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I grew up playing school. My friends and I would sit in a room, draw on a chalkboard, take turns playing the teacher and students, and--get this--make, complete, and grade worksheets. (I feel like I should be admitting that at some sort of teacher anonymous meeting.)

Fast forward about two decades--I quit college to attend cosmetology school. I worked in several salons for several years, loving the art and science of beauty. But soon I realized there was an emptiness...an emptiness which echoed of my childhood playing-school days. So I transitioned from behind the salon chair to the front desk so I could finish my degree in English Education. And I became a teacher.

I am an educator.
Scratch that, I am an educalculator.

To set the context, I'd like to share a few anecdotes which reflect national issues in public education:

-It is common practice in many schools to create a TCAP-like (or other state-mandated test) environment for an entire day, sacrificing the natural rhythms of teaching and learning for the sake of fostering testing stamina.
-Because of mandated "data entry" requirements, students can be required to write answers not once, but twice: once on the exam, once on an answer sheet. I believe practice in moderation is essential in setting students up for success on a rigorous exam, but when they have to do double the work...just for data entry...there is something amiss.
-I spent hours delineating the standards of, creating, copying, planning, and grading a benchmark assessment, in the hope of receiving targeted data about standards in which students are struggling--thereby giving me feedback for future teaching. When trying to analyze the data, it was discovered that the standards were misaligned and misdocumented--muddying, at best, and voiding, at worst, all of the hours spent prepping, giving, and grading this assessment. It is challenging to prioritize data targets when those targets are often flawed, ambiguous, or ephemeral.
-In two separate incidents throughout my educational career, in two separate contexts, I have been a part of conversations which have called for an increase in the "productivity" of education; the language during these incidents has been to compare education to a successful business model...specifically Starbucks.
-These few things hint at a greater Educalculation Apocalypse. But there are greater warning signs all around this nation; those in the trenches are writing incessantly about the deteriorating landscape of education into educalculation. Just for example, here or here or here.

To beat the proverbial dead horse, I'd like to return to the business model analysis--since so many like to equate education with business. If Starbucks were run like public school in America:

-Once a week, all shops would be closed, so that employees could become accountants to check the profit margin; in other words, shutting off the opportunity for profit to analyze profit.
-Despite what the customer wants, several days a week, at least once a shift, all baristas would make for all customers a nonfat decaf soy caramel macchiato at 140 to see how it affects the profit margin; of course, all customers would be required to participate. Each and every time. Too bad for those dairy-intolerant customers.
-Those running the corporate framework would be professional auto mechanics with a lot of money and even more ideologies, with no coffee experience or education. But, hey, they've drunk coffee.
-Baristas would try to serve the best drinks they can, with the best results for the customers, even those customers who are throwing their drinks all over the shop as well as other customers. After security walks in, and after he/she picks himself up after taking a spill on a spilled latte, he would ask for documentation that the customer is really being disruptive, habitually disruptive. Later the boss would pull the barista in for a conference about what more the barista can do to control the throwing arm of the customer. Never mind that customer's mom throws vodka at home.
-Customers would come to the shop with one retail need, but many demands. They would come in hungry, with no money to pay for that yummy scone. They would come in smelly, because their parents are fighting and kicked them out. They would come in ordering from an English menu in Japanese and Mandarin and French. Their currency would be pesos and bit coins and pounds. They would order the most sophisticated drink on the menu, but fail to hold the cup correctly, since they missed that lesson at preschool.
-Baristas would serve while someone hovers, telling them to add vanilla (because it's cheaper and thereby increases the profit) when that barista just knows that Jimmy John likes cinnamon syrup (he likes the way it makes his breath smell, and that it turn encourages his productivity).
-Baristas would take home every night the emotional burdens of their customers, the dirty cups so they could analyze saliva trends, the crumbs left behind so they could arrange tasting conditions, and the receipts so they could detect trends in profit/loss margins. All before the next shift. All while being paid a daily salary that translates to less than a ticket to the local NFL game. But hey, they get summers off, those baristas. Never mind they spend the summer in Columbia, on their own dime, checking out the latest coffee bean consortia, preparing for the new business year.

Of course I took creative license in this metaphor. But the point remains: education is not a business. Business is choice. Our students are our customers by context. In fact, we have to keep "shop" open despite their choices.

I know it is bad form to complain without offering solutions. I also know this is not the fault of anyone in my school--or in any one school. This is not a question of who-done-it. The system holds the blame, and needs renewing change. This is also not a call to renounce data-driven instruction; rather, it is a hope that we can broaden the definition of data, and fit it rightfully in its place as one among many other essential aspects of quality instruction and learning.

What this is about is survival. I remain dedicated to teaching, to caring for students, in this educalculated world. How do I survive in this nation of educalculation?

In a recent meeting, I shared a professional goal along these lines:

I want to be an advocate for my students. I want to protect them from the avalanche tumbling down the political-educational mountainside known as Data Peak.
To further the avalanche metaphor, it appears we have no way to stop the impending force. But I can create for my students a pocket of air, an emergency kit for when we are all suffocated together under the white weight of numbers. I can stand up for them against over-testing. I can treat them like people, not statistics. I can be a human in front of them, not a robot. I can honor their hearts, not just their minds. I can implement a joke, and not just an objective. I can make my classroom a haven, not just a laboratory.

Because in this avalanche, they are just as much my air pocket, my emergency kit.

I am more than an educalculator.

I am an educator.

Originally posted to http://lifeinthedport.wordpress.com/ on Tue Jan 28, 2014 at 07:12 PM PST.

Also republished by Teachers Lounge, Education Alternatives, and Community Spotlight.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Nicely done. Did you mean to put in some links (4+ / 0-)

    in the part that says "But there are greater warning signs all around this nation; those in the trenches are writing incessantly about the deteriorating landscape of education into educalculation. Just for example, here or here or here." There is no link on the three "heres".

  •  Thank you (7+ / 0-)

    Thank you for expressing the sentiments of teachers everywhere! Believe it or not this is the one area on which even my red-est of red colleagues and I agree.

    The Starbucks analogy reminds me of a great satire piece from many years ago called

    No Bovine Left Behind

    I hope it makes you laugh. Some days that's all we can do...

    "If men were angels, no government would be necessary." James Madison, Federalist #51

    by history first on Wed Jan 29, 2014 at 03:40:23 AM PST

  •  really powerful analogy (4+ / 0-)

    Thanks for posting this first diary.  Perhaps the links below can help you navigate the norms around here:

    Welcome from the DK Partners & Mentors Team. If you have any questions about how to participate here, you can learn more at the Knowledge Base or from the New Diarists Resources Diaries. Diaries labeled "Open Thread" are also great places to ask. We look forward to your contributions.

    Words can sometimes, in moments of grace, attain the quality of deeds. --Elie Wiesel

    by a gilas girl on Wed Jan 29, 2014 at 03:58:41 AM PST

  •  Thanks for writing this (5+ / 0-)

    I have a 2nd grader in North Carolina.  The NC"Read to Achieve" law mandates 36 assessments reading teats of 120 reading passages
    (many are multiple pages)  

    My son has been taking as many as 3 tests per week.

    Failure to achieve "grade level" standards will result in mandatory summer school and then failure to be promoted to the 4th grade (flunked) .  

    At the same time, NC raised the standards to correspond to Arne Duncan's Common Core.  In testimony given to NC assembly yesterday,  State Superintendent Atkinson admitted that some of the passages were actually at 5-8th grade reading levels and were too high for 3rd graders.

    They are looking at 60-70% of 3rd grade kids in NC being retained (flunked) based on these current standards, based on 19% of students meeting grade level requirements at the beginning of the year.

    This is so wrong on many levels including having the State label thousands of 8 and 9 year -olds "failure" for life.

    •  Prison Planet comes to education, (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Intheknow, Josiah Bartlett, Temmoku

      why does every reinforcement have to be negative?

       My wife and I took our children to the wilds of Alaska when they were just starting school. We home schooled for two years, the course material took about 3 hours a day. That was  followed by an hour or two of walking around asking and answering questions. We are proud of the inquiring, compassionate adults they have become. Our children are life readers and have largely educated themselves.(my son codes as a hobby, hates cubicles, my daughter has worked in mental health care and education)  Schooling shouldn't get in the way of education, or make one hate knowledge.

      "Read what you have written 3 times and think before you hit Post while commenting when tired" Recent Experience

      by Wood Gas on Wed Jan 29, 2014 at 08:10:09 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Nicely done! (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    occupystephanie, Temmoku

    I have been a teacher in a big urban district in the Midwest for 22 years. I like your goal:  protecting my students from the avalanche coming down from Data Mountain.  
    I feel as if I've been doing the same thing for about 10 years now - since No Child Left Behind was enacted. Kids are NOT data points, nor are they profit-generators. We owe them better than this, imo.
    It will take long, hard effort to move us away from the corporate model that Bill Gates and his ilk are favoring but I'm in it for the long haul.  No one said this would be easy!  

    Think what you are doing today. -Fred Rogers

    by JanL on Wed Jan 29, 2014 at 07:55:45 AM PST

    •  NCLB was a horror show in action (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      JanL

      And, I don't know about you, but the constant, "our schools are failing, fire more teachers, get more admins and charter that SOB" chant is akin to hearing the drum roll heralding the Apocalypse of American education.  A free public education that prepares people to be citizens not just a cog is absolutely necessary to preserve a democracy.  Educating only the elite is how we got to where we are today.

      ~Arianna_Editrix-- I willingly accept Cassandra’s fate, To speak the truth, altho’ believ’d too late

      by Arianna Editrix on Sat Feb 01, 2014 at 01:26:35 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  You fight the good fight. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Temmoku

    My cousin who is retired now felt the same way you do:

    To further the avalanche metaphor, it appears we have no way to stop the impending force. But I can create for my students a pocket of air, an emergency kit for when we are all suffocated together under the white weight of numbers. I can stand up for them against over-testing. I can treat them like people, not statistics. I can be a human in front of them, not a robot. I can honor their hearts, not just their minds. I can implement a joke, and not just an objective. I can make my classroom a haven, not just a laboratory.
    He was lucky in that he had a principal who backed him up. I hope that you have the support for what you are doing because you are a fine educator.

    Great first diary!

    We have it within our power to make the world over again ~ Thomas Paine

    by occupystephanie on Wed Jan 29, 2014 at 08:05:14 AM PST

  •  As someone who is working on solutions. (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Temmoku, Lorikeet, lotlizard

    here is an update of what we've found.

    The best teaching method is a personal bond.  One learns best when one doesn't want to look bad in front of friends, or embarrass someone they like (or love in early ed)... A student ratio of 11:1 is the ideal.  Each teacher gets to know each student, and knows what they are getting or not getting....
    Each 11 student group is grouped by their ability. Testing is done and the closest scores are grouped together... The teacher then takes that class and teaches...
    Students advance based on ability, not age.  Students have different brain-maturation patterns and throwing everyone together by age means one teaches to the medium.  Teaching to their level is best...
    Much of teaching, and a good part of it, is not the topic being taught.  It is about life; socialization, and those things making us better citizens in an increasing socially urbanized world... Having a teacher as a mentor, a master of life's teachings, goes far in using real life to then slip in knowledge regarding math or language..
    .
    The brain's development happens most the  younger it is.  Therefore starting this process in elementary would give the best bang for the buck.
    just let teachers teach. The side effect of RTTT is that we have this amazing wonderful data.  Today it is being used for the wrong purpose; to beat up teachers, principals and school districts in order to discredit them and  give charters the opportunity to move in... But imagine if it was used to analyze what a child really needed to learn?  (It's original selling point btw.)  Although the amount of data is overwhelming when one has 22+ students,, it is very manageable at 11..
    Just as adults glaze over in meetings lasting more than 45 minutes, guess what?  Children do as well.  Proposed is to have ten minutes of every hour in elementary grades, where the teacher if nothing else, just walks the students up and down the hall.  The idea is to train the body towards physical activity. so one begins to get antsy after 45 minutes and needs physical activity... The main thrust is to stir the sugar-burning mechanisms in children to stymie the onset of childhood diabetes, eventually and hopefully lowering national insurance costs.  The benefit to education is that it also enhances memory of what transpired the 45 minutes before...
    That is where we seem to be heading.  In other words, it's the next big-step up the road. Sorry i didn't mean to dump a white paper here in someone's comment section, but it just sort of happened based on the original diarist's offering that he didn't like to complain without solutions offered... :)
  •  Oh My! How awful! (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Foothills of Oblivion

    Don't they know that writing down answers improves memory and that writing down an answer twice makes it more likely that a student will remember that answer, even if it is the wrong answer?

    Glad I am retired.

    Character is what you are in the dark. Emilio Lizardo in Buckaroo Bonzai

    by Temmoku on Wed Jan 29, 2014 at 09:34:45 AM PST

    •  Well said. Especially the "Natural Rhythm" (0+ / 0-)

      that has been lost in education.  I am a 21 year veteran, not sure I can make 30.

      At some point, when the evaluations of teachers become punitive in terms of pay or firings, expect the class action lawsuit that successfully argues we cannot be held accountable for the learning of students we do not have regular or consistent access to.

      I can put up with most of the other bullshit.  But once I am in the classroom with students:  Leave. Me. Alone.

      What's worse, educators in classrooms are the veteran resource being ignored - the very ones who work with kids each day, who know how they learn, who know standardized testing is a fool's errand, and who are some of the best natural psychologists on Earth - they have no empowerment to foster positive change, or to head off harmful ones.

      We simply endure.

      I'm tired.  In every way.

      "What we have is not a system. It's a health care catastrophe with an organization around it." -- Dr. Carl Olden

      by gtnoah on Thu Jan 30, 2014 at 10:15:32 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  One more thing (0+ / 0-)

        Parents and citizens HAVE to be advocates for their teachers and their schools.

        America is standing by and doing/saying nothing as public education is both vilified and gutted, on the local, state and national levels.

        To change the narrative, you must speak up.  Not just on a message board or a liberal blog, but in the newspapers, the coffee shops, with friends and neighbors.  You need to defend us.  We deserve that.

        Silence is complicity.

        "What we have is not a system. It's a health care catastrophe with an organization around it." -- Dr. Carl Olden

        by gtnoah on Thu Jan 30, 2014 at 10:19:05 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  I agree (0+ / 0-)

          but, (don't you hate that?) what I found is that parents, at least the ones who would like to help, are often too busy trying to put bread on the table these days.  I agree we must ALL speak up...especially when the word "charter" is heard!

          ~Arianna_Editrix-- I willingly accept Cassandra’s fate, To speak the truth, altho’ believ’d too late

          by Arianna Editrix on Sat Feb 01, 2014 at 01:22:05 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

  •  Have I got a book for you! (0+ / 0-)

    "Schools Can't Do it Alone" by Jamie Volmer.  He is a businessman who thought he could reform schools by making them more like a business and learned the error of his ways.  Plus the book makes you LOL or at least smile every few pages - snark-a-lishous - but with good information you can use.

    Great post - thank you!

    ...Son, those Elephants always look out for themselves. If you happen to get a crumb or two from their policies, it's a complete coincidence. -Malharden's Dad

    by slowbutsure on Thu Jan 30, 2014 at 03:44:03 PM PST

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