Saturday, March 11, 2006

Voices Of NCLB: The Principals Speak Out

Over 200 Washington, DC area schools have failed to make satisfactory academic progress as mandated by the federal No Child Left Behind Act. The Washington Post asked a number of the schools' principals for an explanation. This response (especially the last paragraph) given by Principal Rodney Henderson, of Kenmoor Elementary School, caught my eye:
"The first time we did not meet the AYP standards two years ago, we had been told several months before that we had. Then I got the dreaded call from the head of our school improvement department informing me of "some bad news." We had not made AYP in attendance. The attendance standard was 93.9 percent and the school only made 93.1 percent for the year.

Our school is in an area of extremely high transience. Sometimes families fail to notify us that they are moving, and it takes several weeks to discover this fact. In the meantime, we get charged for those absent days.

Last year we made AYP in every category but special ed mathematics. We missed it by 0.3 percentage points, and I was sick about that for a long time. We only have 20 special ed students, but their disabilities cover a broad range. Some of these students fall several years behind grade level in reading, for example, and yet they are required to take the test at their grade level. This is the mandate for all students in the school no matter what their abilities. Once you miss AYP, you have two years to get off the list. If you make AYP the second year, but then fail the subsequent year, you stay on the list.

Going back to the drawing board is all you can do. We have been doing so much preparation for the upcoming Maryland State Assessment (MSA). We've had dress rehearsals all year; we had the last one last Monday. Before, the kids were intimidated by the test, but now they are ready.

There's no question that NCLB has benefited schools in many areas. But why do some schools continually miss AYP while others continually make it?

There is a big disparity between the haves and have-nots of education. Probably the largest of the 36 sub-categories we have to meet the standards in is students from low-income families who qualify for free and reduced-price meals. When you go into schools with large free and reduced-meal populations, most of us are struggling to meet the standards, for lots of reasons: Most of our schools are in areas that are socially and economically depressed. They're high crime areas. It's hard to attract teachers in these areas. Then children who come to school with problems from home or the neighborhood require emotional support. This coupled with stress surrounding the state assessments often causes teacher burnout.

Saying to my teachers who face all these challenges, "Work harder," is a big mistake. My staff is working harder than anyone I can imagine. As an administrator, I've got to ask myself how hard I can push them before I push them right out the door to a less stressful place. So far, they are all hanging in for the children."
There is much more to read in the whole thing.

Sadly, a number of good hardworking young teachers with whom I've become acquainted are considering permanently leaving education.

Even though I'm sure that the relatively low pay and ever-increasing performance expectations have something to do with it, the reasons that I hear most is that public school teaching has become a "grind." In other words, many teachers are coming to view classroom teaching as some sort of McJob, with little or no freedom to make meaningful decisions in how the curriculum is to be taught and all facets of the school day coming under increasingly tight regulation by management.

Many, and possibly even most, bright young college graduates will find little long-term job satisfaction under those conditions. Having options, few of them will choose to dedicate themselves to spending a career in the classroom. This may be one possible contributing factor for the notoriously high rate of turnover among young teachers.

If there is to be any lasting reform of education, then some way must be found to attract our best and brightest to the classroom, and encourage them to stay (and grow) there. We need to make serving our young people in the classroom the immensely satisfying career that it ought to be.
See our latest education-related posts right here.