Same in Same out: The F-cat

If you are having a hard time judging how the county did on the F-Cat I think that’s understandable. It can be difficult to look at the statistics and know exactly what an improvement is especially when different parties might disagree. The Duval County School Board web site has a very positive spin, though if the past is any indicator they could spin a school burning down as an opportunity to practice building conservation. Then the Times Unions headline was Northeast Florida schools get mixed FCAT results and if you know anything about the typical Times Union coverage of the DCSB, that’s them pretty much blasting the district. So what to do?

Well when I wanted to know how to interpret all the data, the pluses, the minues and the pushes, to get to the real nitty gritty, I looked at one of my teacher colleagues updated facebook status which said, Checked out the FCAT Scores online …. Not pretty 🙁 Next year is gonna be a WHOLE lot of *fun*

I sighed and not because I sensed sarcasm there but because this past year wasn’t a whole lot of fun either.

This past year saw a lot of changes to the teaching profession and to what teachers were required to do. When I started teaching a little over a decade ago I could fit six lesson plans on a page, where this year I was required to create individual lesson plans that were often more than two pages long. Next Data became the word as the year as teachers were required to create complicated and time consuming data notebooks that took the place of the information most teachers could get just working with their students for a few days. Then teachers were required to create word walls, board configurations, artifact maps, agenda boards, group justifications, basically a list of extra tasks a mile long and that was before teaching even began and for many teachers this robbed them of both their creativity and enthusiasm.

To make sure teachers word walls were correct and that the standards were posted, there were stress inducing and time stealing state walk throughs, district walk throughs, academic coach walk throughs and administration walk throughs too. Unfortunately there main concern didn’t seem to be how the teacher was teaching or if the students were learning but if everything was uniform and posted in the right position.
Then this year it seemed like we gave up any pretense of not teaching just to the test. In this era of high stakes test taking it has been going on for quite some time but this year it was more focused than ever. We had blitz sessions, practice tests days, after school and Saturday sessions, and meeting after meeting all about the f-cat. Speaking of meetings I actually went to one meeting, I kid you not about all the other meetings I had to go to.

Basically for a few extra points on the f-cat the district put yokes on the back of teachers, subtly cajoling then into working hundreds of hours of unpaid over time by giving them more responsibilities to do in a day than was possible. Forcing them to be away from their friends and families in order to complete tasks that at best only had a peripheral relationship with teaching. Since Jacksonville has a school district that is almost universally believed to be struggling this begs a few questions, the first of which is, what are we doing wrong?

Teachers are working harder and longer than ever before but for the most are just concentrating on the one thing the district has deemed important the f-cat but despite all that they are doing, on average kids are making marginal gains at best. You would think since the district has put all its energies into one task, we would be doing a lot better. There’s not a lot of joy in schools these days and even though there is a lot of hard work going on we are having less and less to show for it.

I may have a solution.

The Premack principal basically says people will perform a less desirable activity to get at the more desirable activity, for example, eat your vegetables before you can have your desert. There are no deserts in schools any more, not for teachers or for students.

What would happen if instead of micromanaging teachers, giving them more tasks than they can do, thus stealing some of the joy from many, the district gave teachers autonomy, just a list of what was to be covered. Encouraged creativity, telling them to find their kids strengths and to teach to them and then finally asking them to give just one extra unpaid hour a day so they don’t get burned out or feel overwhelmed.

What would happen if instead of making school a dreary place for many children filled with many classes they aren’t interested in we tailored curriculum’s to their likes and at least in high school had reasonable schedules that aided them in being successful.

I didn’t always love school growing up and there were sometimes I didn’t even like it. I grew up in an era, not that long ago where one test didn’t determine my fate. I can’t imagine the pressure that must be on some kids especially the ones just marginally interested in school or whose schedules have no classes they could look forward to. There was a time however when I loved being a teacher, I would look forward to coming up with lessons and engaging and working with my classes. Now however I often feel as overwhelmed as the kids, actually teaching hasn’t become drudgery but so much else during the day has. It would be disingenuous of me not to say that hasn’t taken it’s toll and I don’t think I am the only teacher that could say that.

I see everyday the way we do things and I see the results and like I think you should be, I am unimpressed.

Would we do worse if we tried a different approach? Could we do worse?

I would bet we would do better and much better. People typically perform a higher level when they enjoy the thing that they are doing or have something to look forward to and that goes for teaching and learning as well.

So how did we as a county do on the f-cat? You tell me. How d you think we will continue to do unless we change things? You tell me that one too.

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