Monday, June 11, 2007

The Thing about Portfolios

This is a post I did over at Kentucky Progress about a story David Adams did about "Making Our Schools Better Starts Here".

Mr. Adams, I realize I am a little late to this debate, but I was catching up after a vacation last week, and wanted to contribute some perspective on this issue. And please forgive my lack of concisiveness.

My wife is a teacher, one of those who became a teacher because of friends that she knew in college that couldn't read, not because of the awesome pay and benefits everyone is so envious of. She teaches fourth grade, one of the primary grades for writing portfolio evaluations.

Her stance on them is that writing should be tested and evaluated, but the materials that they put into them are pretty useless. They work on reflections, memoirs, and narratives for these portfolios, when they need to be emphasizing research papers, essays, and persuasive writing techniques that will actually serve them later in their jobs or acedamia.

A dear friend of mine is one of those horrible ivory-tower liberal elites who teaches that deplorable non-science of Psychology, and even she says her biggest gripe with students entering college is that they can't write, they can't research, they have no concept of the proper way to put words to paper.

If there is one good thing to come from these portfolios however, it is that it forces schools (that want to score highly) to provide individualized writing coaching for all students, and that is coaching in the encouraging and instructing sense and not the "here are the answers" sense.

However, the downside of this from my wife's perspective is that a lot of her fellow teachers who are involved with this coaching resist her efforts to push students to achieve more. Not because they agree with you and think these portfolios are a waste of time, but because of their own low expectations of the performance of some, along with a heaping helping of just plain laziness.

So my wife has turned to retired teachers in our church to volunteer to help with this coaching, because her colleagues aren't up to doing anything above the minimum effort required.

I am not so much for the elimination of tenure not because of the way it props up bad people, but because it now allows my wife (the outsider) to prod these people(mostly local) and rock the boat without fear that their Brother-in-law down at the Board office can get her fired.

But if they (portfolios and lazy colleagues) can't be improved, they certainly should be eliminated, as they totally suck a lot of resources from those that have to teach them.

Also, in her school it practically takes an act of Congress to get a kid held back, even if they really need to. I think 11:57 is making or buying the excuses of a dim (or lazy) bulb.

Mr. Adams was gracious enough to repond:
One problem with a discussion about improving education is that there are at least three sides to every story. Thanks for your perspective on tenure; I had never thought about it that way.

The good old boy system in schools really hurts. That's why I think school choice would force a lot of the abuse out of the system by making the corruption too expensive.

And if we can agree to get rid of the CATS writing portfolios for 4th graders, let's do it without getting stuck on why we should.
That's why I like KP. Just as willing to concede a point as I like to think that I am. For a Republican, he is alright.

I hope the lazier and bitchier of my wife's colleagues never find out about this blog and what I'm saying to them.



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