Thursday, May 13, 2010

In education, we give a lot of lip service to what's best for kids. We bemoan new initiatives saying they aren't what's best for kids. We stick with the tried and true, what we've always done because after all, we know what's best for kids.

How often do we really mean what's easiest for us?

Education today is driven by two often opposing forces: data and money.

Data driven instruction is at the forefront of what all teachers should be doing. Professional development on how to is common place. The web is full of suggestions of Creating a Framework to Make Data-Driven Instruction a Reality, and 'affordable' programs that make this possible. Data Driven Classrooms, Data Director, and Scantron all tout their services as the best, the greatest, the latest.

Is data driven instruction really what's best for kids though? Can data tell us everything we need to know about what our students need to learn, what they already know, and where we need to go next in the process? Is data better than our gut instinct? My opinion? That depends entirely on how we analyze the data, what we do with the data, and ultimately, how does our instruction change, really change, based on the data, and how does that eventually trickle down to impacting student learning/achievement. If the only 'follow through' on the data will be one lame PD day set aside for teachers to look at the data, with no additional provisions for time to redesign lessons and remediation strategies, it is unlikely the data driven instruction will ever actually occur. If teachers are expected to carve out time from their already packed schedule to do this data desegregating on their own, likely, it will never happen. If teachers are not given the tools to change their instruction, ways/ideas to provide the remediation, likely, it will not happen. If we are not going to change the bigger educational arena to make data driven instruction achievable in the average classroom, going back to the good ole gut instinct of the teacher makes a lot more sense, is less expensive, less time intensive, and probably just as effective in the long run.

If we truly believe that data driven instruction is what's best for kids, schools would provide teachers with time to work with other teachers to really look at data, and make sound instructional decisions based on their findings. Time would be set aside regularly during the school year for collaborative planning to develop remediation plans, to talk about kids and data and strategies.

Instead, we give data driven instruction lip service because it's what's in the educational news blurbs. We don't really believe in its power enough to make it a true priority in our schools and in our schedules.

Teachers, in particular, spend a lot of time talking about money being the reason they cannot be successful teaching students. They point out that if they only had smaller classes, they could give more one on one attention to their charges, which would lead to higher achievement. Research to support this theory is sketchy at best. Others beg for more technology, more money for supplies for their classrooms, and for more funding for extracurricular programming. Granted, all these things make a teacher's life easier, the educational experience of the students richer, but does that mean without all of them, that experience cannot still be worthwhile?

Often what educators mean is If it isn't worth it for the powers to be to fund it, it is no longer worth it to me either. When funding for after-school programs is cut, suddenly, no one is available to supervise them. When funding for field trips and other fun items is cut, teachers suddenly make do without, rather than seeking other solutions. If we truly believed these were what's best for kids, and we were really all about what's best for kids, wouldn't we find a way, volunteer our time, step up to the plate?

Society does not seem to place the value on public education it once did. Bond requests are often voted down. Fewer parents seem to be available for volunteering. Students often do not have the basic supplies needed for success at school. Teachers are berated in the news, by legislators, parents, and the media. Blame is tossed around willy nilly, onto all the stakeholders.

If we were ALL in it for what's best for kids, wouldn't we stop looking for people to blame and start creating solutions?

It really isn't about the data driving us or the funding we lack. Those aren't what are truly the driving forces in education today. The key driving force is the people: the teachers, the support staff, and the adminstration that deal with students day in and day out. Those are the keys to success or failure. Until we circle our wagons, rally the troops, call in the cavalry, and take responsibility for our own actions and their subsequent consequences, all the data and money in the world won't make a difference in the futures of our students. We've lost sight of what's best for kids, in our ever forward pressing quest for what's right for us.

1 comment:

Sty said...

I agree wholeheartedly with your statements. I teach 7th grade language arts and social studies in a data driven school with a data driven principal, yet the time to implement changes, real changes, is always lacking.
Please feel free to follow my blog which primarily centers on teaching in the middle school level,

Thanks for the great reading!