until I retire. I would not tell anyone to go into education at this point. I would tell them to turn and run in the oppiste direction. This is sooo sad. God help our children because at this point I think he is the only one who can.

    1. Again, I fear you are right...I think we are headed for the I.R.S. model in education, where everyone just bogs down in paperwork. How many days lost of teaching and learning are we looking at for millions of students and teacher?

    2. Amen to every comment! God bless all who continue to teach; it only took 6 years in public education to break my desire to keep trying. So sad.

    3. Your comment about having your desire to teach broken is what I fear most: that we drive out good teachers. I fear we will ruin U. S. education.

  13. Debra Grice responded on Facebook: "Hindered- too much time devoted to PROVING I KNOW HOW to do my job--rather than letting me do my job."

    This was exactly how I felt in 2008, when I retired.

  14. On my Facebook page Alta Mozee, an art teacher answered:

    HINDERED!!!!! It's not about teaching the kids anymore - it's about proving to every non-educator politician that we are doing A,B, and C and we have all the data that the non educator can read to prove that we are "teaching".

    Spec ed kids are sacrificial lambs in all of this being demanded that they perform at levels that they often don't have the cognitive abilities to do - which is why they're receiving spec ed services to begin w/...DUH!!!

    This year, after spending 10 yrs teaching middle school kids, I'm put into a k-THREE self contained classroom. I am now responsible for teaching K, 1, 2nd, AND 3rd grade curriculum to my students - AND do it in a manner that ALL kids will make progress to gain an "effective " rating on my evaluation - which is based on how these kids score on district assessments.

    We all know how kdg thru 2nd grade are the foundation grades for the entire rest of the child's educational career. So, why in the sam hill is the spec ed office placing THIRD GRADERS - who are also supposed to pass the 3rd grade reading guarantee.

    By the way - their response when I questioned this: There can be a 5 yr span in a spec ed unit. Well.....just because you CAN, doesn't mean you SHOULD.

    If i'm worried about how all this effects my evaluation, how can I be the best teacher?? And if i have to be responsible for teaching 4 grades, how does ANY ONE OF THOSE KIDS get the education that they deserve?

  15. I am a Grandmother of a wonderful kindergarten child. Could someone explain, as the school doesn't seem to be able to, why the teacher states the child knows all of his ABC's etc. and then my daughter gets a note in the mail stating "The child is below benchmark and is likely to fail third grade." A followup call the test giver refused to provide statistics as to how many children failed. When I asked how they can predict a childs future four years from now - the subject was changed..................Testing is setting children up for failure...........

  16. Great question to ask--wish more "reformers" were asking teachers to reflect on what the changes have done to actual classroom practice. As a fellow long-termer, now retired, thought you might like to read this. Do you also remember these waves of reform?

    1. Sadly, Nancy, I do; I always thought the only really critical variable in my room was how hard my students and I were willing to work.

  17. On In Defense of Teachers' Facebook page Pamela Humber Rawles had this to add: "Loved teaching for 32 years...but definitely too many tests and trying to teach the children to score high on the tests."

    I think we call that a "hindered!"

  18. Anne Matthews was also no fan of the reforms. On "In Defense of Teachers," she wrote, "Everyone knows that testing if not for the kids its for the administration. We were all there once."

  19. Laura LaMarche responded on "In Defense of Teachers:" I do not believe that standardized testing is wanted by anyone who is front lines with the kids. Parents don't want it, teachers don't want it, administration does not want it, school boards do not want it. Who wants it? Those who profit from it - financially and politically!!! Testing is BIG money. Just think of all the wonderful things we could do in our schools if we cut mandatory standardized testing! Think of the TIME alone that would be freed up to actually teach!"

    I say "amen" to that; one of my biggest gripes my last year was that we wasted almost two weeks of the year preparing for the social studies test the State of Ohio said everyone needed to pass.

    I retired in 2008. In 2009 the State killed that stupid test dead.

  20. In the same venue Becky Quinn went with the favorite choice of teachers: "Hindered!"

  21. When I asked the same question on my Facebook page Kate T. Humbert Blanton, a former colleague responded: "I am working at least 1 1/2 hours for ever hour I worked last year. I would say that at least 50-60% of my time is on paperwork. As a 13 year veteran I have been around long enough to really notice the change. I am the kind of teacher who puts my students first and does paperwork on 'my time' so to speak. To be completely honest the people suffering the most are my own husband and children. It is making me feel like a bad mom and bad teacher. I hate to say it but I am not pushing kids toward education like I used to. Ok I feel a little better getting that all off my chest."

    Again, this is my fear: that we have fewer people who want to teach, because we force educators to become paper-pushers.