Sunday, August 21, 2011

Parental Assessment

I've been a parent for all of fourteen months now, so I think it's fair to say that my thoughts on the following are, at the most, expert level.

When it's all said and done I don't think it will be fair to assess my work as a parent until my children are at least eighteen years old. Probably much older, considering that much of what I do today is still reflective of lessons my parents taught me many years ago. Speaking of my parents, they split when I was in seventh grade. Much of what I do today is probably reflective of what I was taught before their split. However, much of what I remember learning came after their split, and came from my mom. If someone was to assess her job as a parent they would look at me, my sister (2 years older), and my brother (4 years younger) as the empirical evidence justifying their "grade". Personally I'd give her an A (no way that grade is biased), because in all honesty the three of us are decent, ethical, happy individuals. We don't break the law. We help others when we can. We aren't saving the world (at least not yet), but we're productive, positive contributing citizens. That's certainly a job well done on her part.

But could that job have been assessed twenty years ago, when I was fifteen? And if not, why is the job of teachers and administrators and educators assessed and scrutinized solely on the past year? And not even the past year...the past eight or nine (out of ten) months of instruction? Because it makes perfect sense that standardized exams should take place in April and May, not at the latest possible time. "Hey future school is three years long, but let's administer the LSAT after 2.75 years. That last quarter of a year isn't all that important." I digress.

Education has gotten an awfully bad rap in recent times, especially the past few years. The topic of teacher assessment, a job that as much as any has an infinite amount of outside forces applying pressure and restraints... ("Hey there kiddo, what do you say? Your mom's boyfriend came home last night drunk and you had to provoke him so he didn't hit her? And you slept on a paper thin mattress in a room with your two little brothers and your cousin? And you didn't eat breakfast? I can't imagine that there's much on your mind, so just write down this learning objective and be sure to buy into the fact that solving systems of equations is going to be imperative for you to learn.") where we immediately turn our focus. And we focus on the immediate. Forget the fact that tomorrow morning, on the day before our school-year starts, I'm doing an activity with our staff where we finish the following sentence on a note-card, "I got into education because...," and that my sentence will conclude with, " fifth grade teacher was incredible, enthusiastic, and fun. And as a ten year-old I can remember watching him, being entertained and inspired by him, and thinking, 'Man it sure would be cool to have a job where I'm THAT happy!'" Because that doesn't matter. It doesn't matter that it was twenty-five years ago and Mr. Stewart still has that effect on me. The teachers in the room with me tomorrow will still be, for the most part, "graded" by what they do between Tuesday and late April, when our standardized tests are administered. But what really matters will never be tested, will never be assessed, until twenty-so years from now when someone asks them who inspired them to be who they are. Why is that?
My daughter is fourteen months old. By most accounts she's great. She smiles a ton. A friend recently commented, "I can't believe how advanced Ellie is." I didn't know what to compare her to. He said he was amazed that when she got to a step I told her, "Step down Ellie," and she did. What else was I gonna tell her? If she becomes a compulsive shoplifter in her teen years am I still a good dad for what I've gotten her to do recently? I sure don't think so (and my thoughts are expert). So let's cut teachers some slack. Let's develop a model that somehow assesses school systems on how they prepare students for the world. Let's create a longitudinal study for every school district based on statistics of citizenship, philanthropic contribution, volunteer hours served, mitzvahs completed, etc. Let's factor in the litany of other factors, such as SES status, obstacles overcome, opportunities for growth realized. Let's stop using as the bar for a successful parent the accomplishments of a toddler, or a teenager, and instead look at the adult citizen participating in a democratic society. Only then will we know how we're doing as educators.

Let's progress.

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