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I am a high school English teacher in an urban high school in Oklahoma City. I am a member of the American Federation of Teachers, Local 2309. I am a Democrat, a union activist and a worker for social justice. I also am a Christian (Congregationalist). I play chess and coach our school chess team.

Sunday, January 02, 2011

Wal-Mart High?

Will our students be going to Wal-Mart High?
Tomorrow, Winter Break ends, and Cat and I go back to our respective schools for "Records Day", a day to finish up last semester's grading and prepare for the spring semester, which starts on Tuesday.

At my school, we will be facing even more pressure than we did in the fall semester since this will be the semester that we do our "End of Instruction" (EOI) testing. This testing is the biggest factor in determing our school's performance under the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law. The feeling is that if our school does not show significant improvement in this year's EOIs over last year, when we were the lowest scoring school in the OKC school district, the school will be placed under one of the programs NCLB has mandated for failing schools, likely the so-called "transformative" model where by the administration is replaced and all of the school certified instructors have to reapply for their jobs. No more than 50% or fewer of the former instructors of a transformative school may be rehired. A third option, making the school a charter school, is also an option, but not considered likely.

We have been closely watched by the district and by the state department of education. Administrators and other facilitators constantly monitor teachers' instructional techniques. We must show that we are following "best practices" including having "word walls", "exemplary work displays", "data walls", "artifacts" and other displays of learning. Students are quizzed as to whether they have "mastered" necessary skills. Students are also constantly tested, and their test results thoroughly analyzed.

Some will say that this is only an effort to produce the type of pedagogy our school should have been doing all along. There is truth to that, but I am beginning to feel as though our school and those like us are becoming educational Wal-Marts or MacDonalds, a place where every class resembles every other class. Educational specialists, who seem to be running the show in public schools now, argue that students need this type of uniformity to keep instruction at a high level and help students master their subjects through uniformity and repetition. But teaching is as much art as it is science, many would argue more art than science. And it seems tht we are in danger of driving out the art of teaching in favor of "research based, best practice" science.

I am willing to do whatever I am asked as a teacher, so I have done what I have been told to do to the best of my abilities. I know, though, that teachers alone cannot transform schools whose students live in poverty. When we compare our American schools to those of other industrialized countries like Finland, Germany or Japan, what is left out of the comparison is this rather disturbing statistic, on average only about 5% of school-age children in other industrialized countries live in poverty, In Finland, the percentage is 3%. In the United States, however, 23% of our nation's school-age children live in poverty. And poverty is the number one factor that determines a child's success or failure in school.

That factor will not be overcome by having our children go to "Wal-Mart High".

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