Ed reform isn't going to happen from abandoning grades or eliminating standardized testing. It isn't going to happen through a massive exodus to charters or blaming teachers and teacher's unions for every problem. Neither is blowing up the system or running away from accountability. And what will definitely not reform, rather transform, public education is the parade of non-educators selling quick, unproven fixes.What I love about Will, @peoplegogy, is that we disagree, but we respect each other enough to continue the conversation. Many quit the conversation after a disagreement but I believe debates help us refine our perspectives and beliefs on important issues. We don't all need to agree on every issue. We just have to continue to be passionate about education transformation and believe that transformation is needed. I disagree with some items Will mentions above but do believe there are no quick fixes.
This is where it gets personal...
I've worked in several at risk schools and come from one myself. I grew up in a neighborhood where we couldn't open the windows at night because there were shootings. We were taught not to open the doors to strangers because addicts, alcoholics, and the homeless knocked on the doors daily. We lived across from the projects and didn't live in the projects because we lived nearly rent free in the house my grandfather built. The majority of my friends were pregnant by middle school and in high school many had 2 to 3 children. My high school consisted of over 2000 students. Many of my friends were in gangs. Most still drop out of school and never attend college. This has occurred for generations since before the 1970s. I know this because of research I did for my Masters.
Why are we the exception?
I believe Will can tell you his stories as well. We both made it through the system and have our Master's degrees. Will is getting his PhD and I greatly respect him and what he has accomplished with low-income students. However, we are the exception and not the norm. I'm not sure how Will was able to be the exception. I can tell you it was my father who drove me. My father didn't accept less than A's and often less than 100s. He was very tough on me and I'm so appreciative of this because I wouldn't have survived nor would have my sisters. All 5 of us have degrees and have broken the poverty cycle that has existed in our Mexican American family for generations. I also had many mentors in my life including some that knew what it was to grow up as a Mexican American. I needed to see people with similar experiences achieve greatness. Being mentored by the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce inspired me to reach for greatness and not settle for less.
We need mentors...
Working with at risk students, low-income students, homeless children, and students at alternative schools I can tell you that they are not as lucky to have parents who push them like my father pushed me. They don't have mentors who tell them, "Hey, I know what it's like. You can achieve the impossible because I did." They don't have mentors who push them and say that's not good enough try harder. The teachers are overburdened at these schools. I've heard many call the kids, "Stupid!" or tell them they won't amount to anything.
I used to do creative writing programs and literacy programs at these various schools so I was able to observe a lot. The students wrote about their experiences and it was overwhelming to read. Their parents were alcoholics, drug addicts, in jail, or worked too many jobs to be at home. Many were from single parents and often had to take care of their siblings. Others had to take of care of their parents.
There are too many schools where this is the situation with many students. Students don't have parents like mine. There are too many schools where they lack mentors for these students. There are too many schools where they lack passionate educators who can't see pass the student as a behavioral problem. And yes, the students can be challenging to work with. It takes a lot of patience when they do things like throw desks in the classroom or steal your stuff. It isn't easy.
Why I am against standardized tests...
Yet, teachers work at these schools and they have to deal with beyond these issues ridiculous bureaucracy. They have to struggle with trying to get their students to pass standardized tests when many of their students don't even want to come to school. When they focus on standardized tests they can't focus on the real issues which are the students and motivating them and pushing them and finding their passions.
This is why I believe we need extreme transformation when it comes to standardized tests. We need our educators to focus on the students and not on test outcomes. Test outcomes will never matter to students who have to deal with the pressures of joining a gang, promiscuity, parents who are alcoholics, or having to be adults when they are 12 years-old or younger.
I'd like to thank Will for allowing me to post this response on his blog! I welcome you to our conversation and to post your views and experiences.
Shelly Sanchez Terrell is the author of the Teacher Reboot Camp blog and tweets @shellterrell.