"I know no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education. This is the true corrective of abuses of constitutional power." - Thomas Jefferson 1820

"There is a growing technology of testing that permits us now to do in nanoseconds things that we shouldn't be doing at all." - Dr. Gerald Bracey author of Rotten Apples in Education

Search This Blog

Friday, February 3, 2012

Does Actually Getting It Right Even Matter Any More?

Character education has focused on building a student's self esteem, primarily by never criticizing or even critiquing what they do. Everything is good.  Just making the effort is good. Actual success in what they are doing is secondary.  We have raised a generation of kids who think everything they do, no matter how lame, trite, cliched or even inaccurate is good.  They have little or no experience with someone pointing out these flaws because the system graded them with a happy purple pen and extended them multiple tries to "get it right" in a skewed view that this was education. We are now seeing the quality of what this generation produces.  I think we need to bring back the red pen.

The movie "American Teacher" is making the rounds in many cities, usually for a one night showing. The movie is about The Equity Project, TEP, a charter school which pays teachers $125,000 a year plus up to $25,000 in bonuses. TEP's  goal is to improve education by bringing dignity and respect back to the teaching profession by paying top dollar for top teachers. It claims this is done through the normal pupil funding process. As with most education reform, the icing on top sounds great. 

The movie was cheered by the NEA and AFT which should raise some concerns. Its tour is being sponsored by Bill Gates which should raise even more.

A writer for Great Schools America went to such a showing in Portland OR and was amazed by the story and facts presented in the movie. She was so amazed that she just had to find out if it could possibly be true. Alas, it was not.
1. IRS returns do not list one person as being paid more than $100,000. Since paying teachers $125,000 is the primary tenet of the school and the movie, this is either a major oversight or something more nefarious. Teachers agree to work other jobs and forgo benefits to earn the higher salary. So, why would the school make extraordinary claims and then forget to report compensation on its tax return? And, why if teachers are giving up benefits, does the school list over $90,000 in employee benefits

2. TEP claims to enroll 480 students on its tax return, 2009-2010. The New York City Report Card sets that number at 125. Perhaps TEP intends to grow the school to 480 at some later date, but the IRS likes facts not aspirations. In its first year, 2009, The Equity Project Charter School enrolled 125 fifth-grade students.
3. The school is funded by more than the government per pupil expenditure. Both the annual report and tax returns state clearly that the school receives over a million dollars in local, state, and federal grants, and generous private contributions and loans in addition to the annual per pupil expenditure. According to the TEP’s web site, the school is seeking investors"
There seems to be much more that is wrong with the message portrayed in the movie which, given the ease of verifying such facts, you would think its three writers, Ninive Calegari, Daniel Moulthrop, and Dave Eggers, would have corrected. For instance, though the movie didn't specifically claim TEP was doing a phenomenal job with actual teaching, improved student performance was implied.  However,
According to the Annual School Report Card (Accountability and Overview Report 2009-2010, p. 13), only 24% of [TEP] students tested proficient in language arts and 37% tested proficient in math. It seems that paying teachers much higher salaries does not buy an excellent education.
The movie makers didn't present either actual salary figures or test scores and I question whether it is simple marketing strategy that encouraged them to weave such an inaccurate tale or whether it is the message we are feeding everyone today.

We live in an age when we can combine technology, which has capacity to deliver a message to a very wide audience, with the message "you can change the world." The bar is set very high. Don't just clean up your area.  Change the whole world. That's a lot of pressure. However, the ability to reach so many people doesn't mean that you will or, that your message will be openly welcomed. We have been trying to fundamentally change the situation in Afghanistan for four decades, with all our military might and buckets of money, and have not succeeded. But our children are taught  that the simple act of recycling in their school could magically make the whole world recycle. "It all starts with one person" they are told. While there is usually someone who had the original idea, such global change rarely occurs overnight through the simple action of a few. Our media presents the Occupy Wall Street movement was the act of a few simple students, when infact there are recordings of power brokers planning the effort over a year before it started. 

So are factually flawed movies like "American Teacher" the product of people who don't think it is necessary to get the facts straight?  Who think that their inaccuracies are only purple pen worthy, not red pen?  Has the message "you can change the world" been so heavily drilled into them that they will do anything to avoid the failure of not changing the world including overstating or outright lying about their case? Everyone wants to be the person who came up with the one magic bullet that addresses all our educational woes.  Their drive to change the world overrides their desire to look at the problem objectively and realize that the solutions are many and the only magic key is to have access to the many possible solutions to find the one that best fits your situation.

Character education would serve us all better if it would start with teaching that truth is the ultimate goal and at the very heart of character.  Self esteem is not the cause of an easy life, it is a reward earned by facing difficult realities and learning you are strong enough to handle them. And the first world you are going to change is your very own, which is very small - maybe just your room - and just changing that world is a good thing in itself.

 Read the full story of American Teachers on Great Schools For America http://greatschoolsforamerica.org/wordpress/?p=900

1 comment:

  1. No. It doesn't matter any more. It's whatever you want it to be. Facts are useless, people don't research or even care. Whatever the corporatists tell us must be true.


Keep it clean and constructive. We reserve the right to delete comments that are profane, off topic, or spam.

Site Meter