Monday, October 20, 2008

A Visit from America's Choice

Today I had a visit from some of the people working for America's Choice. They came in to my 7th period IMP2A class and observed for a little while. Immediately after they moved on my students were full of questions:

"Who were those people?"
"Are they watching you or are they watching us?"
"What were they doing?"
"Do you know them?"

I explained as well as I could: our school is NOT doing as well as it could. America's Choice is going to help us become a better, more successful school, and that they (my students) deserved a better school.

Now in the past I've criticized those that leave the classroom and become consultants. Still, when it comes down to it, today we had our entire math department together talking about student achievement. That doesn't happen every day--and I believe it should.

Although our meeting with AC was relatively short, one thing they pointed out was that with our student demographics (high ELL, high number of free and reduced lunch, high minority), we'd do best to focus on the 90 minutes during class when we have the students in our room, rather than fighting the homework battle and dwelling on things we CAN'T control. That was refreshing for me to hear.

I've spent my entire career at schools like my current school. At one point in the past I had reached the conclusion that I could raise test scores by focusing my energy entirely on my classes. At one point I even gave up on the headache of homework--partly due to the fact that I myself hated homework when I was a student. I stopped wasting energy trying to police the homework situation--and I had a lot of research evidence that said it was okay to do so [and I'm well aware that someone can find a lot of evidence FOR homework]. Still, my students did well during that period, and they seemed ... well, happier.

Currently I do assign homework--and it's a struggle. I go along with my department, though, being the good soldier that I am :-) Still, I can't help but welcome the beginning of this discussion at our school.

What would be cool would be to put it all on the line and base teachers' pay on their students' achievement, measured by a fair and accurate test. How different would our methods of instruction be if that was the rule? Teachers are darn influential on the lives of their students, and perhaps it's a bit too easy to just coast along, rather than pushing ourselves to constantly improve.

Doesn't help that we don't earn much, though....

I recently found these articles here to be really helpful. They're a little dated, but still very relevant.

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