Help Wanted

School opened this week (one reason for the lack of blogging around these parts) and once again the overly large school district I work for hired about 1600 new teachers (I told you we were big). The need for all the new blood is usually due to a combination of growth and an increasing number of retirements.

But this year there’s a new wrinkle to the challenge of finding teachers.

Beginning in 2006, No Child Left Behind demands that every student have a "highly qualified" teacher in core academic classes. According to NCLB, to fit that definition an educator must "hold a bachelor’s degree and a full state teaching credential and demonstrate competence in the subjects they teach".

If that sounds rather vague, it is.

The federal law gives states significant leeway to define what veteran teachers must do to show subject-matter expertise. In some cases, teachers can get credit for professional development or school activities that have little or nothing to do with content mastery. Critics call that a major loophole.

"Loophole" is putting it kindly.

The teacher quality criteria in NCLB is more like minimally qualified. I’ve worked with people who knew Algebra inside and out but couldn’t relate the subject to a class of 9th graders. Under the rules, they would be classified as "highly qualified" to teach students.

But we all know that, for the politicians supporting this train-wreck of a law, it’s not about educating kids. It’s all about scores on standardized tests. Which is rather ironic. NCLB demands minimally qualified teachers to produce minimal learning.

IT (Instructional Technology) Conversations

If you’re involved in any way with the integration of technology in the classroom, spend a few minutes with the latest podcast from the Savvy Technologist. The program is a discussion about the challenges, and some of the frustrations, of helping teachers make sense of the powerful tools they have available.

The participants are Tim Lauer, an elementary principal from Oregon, Will Richardson, who supervises instructional technology for a New Jersey high school, and Tim Wilson, who helps teachers integrate technology in a district in Minnesota.

All three have some great experience, insight, and ideas. Their conversation is well worth your time.

Asking Reality-Based Questions

Jenny D. asks the question today

What do you think is a good school, and how would you know it if you saw it?

and then provides this answer.

I think schools are about academics first, and teaching civic values second. I look for a school where kids are learning, where teaching is of high quality, where test scores matter and inform teaching. I look for conversations about operating in a democracy and other civic issues.

I agree… if you’re dealing with an ideal society. A society in which all the issues she seems to say have no place in the classroom – operating in a democratic society, morals, social tolerance, health issues – are adequately addressed outside of school.

I certainly agree that our educational system doesn’t do a good job with all these extra issues (and largely shouldn’t be doing them). By all means schools should set priorities and focus their time and resources on doing a good job with their primary responsibilities.

Unfortunately, real life tends to intrude. And the reason that helping students deal with these and other social problems has become part of the everyday experience in many American schools is that society has largely abdicated responsibility for them. It would be nice if we could just focus on the academics and ignore all the other issues, but it doesn’t work that way.

So, a better question would be what is a good school in the reality that is 21st century America?

That’s a much tougher question to answer and one not easily measured with a standardized test.