Wednesday, December 17, 2014

I Have Some Data Too...

Ummm...hello, out there...anybody home??

Can we talk for a minute?

Can we discuss what on earth is going on for teachers right now?

Our world has had an information explosion and schools have been bringing up the rear.
We have old fashioned desks, limited wi-fi, email that barely works, projectors that still use VCR tapes (no joke) or CD's for music and an old computer or two hanging around the back of the room, posing as a computer center.

Of course there are fancy districts with the latest technology.  
Those lucky teachers might have smart boards, doc-cams, the ability to stream something from their computer onto a screen or even a class set of Ipads.
But that's a tiny portion of our school districts.
Many are sadly out of date.

Shame on you Google, Yahoo, PayPal, Apple and the rest.
Have a symposium or some sort of summit, pat yourself on the back for your initiative, your drive and your stunning intelligence and for God's sake get some leadership going.

I know, I know...not your focus.

But you sure love to provide the data, don't you?

I have this job where I get to go around to all sorts of schools in all sorts of districts and see what's going on.  
I work with the best teachers who mentor my student teachers.
It doesn't matter how fancy the technology, the size of the cafeteria or if the school has a garden, a PE instructor, or a science lab.

It's the teachers that matter.

In the poorest districts, in the richest districts and everywhere in between the divining rod of excellence is the teacher.

And, boy, am I privileged to see excellence in action.

I'd like to be the Lorax and speak not for the trees (they seem to have plenty of people wanting to talk for them) but for the teachers.

The-day-in-day-out-nitty-gritty-not-glamorous warriors that take our children and love them like their own. They plan, teach, re-teach, assess, reflect and just generally obsess on how to help their students succeed.  These people come in early, stay late, use their own money, attend conferences on their own dime and with their off time and they love it.
They sign up and stay in the trenches for decades.
Not for any reason other than that is their life's calling.
They care.
They take pride in their work.
It matters.

Guess what has happened?

We've turned students into a commodity.
We can collect data on them.

Like the early cave man, we are hypnotized by the fire we've just discovered.
We can't stop staring...and we are getting burned.

We are drowning in data.

Oh, it's so very sexy.
Bar graphs.
Line graphs.
Pie charts and percentages.

Can you really measure a six year old like that?


But it better be a damn good test.

And trust me, I haven't found a single one that slides into the "damn good" category.

Most are junk.
Testing on standards that aren't used anymore.
In ways that are pedagogically unsound.
Most of the numbers are meaningless...but they are numbers and that makes them powerful.
Very powerful.

So powerful that I sat in a lunch room today with two stellar first grade teachers, one with 26 years worth of expertise and one with 28 years, who were shaken to their core.
These two are no joke.
They embody every single accolade I can  possibly think up:
a true advocate for every child
child centered
miracle worker

Those two people got data from their principal that gave them a sleepless night.
Their scores in literacy were down.
Way down.
The lowest in the district.

Alarm bells went off at the district level.
The data had spoken.
One of the teachers actually said, "Yesterday was the worst day of my teaching career."

No one bothered to wonder out loud why that data was so off.
Like the proverbial 5th grade science experiment, nobody bothered to ask a question.
Or hypothesize.
Or just say...sorry, that doesn't make sense.

The data had spoken.

Ummmm...yoooo hoooo....can you all pause for a minute?

I have data too.
My data says that after 28 years of learning your profession you actually know something of value and it's damn hard to measure.

These two are experts in teaching reading, writing and math but they are living sensei in the bigger picture.
They know how to comfort a child.
They know how to inspire a child.
They make school magical and wonderful and creative and fun.

They know what to do for second language learners that do not know a single word of English but get tested in it.

They know how to help the child whose mom "just forgot to pay that bill that keeps the lights on".
The child who's hungry.
Or dirty.
Or hungry in their heart.

No test measures those things.
There's no data on that.

And guess what??
What those teachers do day in and day out on behalf of the most vulnerable, voiceless victims in this whole data game is nothing short of heroic.

Shame on administrators who believe the data first.
Shame on parents and cities that take pride in high test scores when in reality all it measures is privilege and access to opportunity.
Shame on testing companies who make gobs of money convincing districts that they don't need field trips but instead a whole lot more tests...that measure what exactly?


Spoiler alert: There's quite a bit of teaching and learning that is hard to quantify.
And I would argue that the non-quantifiable things are truly what matter most.

How do you measure a teacher who won't give up on a child?
A teacher who believes that every child can learn?
A teacher that can transform the way the child sees himself?

Tonight I am grateful for two very special teachers and the tidal wave of other similarly fantastic teachers who never hear this:

You rock.
You stay strong and drown out the nay-sayers.
Own it.
I am proud to know you and see your excellence in action.

No test can measure what I know to be true.
You are what every educator aspires to be.
And the test is what has failed, not you.


  1. Thank you, Beth, for speaking out for us. I've been teaching for 24 years, and the last several have been the hardest by far. We much see change in public ed - now -before the system collapses because young people choose other professions rather than teaching.

    1. Thanks so much, Jennifer! Seeing the beginning teachers I work with, you would be optimistic and hopeful. They are utterly amazing...but seeing the lumbering system obsessed with data berate and belittle fantastic veteran teachers makes me cringe for them.

  2. Thank you, Beth, for being there that day. The team needed you and you were there. Come back any time you want. Better yet I think you should become superintendant of public instruction! If administrators taught full time every five years it would be a whole different ball game!

    1. Nancy, thanks so much for your comment! :) It was definitely divine timing...and meant to be. What a brilliant idea to have an administrator go back into the classroom full time every five years. That sure would change things, wouldn't it? It would certainly help administrators understand the crazy pressure teachers face currently.