The One Sided Marriage

With the potential reauthorization of NCLB on the horizon, and a special Wyoming committee working on State accountability measures, I have been thinking a great deal about teacher accountability recently.  I’ve said repeatedly that educators don’t mind accountability as long as it’s fair.

We have a moral, ethical, and professional responsibility to ensure that every child that walks through our doors gets a high quality education.  We have to throw excuses like  poverty, home situations, high mobility and other at-risk factors right out the window.  We have to believe without question that every child can learn at high levels.  Research has shown that quality teaching, targeted student interventions and supports, and high levels of students engagement (including beyond the classroom) can, and do, overcome those at-risk variables.

And by the way, I think now is a good time to mention that we’re doing every single one of those things I just mentioned.  As the person responsible for leading this district, I’ve not been nearly vocal enough in saying that we have an extremely talented and committed faculty and staff that’s in the trenches every day swinging for the fences.  Our teachers (and teachers everywhere) are working smarter and harder than I’ve ever seen.  Are we perfect?  No.  Do we make mistakes?  Yes.  We’re human and this is a performance based occupation.  But even Albert Pujols commits an error or experiences a slump now and then.  The key to long-term success in a performance occupation is daily maximum effort, a long-term work ethic, and a commitment to continuous improvement.  And I’ll put our collective effort, work-ethic and commitment up against anyone.

A forgotten variable in this equation however, is the daily maximum effort, long-term work ethic and commitment of our students (and yes, our parents).  Individual student success requires a highly functioning relationship between our teachers and our students, and by extension their parents.  In a sense, it’s like a marriage.  Both sides have to work equally hard for it to be successful.  Both sides need to take responsibility for the overall success.  But nobody seems to be talking about accountability for students.

Why?  It’s hard to say.  My belief is that it would be difficult, expensive and time-consuming to measure student effort and politically it’s just MUCH EASIER TO  BLAME TEACHERS.  But when student effort is minimal or non-existent, teachers are trapped in a one-sided marriage.  The frustrating part for our teachers is that the legislators want to play marriage counselor.  Unlike a good counselor, they are evaluating the marriage based solely on the efforts of one spouse.

Jay, are you saying that some of our students aren’t working hard enough?  Yes I am.  Without question.  This isn’t to say that our students don’t give us a great effort, have work ethic and commit themselves to improving.  In fact, we are fortunate that most of our students do.  And while we expect our teachers to motivate their students, we as a society can’t rest the entire weight of the educational process solely on teachers.

Quite frankly I’m tired of watching our faculty and staff put it on the line everyday only to go home and read news stories about the failings of teachers.   But there’s an added twist for which you really can’t blame the students.  There’s a gaping hole in the school accountability  process?  A hole?  What hole?  Here’s a hint:  STUDENTS HAVE ABSOLUTELY NO INCENTIVE TO GIVE US MAXIMUM EFFORT – SCRATCH THAT – ANY EFFORT – ON THE ACCOUNTABILITY ASSESSMENTS!

Quality assessments require an assumed degree of effort to truly evaluate knowledge and skill.  Most all students want to graduate, so they give the effort required to pass their classes.  Students that want to attend college give the effort to meet entrance standards.  This includes a prescribed minimum GPA and an adequate ACT score.  Unfortunately, my ten-year old son already knows there is no connection between the PAWS test and success at school other than it’s important to his Dad and his teacher.  Hint #2, his Dad has a vested interest.  Most parents, not so much.  Why would they?

Highly successful schools have a culture of aspiration.  They believe, and expect, all children will succeed, regardless of their obstacles.  But you can’t perpetuate this culture with accountability assessments that don’t mean anything to kids.

I invite you to spend some time in our classrooms.  Measure our efforts for yourself.   You won’t find the near perfection that our legislators and the media seem to want.  But what I believe you will find is everyday people like yourselves giving our children their best effort and working to become better every day.

What I’m proposing to you today is that we marry our efforts with yours to build a school system where the teachers, the students and the parents all see maximum daily effort, a strong work ethic, and a continuous commitment to improvement as the path to success.  I’m also proposing that we each take individual responsibility for those factors.  We can’t measure it and we can’t test it.  It’s on the honor system.  But I’ll put my faith in our efforts and our honor before I will any accountability system or test.

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About Jay Harnack

Superintendent of Sublette County School District #1
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3 Responses to The One Sided Marriage

  1. Michele Costello says:

    Wow! So timely. As we approach the end of the first quarter all I can say is for some students the honeymoon is over! 🙂 But, with that said…. we will not let the marriage fail! We will continue to try to help these students understand that learning is their responsibility too!

    Fortunately, in our district a lot of students and parents put in a lot of effort everyday! Thanks for the great post!

  2. Mrs. Melissa Bernard says:

    I just want to say how grateful I am for the parents who have already attended parent-teacher conferences (17/18 attendees this fall), and Building Intervention Team meatings. My students are averaging a high completion of homeworK and reading minutes. They are also sharing their means by providing afternoon snacks for classmates. Thank you parents for supporting our childrens’ efforts at school. Mrs. Bernard.

  3. Kris Ewert says:

    Your article makes a most valid point. What measure can really be placed on student’s efforts when they are confronted with national assessment tests? Actually none, as you noted. Thus one of the bottom lines of this article, as I interpret it, would be the massive hole in national assessments. Additionally, how then can the measure of a school’s performance be valid based on assessment tests alone. There in lies the incredible value of a teacher’s combined interpretation of a student’s over all class performance and assessment performance and the absurdity of the NCLB. I salute quality teachers every where. I honor the untold hours spent in securing, motivating and educating these amazing human beings who come under the label of “students”. There is such a vast array of contributing factors to human behavior that cannot be quantified, pigeon-holed, or measured. What is often forgotten in these too frequent gloomy educational “reports” is that American students are still the most inventive, imaginative and creative people on the planet. How does that happen? Maybe they are lucky enough to have the most inventive and creative teachers on the planet. This is not only a timely article, but one of the most honest I’ve ever read. Thanks

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