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NCLB Outrages

A teacher triumphs over testing

by John Young

This ranks with the '69 Mets, the U.S. hockey
"miracle on ice," and North Carolina State's
little guys decking Houston's Phi Slama Jama.

A Texas teacher has gone up against the
"accountability" juggernaut and won.

Read that back to me while I pick my ears up
off the floor.

A teacher wins out over testing. I repeat.

That's exactly what happened. At least the
Texas Education Agency decided that if Sharon
Touissaint's students at Kimball High School
had low test scores, she alone wasn't to blame.

Kimball, chronically "low performing" under the
state system, is one of seven Dallas schools in
the state-mandated process of "reconstitution"
with a state-assigned team supervising.

The blame for low test scores? The knee-jerk
response is to blame teachers. But in this case
the state acknowledged that the blame could be
shared by the school for lack of discipline, by
the principal for mandates that skew the
teaching process, and by parents who can't be
bothered or aren't there at all when children
underachieve.

Well. Duh.

The Dallas Independent School District had come
up with a handy-dandy "accountability"
mechanism that, said state Education
Commissioner Robert Scott, unfairly blamed
Toussaint alone for unsatisfactory test scores.

The 30-year DISD math teacher, a department
head when she was fired, must get her job back
or get a year's back salary.

The formula in question is Dallas ISD's
Classroom Effectness Index. It's been in effect
for several years in evaluating teachers but
only recently in a "high stakes" way.

Toussaint was fired by the numbers, though she
had strong job evaluations.

Here we are when math teachers are hard to
find, and a highly regarded teacher takes the
hit for problems shared by many.

"The irony is we get rid of these seasoned math
teachers and fill the positions with brand-new
teachers, many of them alternatively
certified," said Aimee Bolender, Dallas chapter
president of the American Federation of
Teachers, which appealed Toussaint's firing.

Ah, the fruits of corporate-style decisions
equating teachers with assembly-line workers.

Ah, the false comparisons. Behold schools that
are "outstanding." They're the ones with the
high SUV-to-junker ratio in the parking lot.
Their teachers are "outstanding" as they tend
to the sprouts in the green fields of White
Flight Junction.

In the meantime, we have teachers who, based on
"accountability," just aren't up to snuff. They
are the ones who show up every day for work in
neighborhoods where hubcap removal is the No. 1
harvest. As professionals, they embrace the
children of prison inmates, broken homes and
grinding poverty.

Missing after all the "accountability" shakes
down are teachers who have left the profession.
They've seen the false comparisons, the
gripping dramas, the top-down edicts, the
pressure placed on their shoulders without
support from other quarters. They decide they
can earn a living a better way.

As Rice University's Linda McNeil writes in
"Contradictions of School Reform," most
teachers come into the profession with special
gifts having been acknowledged and with hopes
of "making a difference."

"Now," one of them told her, "I am just an
employee."

For those who stay, maybe this ruling ΓΆ€” the
teacher winning out over testing ΓΆ€” signals
something that will give them courage.

"We're coming to grips with the fact that it
isn't just the teacher. It's the administration
and the parents who share responsibility for
education," Bolender said.

It's also you and me as responsible parties ΓΆ€”
our jobs as citizens being to support policies
grounded in reality.

— John Young
Waco Tribune-Herald
2008-09-24


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