Well known motivational speaker Zig Ziglar tells a story about fleas: If you put fleas in a jar they will jump out. If you put the lid on, then they will jump up and hit the lid repeatedly. Over time they will learn to jump just high enough that they don’t hit the lid of the jar. Eventually, they become so well trained that you can take the lid off the jar and the fleas will not jump out.
Teachers and educators have become the best-trained fleas in the State of Texas. New teachers enter the profession each year excited to be teachers. They begin with many new and exciting ideas. As the year goes on the flea training beginnings; their ideas are confined to the “jar of testing”. Their entire energy must be focused on preparing for high stakes testing. The tests are used as the total indicator of the quality of a school building and/or a school district.
Excerpt from Texasisd.com:
Thomas Ratliff, candidate for the State Board of Education, was the speaker at the Lufkin Lions Club meeting in Lufkin, Texas, on February 14, 2012. In his speech (see link) Ratliff used the book, Moneyball, to compare Texas’ educational testing data with baseball statistics valued by sports professionals. In the end, the baseball numbers didn’t matter when it came to the most important thing: winning.
My favorite part of the speech:
My favorite part of the speech:
The book says, “Think about it. One absolutely cannot tell, by watching, the difference between a .300 hitter and a .275 hitter. The difference is one hit every two weeks.”
Now think about this. You absolutely cannot tell, by visiting a school, the difference between an exemplary school and a recognized or acceptable school. The difference is often times a small handful of kids and their score on one subject area of the TAKS test. For example, my son’s junior high is rated on 20 different criteria that include test scores on reading, writing, social studies, math, science, English-language learner progress, commended performance, and performance of White, Black, Hispanic and Economically disadvantaged students. Of those 20 criteria, the junior high was ranked “exemplary” on 13, “recognized” on 6, and academically acceptable on 1. So, according to the Texas Accountability System, the ENTIRE junior high was ranked academically acceptable and that’s what the local newspaper prints and that’s what the community is led to believe about my son’s junior high. That’s right, his entire junior high of approximately 300 kids was ranked based on the score in one subject of 5 students. Talk about distorting what is really going on.
This speech just confirms the level of absurdity in our accountability system. We are constantly trying to compare apples to grapes. We have very large schools and very small schools. We have schools with very low percentage of low socioeconomic students to schools that are almost all low socioeconomic students. There cannot be one system that fits all.
The system that is currently in place in the State of Texas is creating a generation of test taking robots. We only teach what is being tested. There is not any creativity or thinking allowed to take place. All subjects are dumbed down to the lowest level possible to achieve the highest possible test results. As indicated by Mr. Ratliff above, a school can be graded on twenty criteria and it only takes one below par criterion to make it a below par school.
It is time we as educators in the State of Texas stop being “trained fleas”. Let’s break the “jar” that contains us. Teachers must have the latitude to engage their students in more meaningful and thought provoking activities. They must be allowed to teach their students how to think. An old Chinese Proverb says: Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.
We are not teaching our students “how to fish”. We are merely feeding them what they need to know to pass a test. Based on the results done by “Complete College America” 41 percent of students that graduate high school, are not prepared to go on to a 4-year University. Most are unprepared to even face the challenges of adulthood. Until we go back to teaching children “how” to think, our educational system is destined for failure. The philosophy that all students should and will be going to a 4-year University is wrong. Our society needs people to fill many necessary roles including auto mechanics, cosmetologist, electricians, x-ray technicians, plumbers, and many other types of skilled labor. In an attempt to force all students into a single path of study, we are actually causing more dropouts and students that are unsuccessful in school.
As educators we are at a crossroads, we must decide are we going to continue to be trained fleas or are we going to jump out of the jar.
David R. Taylor
24-Year Veteran Teacher, Coach and Principal.
Time is the Enemy– Complete Report of College Completion Success