The Push and The Pull

Things are becoming more difficult for educators in New Jersey.  We’re facing uncertainty in the upcoming budget with regards to school funding, and uncertainty about reforms (tenure changes, pension changes, and accountability changes), testing, and the looming 2014 (you need to know NCLB for that one).  In a sense, we are facing a push and feeling a pull.

The Push
You’d have to be living in a hole to not recognize that there is a powerful faction of education reformers picking a fight with traditionalists and progressives.  I define traditionalists as those who cling to the methods, ways, and means of past education styles; the administrators and educators who believe that what worked in the 1960s is still viable today.  In my mind, progressives are those who strive for changes a la Dewey or Parker.

The pushers consider both philosophies outdated and irrelevant.  So, they have formed a philosophy I call “Accountabilitism”; every student can and should be measured, every teacher must and will be measured, and every administrator must and will become an Accountabilitist, on pain of being called a failure.  All this without regard for the science, the research, and the plain old common sense that says one measuring stick will never accurately measure the depths of the ocean.  Regardless, they push.

They have loads of money behind them (think Gates and Zuckerberg) and plenty of political clout.  They even have Oprah.  Think of this, what current Washington or any-state-house politician would ever tell Duncan, Obama, Gates, or Christie they are wrong or that they at least need to read some books and journals?  Zero is the answer.  Yet, here we are, in unchartered territory – where what we knew and what we know is out and the quick dismantling of all that public education has achieved is underway.

The Pull
I consider myself a progressive; I want for a time when we are educating, not producing, students.  I want for a time when we see learning as messy and sometimes “here and there” and that it is okay for learning to fall off of a continuum… because it never can be mapped for students.

So I am pulled to be a defender of learning without deadly testing, a voice calling for the truth about Accountabilitists to be revealed, and one person standing on the sidewalk watching this parade of fools march down Main Street.  And then I feel the push.  Everyday.

As a principal I must think of SAT scores, HSPA scores, PSAT scores, Algebra exam scores, Biology exam scores.  I enjoy looking at the data when it comes in.  I can see trends, patterns, and speak with colleagues about making sense of the information.  But here’s the rub – I see that data as information only, meant to be devoured and discussed then used for improving curricula.  Not because these tests mean life or death for us (as an Accountabilitist would).  That’s what a progressive would do.  We look at data for information, not condemnation.  We look at data to inform, not scorn.  Data should drive, not kill.

The push comes when I discuss scores with those closet Accountabilitists we all know.  They see slight dips in scores and immediately jump to statements like, “What are those teachers doing?” or “What’s happening to the school?”  Never mind the validity of tests or the motivation of students.  That is not to say that instruction is not a factor in the equation… but it is only a factor.  It also comes when I know that my faculty and I will be judged by the test scores.  Then I must act, in some way.

So it’s a push and a pull all day long.  Which leads one to question their very essence.  Thoughts like, “Maybe I’m the one who’s wrong.” and “Is this what it truly is all about and I never knew it?” begin to stomp through my mind, over and over again.  It’s like an internal tug of war where confidence, principle, and ethos are on the line.

I’m not so sure how long the Accountabiltists will last.  Perhaps we will begin to see lots of research about schools who follow Accountabilitism or principals who live for more accolades through test results.  Perhaps we will begin to get beyond their rhetoric and begin to examine their claims that small schools, charter schools, voucher schools, choice schools, and magnet schools are undoubtedly better than neighborhood public schools. Maybe… and maybe not.  After all, we have yet to give Dewey and Parker a real chance in our public school system.  For this, we can thank the traditionalists… and now the accountabiltists.

Enough ranting… my arms are tired from the pull, and my back is sore form the push