Thursday, August 25, 2011

Violating an Agreement

 "There is a mutual agreement from both parties not to make comments about each other that are "malicious, wanton, or reckless in nature or...reasonably foreseeable to injure" their respective reputations. The non-disparagement agreement covers the members of the School Reform Commission and employees of the District, but not outsiders including the mayor." according to the , August 24, 2011

That being said, I am not exactly sure that this will violate that agreement but I am writing it anyway.

As someone who has been teaching for 36 years, I have almost seen it all I'd guess. Curricula have come and gone, strategies have been touted and disfavored, the neighborhood has changed in economic advantages/disadvantages, children's attitudes have gotten increasingly hostile, principals have come through the door each with his/her own style and requirements, district superintendents have come and gone in the same manner as the principals, and I have lived through at least 5 or 6 School District Superintendents.

I thought Paul Vallas was bad as Superintendent, with all the patronage that went on in his tenure. During the latter years of my teaching career  the PSSA (Pennsylvania System of Student Assessment) was born and the NCLB (No Child Left Behind) Act was voted into existence. I have no quarrels with the PSSA, as it forced all of the school districts in PA to get on the same page regarding curricula. I do have a problem with NCLB, as it laid the foundation for vast amounts of funny business foisted upon us by  superintendents desiring to make Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP)

The many 'reforms' I have witnessed have come and gone. It seems that every ten years or so another professor somewhere 'discovers' an educational disaster and sets about fixing it. The worst reforms have been in Reading/Language Arts. Some of the trends are: Three reading groups, word lists + phonics + spelling; No reading groups, inventive spelling, emphasis on the individual, no phonics; Back-to-Basics bare-boned word list, phonics, spelling; Guided reading with both whole class instruction and reading groups with spelling and 'word study'.

Guess what? We are still having major problems with the students' reading abilities and are due for a second round of yet another reform strategy. I can honestly say the majority of the students at my school read better and do math better than when I first walked through the school doors. We had many more children failing and many more doing well, but it is the middle group which has enlarged. That middle group, which can go either way academically, is huge now as compared to 1982. While both the upper and lower groups have shrunk, their former inhabitants are now in the middle - not quite proficient and not quite failing. What we do with this group will eventually govern how the school is viewed as working or failing. Although our school is on its third year of NOT making AYP, we feel that we are on the move forward. But that might not count for anything in the long run, as making AYP is the be-all and end-all.

With the arrival of Paul Vallas as superintendent in Philadelphia, the job of teaching has become particularly disjointed and unappealing. Going for a one-size-fits-all curriculum, he instituted programs that served no one well and were headed by his relatives and friends. The Voyager Program for after-school tutoring had way too many pieces to be effective and was not 'rigorous', a word frequently used in education and hated by teachers. The Math tutoring program, the Princeton Review, was too computerized and touted methods diametrically opposed to our Everyday Math curriculum.  Everyday Math is an effective program but needs extensive staff development for the teacher as it presents concepts in a manner in which the teacher was not taught. There is a steep learning curve for the teacher but if you can stick it out and truly follow the methods, you will be rewarded by students who can think mathematically. During this period of Vallas' tenure, the teachers' professional development in Everyday Math disappeared or was severely curtailed. In addition, Vallas' choice of Regional Superintendent for our region was a verbally abusive man who walked noisily and carried a big stick. He was loved by few.

The arrival of our just-departed Superintendent, Arlene Ackerman, brought a new Regional Superintendent as bad as the last. It seemed that Ackerman replaced the Regionals with people made in her own image - mean, dictatorial and full of their own power. They rule by intimidation of the principals and teachers, rewarding those who do their bidding and embarrassing those who have the audacity to question. We lost a good principal to those tactics. Jury is out on this new principal, but I hope she has the guts to stand up for her teachers and for what is right and not just go along with the edicts of the Region.

Ackerman will not be missed by many, although her supporters are vocal, they are few. She earned the nicknames "Queen Arlene" and ":mean Arlene" honestly. I hope her Assistant, who is now our Acting Superintendent has learned what NOT to do, as the teachers as well as the principals were no friends of his predecessor.

I look forward to a new school year with much trepidation due to the changing of the guards and the fact that we did not make AYP again. Will the bell toll for good or evil? Time will tell.

Have I violated Arlene's agreement? I guess I'll find out soon enough.

Still learning!

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