Getting better takes time and investment
Just last week, I opened my mail to find a warm card of thanks from the Care for Classrooms Campaign. Here it was February, more than 3 months after the passage of the bond for the new schools scheduled for Area 59, and still their work carries on. In the next two years, you'll hear a lot about the process - it will be a long and agonizingly slow one to get the new classrooms at the high school and the two new schools built. And, it will be even more agonizing for the teachers as they add duties on top of duties: to attend meetings to help inform the architects, to attend to team meetings to plan for the changes, develop strategies to teach through the remodel, pack and unpack classroom materials as they relocate…
The other day, we began testing the fourth grade students on their writing abilities. I needed to explain the many-headed hydra that was their pre-write, draft, revise, final draft monster when one of my students looked up from his fog and said, "This is going to take a long time." Right he was. We carved seven days out of the schedule to complete the test. There are no quick fixes. One deliberate student took all of the first hour to decide which of the three topics she wanted to write about.
It is a difficult test, in a series of difficult tests. It isn't one that we can lay at the feet of the federal government, but there are many others that we can. In a flurry of unfunded requirements of the states' departments of education, President Bush slapped together something called the No Child Left Behind Act. How did this come about? While Rod Paige was superintendent of Houston Independent School District he developed a strong loyalty to then Texas Gov. George W. Bush. Bush in his turn became the mouthpiece for high-stakes testing. Once elected president, Paige's ideas became the inspiration for the administration's Left Behind plan, aimed at raising educational standards nationwide. Unfortunately they planned not on raising accomplishment through providing more support to states, districts, schools, and teachers, but by demanding more testing of students. More testing and more testing. The gurus were speaking "accountability." (This all seemingly weeks before Paige was revealed to have taken a number of -- we'll call them shortcut -- with his data on dropout rates, among other things.) In short, they tried a quick fix.
Today's lesson is that there are no quick fixes. The bailing wire breaks and the muffler falls off in the middle of the intersection.
After the elections, many people breathed a deep sigh of relief. If your windows were open, you possibly heard it too. The balance of power had shifted in Congress; the State House similarly looked like it might be able to make decisions through consensus, and the Governor stood his ground. The bond passed and good things went forward and bad things died in the ballot box. These changes are just the beginning. Like planting the bulbs last weekend, we need to be patient and hopeful and with composting and tilling and trimming and edging, the fruits of our labors will bloom brightly. We in Sherwood School District are going to be ably, wonderfully, represented to our representatives by four Sherwood Education Association members who have been trained in how best to connect with our state legislators. Over coffee, lunch, or an evening get together, our Legislative Contact Team (LCT) of Tim King, Maggie Englund, Jennifer Reisinger and Kate Kelleher will each join the discussion of what is best for education. The Oregon Education Association will keep them informed and up-to-date on bills in committee, and bills on the floor, and the LCT will in turn massage Rep. Jerry Krummel, Sen. Larry George and others to do what is best for our kids. It will be an arduous task- illustrative of today's lesson.
One of the other students working on her paper about inventing a new sport out of two other sports spent most of her first four days describing the new sport. She missed a critical piece of information; the paper was supposed to be about how the sport came to be invented, not how to play it. She did not spend enough time planning it out. It hurt to watch.
Teachers, if not by nature, certainly by training, are methodical creatures. We plan our trimester sequence, we plan our units, we plan our lessons, we plan our days, and we plan our mornings. Some of us even plan our spontaneous remarks. One of the values of having a good plan is the foundation it provides from which to improvise. Fixing problems is easier if you have something solid to come back to. In this ever-changing world of demands being put upon the teaching staff -- from the instability of reactive state and federal requirements to the volatility of pressures and stressors of a rapidly growing community -- we are extremely fortunate to be able to look to our unions as the slow fix we need. The Sherwood Education Association and the Oregon School Employees Association are artists at what we do. Together, with your participation, your encouragement, your volunteerism and your active support we can go forward.