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Banana Man and the DOE

Tingley-021 color-1 Just when I thought there was nothing funny in education, along come two prime stories!

The first, reported in USA Today last week, is from Colonial Forge High School in Stafford, Virginia, where a fourteen-year-old student donned a banana costume a couple of weeks ago and ran around the football field at halftime.  The students, of course, thought it was hilarious; the principal, not so much.  In fact, Principal Karen Spillman was so unamused that she suspended Bryan Thompson for 10 days for his behavior.

The  suspension was lifted after 5 days, but not before some students had taken to wearing yellow “Free Banana Man” t-shirts.  The principal ordered the kids to stop wearing them, and that’s when the ACLU got involved.  Ms. Spillman subsequently resigned.

The second story makes a difficult, controversial plan even more difficult and controversial.  The Department of Education appears to be putting together a plan to hold teacher education programs accountable for … (wait for it) … the achievement of students taught by graduates of their programs. 

Currently schools of education receiving Title II funding must report on their students’ pass rates for licensure exams.  Compliance with this regulation is reasonable and relatively simple.  Now, however, there is a movement afoot to require schools of education to report how well the students of their graduates do on their respective tests.  Then the students will have to report on how well their dogs and cats do in obedience school.  OK, just a little joke, but it does remind you a little of the Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly.

Perhaps no one at the DOE has noticed that value-added test score data isn’t as easy to access as some would Banana costume believe.  Tests either don’t exist or aren’t administered at some grades or in some subjects.  How will special education teachers be measured?  What about art or band or physical education?  What about stand-alone courses like physics or AP English?  And how do you control for all the variables that teacher graduates face in their jobs – overloaded classes, unsupportive administration, students who don’t speak English?

In some rural areas, school districts do not have graduates from all over the country or even the state clamoring for jobs.   School administrators often hire a disproportionate number of graduates from the closest state school.  In my experience, some of those graduates are outstanding and some are not.  Those in the latter group usually don't retain their jobs.  Both types graduated from the same program, however, and higher GPAs don't necessarily ensure better teaching.  Some graduates like kids more, bring more “extras” like coaching or advising, and are better campus citizens.  All of those intangibles help kids succeed, even score better on standardized tests. 

I’m not saying that all teacher preparation programs do a fine job of preparing teachers, but where a graduate finds a job matters. School administrators are responsible for removing ineffectual graduates of any program, and principals tend to be the people who can take into consideration the variables that the classroom teacher faces.  Student test scores don’t necessarily tell whether the teacher’s preparation program was effective.

Clearly this second story isn’t as amusing as Banana Man.




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