In August, the LA times published a list of all of the city’s teachers, raking them as “least effective,” “less effective,” “average,” “more effective,” and “most effective.”
This post will not dig too deeply into the problem of the study, which relies on a single measure, the California Standards Test, for it’s data. I’ll save that for another post. Today, all I’ll say it this:
1. At their very best, standardized test are only an imperfect snap-shot
of children’s learning;
2. The most consistent predictor of how a child will perform on one of
these test in her/his parents income level;
3. Because of apathy or anxiety, children generally know more about
a subject than a test shows; and
4. Using test scores to redefine “learning” is a dangerous trend for
In this post, we’re going to look at the faulty logic that shame motivates behavioral changes.
“If shame changed behavior, we’d all be thin,” said my Weight Watchers coach years ago. Overweight people, like myself, are bombarded with overt and covert messages telling us that we should feel ashamed for being big, for eating too much or eating unhealthy foods. The looks, I’ve gotten buying a dozen doughnuts for the staff… as if I’m going to go out to my car and eat all twelve myself, washing them down with a quart of chocolate milk.
Shame does not produce a change of behavior. Quite the opposite, it produces defensiveness, anger, depression, self-loathing, and reinforces the very behaviors at the core of the “Shame” dynamic. That shopkeeper looking at me that way made me angry. What jerk. You know what would make me feel better? A second doughnut. Ugh… I can’t believe I ate three doughnuts. I am a fat, pathetic loser…
Such a productive cycle we have here.
The process is not all that similar with teachers and our current trend to identify the so-called worst and get rid of them. Let’s imagine the world that the LA Times must think it’s living in where these tactics work for positive change…
LA Times, “Some of you teachers are not doing a very good job! Children aren’t learning! We know this because they aren’t scoring high enough on this test here! We’re going to publish your names and tell everyone how you’re not doing a good job!”
Teacher, “OMG, LA Times! I had no idea that the problem of student learning for so important! But now that you’ve called me “less effective” for all the world to see, I understand how important children are. Luckily, I’ve been holding back a lot of my time and energy loafing around the internet and watching TV, so I can start giving 110% right now! Thank you LA Times for showing me the error of my ways!”
Who lives in a world like that? Who lives in a world where shaming people and calling them names actually gets you what you want?
Back on planet Earth, we can see the typical reaction to the Shame dynamic playing itself out in California. Some teachers are angry, calling for a boycott of the LA Times. Many of us are defensive, trying to shift the blame onto students or parents or administrators, or politicians.
Some of us are possibly feeling depression and self-loathing like 39-year-old Rigoberto Ruelas Jr., a fifth-grade teacher at Miramonte Elementary School, who was labeled “less effective” by the LA Time. Mr. Ruelas was a well-respected veteran teacher who did not shrink from the task of teaching at a school in an impoverished and violent neighborhood in LA. According to his colleagues, Mr. Ruelas was despondent over his ranking in the days leading up to his apparent suicide.
We cannot shame our way to a better public school system. Teachers like Mr. Ruelas are heroes for their willingness to teach in poor, violent neighborhoods in our cities. The parents living in those neighbors are heroes for trying to help their children go further then they currently are. The students in those schools are heroes for walking though those violence and crime-ridden streets to get to school each day. We should honor these people like the heroes they are rather than pointing at them and saying that they are the cause of the misery that are working so hard to combat.
It’s like were blaming the fire department for causing the fire because they aren’t putting it out as fast as we would like. It’s like blaming the police for crimes because they aren’t arresting criminals fast enough. It’s like blaming ministers for the divorce rate. It’s like blaming doctors for making us sick because we are not healing fast enough. We can see how of the four above examples are crazy, yet, at the same time, we go right on blaming students, parents, and teachers because public education is not raising children out of poverty and into college and careers fast enough.
We do need to identify teachers who are making great strides to educate children in our impoverished communities. We need to look at what they are doing and see if other teachers can try some of their ideas and have similar success. We need to help struggling teachers with new ideas and time to plan and collaborate. However, making those ranking public, embarrassing and shame teachers must be avoided.
Shaming teachers won’t help.