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Dianne Salerni : Writer of Teen and Middle Grade Fiction | Philosophy of Education: When It Doesn’t Work, Do More of It

Philosophy of Education: When It Doesn’t Work, Do More of It

I haven’t written much on my blog about why I left teaching last year. I meant to. I even have a document in my blog file labeled Why I Had to Leave with a long list of topics to write about. I was furious about being driven out of my profession by the choices made by my school district. After I was gone, however, and facing my new career as a full time writer, I decided it would be better not to burn any bridges.

This week, however, I learned from my former co-workers that my school district (still my district because I live in it and my daughters attend school there) is making some changes to personnel and student schedules.

You know what? See that bridge? Burn, baby, burn.

burning bridge

photo credit: burning via photopin (license)

I didn’t think our district could sink much lower than they did last year when they fired all the custodians (members of our community, some of whom had worked in our schools for decades), outsourced the cleaning, and used the saved money to create a new administrative position and promote a principal into it.  In other words, they put their lowest paid employees out of work and gave a raise to one of their highest paid employees.

But yes, they can go lower.

Last week – during Teacher Appreciation Week – they announced that they will be eliminating 6-8 positions for physical education teachers and drastically reducing the elementary P.E. program. They are also eliminating the intermediate science lab positions and slashing the music, art, and computer programs. All this so they can devote more of the school day to preparing students for the state tests.

You see, test scores have been trending downward in our elementary and middle schools. Over the past several years, our district has done a lot of things to improve test scores, such as:

  • Institute MAP testing 3x per year to track student progress
  • Analyze students by their scores on various assessments
  • Adopt the Common Core Curriculum
  • Standardize all assessments given to students in reading and math
  • Reduce instruction in science, history, and geography to provide more instructional time for state-tested subjects

Since student scores continue to decline, our district has decided we need more test prep. My fourteen-year-old daughter’s response to this decision was: “You mean, since all the test prep didn’t work, they’re going to do more of it? Doesn’t it occur to them that kids did better on the tests when they did less test prep and, you know, taught stuff?”

Again, she’s fourteen. And she saw this. Immediately.

Then she went on to say: “Does it ever occur to them that the problem is the test?”

Yeah, about that test … I have a lot to say on that subject. But that’s going to have to wait until Wednesday when I tell you about the test – the test teachers never get to see – the test students aren’t allowed to talk about – the test that changes every year – that drives our entire education system.

But today, I’d like to finish up by defending the teaching staff at my former school — they are dedicated, hard-working individuals who put in countless hours working under stressful conditions while going above and beyond for their students — and our PTA, who have always, always supported teachers and students and generously provided us with anything we asked for.

It’s the leadership in our district and the leadership in our state government that I’m pointing the finger at here. The people who view students as data points.

Why did I have to leave? Because 26 years ago, I became a teacher to teach students — not plot data points.



17 Responses to Philosophy of Education: When It Doesn’t Work, Do More of It

  1. mshatch says:

    I don’t blame you one bit for leaving. How does that principal live with himself knowing he got a position thanks to other people losing theirs? What a dirtbag!!! Oh, right, because he’s a money grubbing little penis wart!

  2. Tiana Smith says:

    I’ve been waiting for this post! I figured it probably had something to do with standardized tests (every teacher I know hates those things), so I’m curious about what you’ll say in your next post. It’s too bad the higher ups can’t see how doing more of the same thing will only lead to the same results. It’s sad for the students.

  3. Your daughter should be running the school system.
    I don’t have kids, but I’ve heard it’s all about those big tests now. You’re right – I think they’ve forgotten that they actually have to teach that stuff for the kids to do well on the tests.

    • DianneSalerni says:

      Exactly right, Alex. I used to have the kids practice on a “released item” from an old PSSA. It was a story about two cadets trying to survive on an asteroid after their shelter is destroyed. Over the years I used it, I saw students’ reading comprehension decline, as measured by that story. Why? Because the earlier grades cut back the time devoted to science.

      Fifth graders used to come to me knowing what an asteroid was and something about space. They had the background knowledge to understand the story and answer questions. By the time I quit teaching, students were coming to me knowing almost nothing about space.

  4. Julie Dao says:

    I’m with Alex – your daughter has the mindset that these so-called professionals should have, but don’t. I think you were absolutely right to leave. There’s only so much a teacher should have to take. And what a waste of resources too, to be poured into a system that clearly is already flawed.

  5. That is so terrible that they announced the layoffs during Teacher Appreciation Week. It’s totally insensitive and showing how little teachers are appreciated. And it’s sad not to help kids do healthy things like exercise more, which they all need, as well as to learn academics. Sounds like you made a good decision and glad you’re happy with it.

  6. It sounds like they’re really into doing more of the same, even if the same continues to produce lower scores. Teaching to the test was Japan’s way–maybe still is. That didn’t work very well. Their student suicide rate was among the highest in the world the last I was involved in anything test score and curriculum related.

    Nice bridge fire.

  7. Robin says:

    I don’t think these problems are strictly in your school district. I see parents ranting all over FB (from all over the country)… and rightfully so.

    I could be wrong, but I think the education made a very wrong turn with implementing Common Core (is it nationwide now? I think it is) and all of standardized testing that are a part of it. I hate to sound like a conspiracy theorist, but this can’t be an accident on the part of our government. They are training our kids to not think for themselves. They don’t want them to learn or problem solve. They want a populace that tests well. In other words, learns to think precisely the way they want. I think the theory here is that “an educated populace is a dangerous one, and they don’t want THAT.”

    If I were a parent, I’d be thinking long and hard about home schooling. And I never thought I’d say that.

  8. Things like this just make me sad. It’s like burning down a forest to save a tree. That said, I feel really fortunate to be in a school district that seems to get it.

    And amen to what you said about the teachers. They give so much. I just love my kids teachers!

  9. Tests are great for monitoring progress, but when the sole objective is to get high scores on the tests I think the school has lost sight of what learning really is.

    Another comment: We’re spending too much time teaching students WHAT to think rather than HOW to think.

  10. J E Oneil says:

    This is disgraceful. They’re cutting EVERYTHING just to teach to the test! And I’m sure the test scores will continue to go down (they’ll probably make a new administrative position for it). At least your daughter is smart enough to realize it.

  11. Joanne Fritz says:

    Those bleeping tests are the bane of everyone’s existence. Why do they still exist? I don’t know how anyone can stand to be a teacher anymore. Glad you got this off your chest, Dianne, and even happier that you were able to leave and devote your time to writing.

    What Alex said. Totally. Your daughter’s brilliant and the problem is indeed the test itself.

    That’s a damn shame about those custodians losing their jobs just so the principal could move into a new position.

  12. Al Past says:

    Well, as one of the trustees of our withering community college was quoted saying three times in the local paper, “a college is a business.” A school is NOT a business, as any teacher (and most any student) knows. But for administrators, it’s a money chase before anything else. Back in the 1700s some British sage said “Money will make the pot boil though the devil p__s in the fire.” Our democracy used to be smarter than that. But not any more.

  13. Reading things like this makes me want to homeschool Little O. I’ve always been skeptical of standardized tests. As a child, I was considered slow because I scored very low on exams. I was placed in special programs and labelled the dumb kid. My parents had to fight tooth and nail to keep me in the classes I belonged because of my low test scores. I’ll never forget when my third grade teacher ran into my mother later in life and learned I had gone to an ivy league school. She was floored. If my parents were not engaged in my schooling, I wonder how my education would have been handled. Anyway, that’s my long story, you and your daughter are right to always question practices like these. I’m sad the world lost a dedicated, engaged, amazing teacher like you but I’m glad you ended up in a role where your talents are honored and respected.

  14. Robin says:

    I know I left a comment yesterday, and I have no idea what I said. I’m sure it was something disparaging about Common Core.

    It wasn’t a link to this article about Common Core, but I think you’ll want to read it.


  15. Lily Lau says:

    These facts make my blood boil! Agh, homeschool right here and right now :/

    Lazy Penguins

  16. Hilary says:

    Hi Dianne – sorry been ‘tied up’ … ie A-Zed, new projects and just not visiting!! Loved the blog hiatus time you had out … However this kind of post would put the stress straight back in … blinking stupid by the sound of it … cheers Hilary