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A nail in the educational coffin

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By John Pawlak

Television commercials entertain us with actors who, wearing lab-coats and surrounded by medical paraphernalia, advise us on how to medicate ourselves in order to treat illnesses such as arthritis, high blood pressure and diabetes.
I say “entertain” because the fun part is reading the warnings on possible side effects (usually given in nano-sized font). For example, the treatment for arthritis can lead to skin reactions, ulcers and intestinal bleeding, pregnancy termination, heart attack, stroke, or death.
I love the term “side effects.” It sounds so benign. Of course, if they called it “in your face effects,” people might have a problem with the death part.
Sometimes the side effects mandate that nano-sized font. Men suffering from low testosterone are advised to consider hormonal replacement therapy, which then warns of “risk of reduction of testicle size.”
I suppose one would call that a “tiny” side effect.
My favorite side effect warning comes from a weight reduction medicine. It warns that users might have “hard to control bowel movements and oily spotting.” So instead of shooting your mouth off at a restaurant, you can make a more back-end commentary on your opinion of the chef’s creation.
Let’s face it, truth in advertising is an oxymoron. You know, like jumbo shrimp, Congressional wisdom, freezer burn, and Civil War?
This brings me to my favorite truth-vacant oxymoron of day — state administrators instructing teachers how to teach.
The subject is Hanna Skandera, a person who has never taught a K-12 class and yet feels qualified to define what makes teaching effective.
Skandera is known for trashing Florida’s public educational system. The Annie E. Casey Foundation ranked Florida 44th in economic well being of its children, 38th in their health outcomes, and 35th in educational performance.
Education Week cited similar results, awarding Florida a
D-minus for student achievement, an F for student funding, and an F for college readiness.
The assessments also note that Florida’s high-school graduation rate is 45th in the country.
Well then, I certainly understand why Governor Susana Martinez was so anxious to make her “acting” Secretary of Education in New Mexico!
Of course, Skandera doesn’t mention the acting part. Maybe that’s because she’s a lousy actor.
More specifically, Skandera is New Mexico’s “Secretary Designate” of Education, having never been confirmed by the State Senate.
Has Martinez ever read the State Constitution? It clearly states that the PED will be headed by “a qualified experienced educator.”
What does Skandera bring to the educational dinner table? Only her appetite for a state-sponsored grading system that does nothing to help teachers do a better job. On the positive side, it will generate lots of jobs in the PED.
She now wants teachers to spend inordinate amounts of time populating two black holes of information (PlanBook and TeachScape) in order to “demonstrate effective teaching.” It’s not meaningful content and, implemented in its entirety, would easily consume an additional 30 to 40 hours a week for teachers, time taken away from improving one’s teaching or working with students.
The question I have is, how does her grading system make me a better teacher? Doing a Harlem Shake to the tune of Skandera’s educational metrics is all very fine if one believes that a song and dance would benefit students. I don’t think it does. We don’t need two more anchors to drag education down to yet an even lower circle of pedagogical infliction.
Dante would be proud, Hanna.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I do believe that teachers should be evaluated for core competencies and ability to instruct. But imposing 30-40 hours per week to feed a database with educational jargon won’t accomplish this. And sporting an artificial title doesn’t make one an expert on education any more than wearing a lab coat makes one an expert on medicine.
Maybe all this confusion and frustration could be easily avoided if Skandera’s proclamations came with the standard disclaimers and warnings of side effects?
For example: Caution: I am a state bureaucrat. I give direction without knowing north from south. Do not take my advice while operating heavy machinery, while driving, or while trying to actually teach children.