With all this talk of accountability in the air, one would think that public schools were void of checks and balances, that teachers had free reign. That could not be further from the truth.
Since the start of the school year, my principal, superintendent, students’ parents, school improvement partner, the district’s positive behavior support coach, district AVID coordinators, the site based leadership team and many others have visited my classroom. Visitors are greeted with a smile and students no longer skip a beat, because this is the new reality of teaching in a public school. The days of closing my classroom door to the outside world are through, and I embrace the transparency.
In addition to opening up their classrooms for constant feedback, educators also jump through many hoops of accountability. After making it through three years of probation, new educators must submit a Professional Development Plan (PDP) to the Department of Public Instruction every five years to renew their teaching license. This plan, which includes goals and a plan for growth, is submitted to a PDP Team consisting of peers and administrators.
If you still aren’t convinced that teachers are accountable, stick with me – enter the Wisconsin Educator Effectiveness System, complete with more shiny accountability hoops than ever before. Under this new system, teachers create a Professional Practice Goal (PPG) and Student Learning Objectives (SLOs) to show that they are effective and making growth in the four domains of the Charlotte Danielson Framework for teaching. A detailed analysis of current level of performance, areas for growth, and evidence of reaching defined targets is tracked using Teachscape. If you think this sounds rather complicated, you are in good company. For this reason, DPI has developed an 86 page instruction manual to assist educators in this journey. (And if this is stressing you out, you are also in good company. Consider watching this parody, SLO Song, by Linda Kinnison Roth. It made me feel better.)
With all of this accountability storming through public schools, I have to stop and question what is going on with our state legislature. (In our current political state, questioning of this sort is strongly encouraged.) The first bill of the 2014 legislative session, Assembly Bill 1, once again put public schools on the chopping block. The original version of this bill called for an “Academic Review Board” consisting mainly of appointees by the majority party that would not be democratically accountable to our superintendents or elected school boards. This proposal reinvigorated a letter grading system for our schools that would not account for economic conditions or pressures from outside the school walls. To make matters worse, testing for charter schools would be different from testing for public schools, creating a system that would make comparison impossible. Perhaps the most upsetting component of this bill is what would happen to “failing” schools – they would be converted to charters. On January 14th, over 100 educators testified at a twelve hour hearing on AB1.
Some of the most compelling testimony came from educators and parents of children in public schools. Amy Mizialko, a teacher out of Milwaukee, explained that public schools are being “forced through the cracks” by dwindling budgets and an increased move toward privatization. Retired Milwaukee educator, Sheila Plotkin, reminded listeners that our public schools accepted all learners from all walks of life, while private schools underwent “education by exclusion.” The message was clear; Assembly Bill 1 takes direct aim at public schools that have already taken too many hits.
For more on this hearing, see the thorough coverage by Monologues of Dissent.
Not long after this hearing, on January 16th, the Wisconsin State Senate followed suit and introduced its companion bill, Senate Bill 1. A public hearing on this bill was held on January 27, 2015. This bill sets up two distinct “accountability” boards, one for public and charter schools and a separate board for private voucher schools. These boards separately would have the power to identify failing schools and implement improvement plans. Under SB1, state aid could be withheld from districts that include “failing” schools.
Both AB1 and SB1 will penalize and defund the schools that contain our neediest students. In a time when schools and teachers are striving to meet the needs of all students, these bills would add increased pressures without any regard for the daily struggles students and teachers face. Our public school teachers are already accountable. The legislature’s irresponsible use of the word “accountability” perpetuates the dangerous myth that it is our schools that are stagnant and failing. As I spend my weekend reviewing lesson plans, grading papers, making contact with students and parents, and reviewing my PPG and SLO, I encourage the state legislature to take a look at the reality of our public schools.