Ever since e-mail made its appearance in the late 1980s, Essential school teachers across the country have shared a lively dialogue about their professional concerns. Reprinted here with permission are two excerpts from Christelle Estrada, a teacher from Pasadena, California who is spending this year in Utah, and Peggy Silva, who teaches at an Essential school in New Hampshire.
Accountability is also often defined in a somewhat moralistic way (the heart of this “tone,” however, seems to me to be more economic); that is, “You teachers are accountable for making sure our children learn.” Learning is somehow equated with numbers, scores on tests which value discrete and simplistic, often irrelevant pieces of information, not understanding.
The content of standardized tests is not questioned. Why? Because publishers have lobbied legislators and are backed up by the cult of the expert (or those who somehow know the canon of their content knowledge and construct the tests).
I am suggesting a different definition of accountability, one that puts equity at the heart of its meaning: Accountability is a public commitment to the good of all children. Now if the commitment is public it means for everyone (not just the reductionist solution of blaming teachers) and if it is for all children, then the way resources continue to be allocated based on test scores (reward, punishment, vouchers, privatization) then we are perpetuating the kind of society that keeps the poor poor and the rich very rich. . . .
Of course the questions are key. And we have been asking the kinds of questions that want to place blame. We create more structures to punish and reward kids and teachers and principals and schools. The market economy, gone berserk! Privatization taking the place of the common good and public commitment!
What then shall we do?
–Christelle Estrada (Pasadena, California)
What struck me as I read Christelle’s letter was how private our conversations are. As teachers we know our work, progress, frustrations, failures well. We understand the effectiveness of measuring student learning and the total inadequacy of a single number as a tool for improving that student learning. What we lack is a public voice. We allow others to control the conversation. We need to tell the stories constantly to an audience of parents, legislators, etc. . . . How do you get the word out?
I believe that every school district should have a regular column in a local paper that moves beyond the public relations of reporting on the Fun Fair or the fourth grade science fair. The author of this column would be a teacher, or many teachers, each passing the baton to another. The mission of such a column would be to be provocative, to ask people to think, and sometimes to gather for text-based discussions . . . . I even have a name for the column I want to write: “Going Public.” I haven’t figured out how to add that to my daily juggling. However, I do believe that we who do the daily work are too publicly silent about the effective strategies of that work. What are others doing to tell the stories of your schools?
–Peggy Silva (Souhegan High School, Amherst, NH)