I have a love-hate relationship with Walmart Supercenters. I will complain about the crowded parking lots, the long lines, and the people who live in another brain zone, but I always go back. Why? They have the lowest prices on groceries, so I get the most bang for my buck there. I hate to make a quick stop at another grocery store because it’s so convenient, pick up a box of cereal that is priced at $4.59, and realize the same thing would cost me $3.29 at Wally World. I am willing to be inconvenienced to save money, because although time is a resource in short supply in my world, money pays the bills and will make my retirement much more enjoyable.
Those of us in public education are working in the Walmarts of academia: we are overcrowded, we welcome everyone, and we give people the most bang for their buck. Yes, people love and hate us, but we are the most convenient and least expensive education for their children.
In our Supercenters, students can learn how to speak a foreign language, discover the microscopic life of cells, and get hands on experience in wellding. They can increase their vocabularies, learn how to think critically, and explore new literary worlds.
Pleasing the Customer
Walmart has established itself as a force to be reckoned with in pleasing the masses. By providing a multitude of goods, they give people choice. By rolling back those prices, they provide value. By being open twenty-four hours a day, they cater to the people’s lifestyles. In short, Walmart has spoiled us.
How do public educators please the masses? By providing a wide range of electives, they give students learning choices. By offering a “free” education, they offer every child an opportunity. By extending their hours, converting to year-round school, and offering virtual courses, they are trying to cater to people’s lifestyles.
Walmart is in competition with other retailers. How do they know if they are successful? Quarterly reports. What data do they use? Profit gain or loss. Numbers.
Schools are in competition with each other. How do they know if they are successful? Annual yearly progress reports. What data do they use? Test scores. Are they up or are they down? Numbers.
Loss of Focus
But schools are not businesses, making profit more important than product. We are all about product. Quality. We know that it is not instant nor easy, but it is worth it.
However, the “powers that be” require numerical proof that we are producing quality. Do they want to study a child’s portfolio of his best work to show growth over a year? Do they want to see a child immersed in a project on a subject that fascinates them? Do they want to ask a child what he has learned during a unit? No. Why? The answers are probably numerous, but I’m sure they are rooted in money, time, and uniformity.
In my state (South Carolina), second year teachers must go through an evaluation process. Do they take a test to measure their effectiveness as a teacher or what they learned in their first year teaching experience? No. They are observed in action on four different occasions spaced throughout the school year. They must provide Long Range Lesson plans and reflection on the unit of study completed before each observation. This sounds like a much more effective method of determining what someone has learned than taking a test one time during a school year.
So why do we as educators provide fairer evaluations of our teachers than we do of our students? What is wrong with this picture?