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Sunday, November 28, 2010

The Law of Parsimony

I am a big believer in the law of parsimony, which is the principle that entities should not be multiplied needlessly; others however may prefer Ockham’s razor which is a rule in science that says the simplest of two or more competing theories is preferable and that an explanation for unknown phenomena should first be attempted in terms of what is already known but actually both of those are just fancy ways of saying that good old common sense should prevail, which is something sadly currently missing from our education system.

You want schools to do better, instead of reinventing the wheel and taking away what precious little time teachers have to make an impact by forcing them to tedious and unnecessary things, why don’t we try giving teachers the resources they need and then bring discipline back to the classroom, those two things alone should be worth an extra letter grade. Instead of doing those two things teachers are told we must have our standards posted on our walls, something in my nine years of teaching no child has ever taken a look at, and we must have our classrooms uniform, with our classroom libraries labeled and our parent teacher logs and lesson plans easily accessible.

I teach at a “turn around school” a fancy way of saying mostly minority and poor and since I teach at a turn around school I was told all these things and a nearly endless list more had to be done. I was also told that I could expect routine visits from state representatives of the department of education and if they weren’t, I would get dinged or hit and a note would be put in my permanent file, my evaluation could suffer and I could even possibly loose my job, I wasn’t the only one told this as the same thing was said to the entire faculty. Presumably this same message was give to dozens of other “ under performing” schools.

I was also told that during these walk abouts they really wouldn’t be interested to see how I was teaching or to judge it’s effectiveness, no they just wanted to make sure I had my getting on the computer procedures posted or student work displayed, not that either of those things makes the first bit of difference in learning.

Furthermore say goodbye to innovation and creativity, as the department of education seems hell bent on eliminating those two things. They are replacing them with learning schedules, lesson plans and agendas that can’t be deviated from. Soon they may replace teachers with VCR’s and one trained chimp to hit play, after all that’s all education will need with this one schedule fits all system they are attempting to jam don our throats.

There was a palpable since of fear and trepidation at my school this past week during pre-planning as they were told about change after change that the state was requiring. When talking to other teachers, “how are things going” was answered at best with, “it is what it is” or “it’s going” but more often with, “I am afraid about what’s going to happen during the upcoming year” or “can’t talk need to go spend three hours creating a bulletin board”. Planning for the kids was replaced with getting the fore mentioned bulletin boards ready and making sure our desks were arranged in the state mandated way.

I can see how it started, someone in Tallahassee after reading an obscure article on education, shortly followed by a light bulb going off over their head, said to themselves, “I know how we can fix education, If only teachers would all have had word walls all these years then our state of affairs would be so much better”. Next thing you know it is in a bill and teachers are spending hours creating one.

Furthermore, today’s teacher is already sometimes a counselor, parent, big brother or big sister, guardian, friend, disciplinarian and ass kicker, but now we also now have to add statistician to the list as we were told the state is going to want lots and lots of data as well, we were actually told that they love graphs. This way they can see how effective our teaching it, strangely I thought that was what the almost universally reviled and discredited F-CAT was for. The F-CAT is so unimportant that they initially decided to eliminate the F-CAT writes section this year because they couldn’t afford to hire people to grade it, however flush with stimulus cash it may be back on.

When did they spring most of the changes that need to occur on teachers? If you guessed the Thursday of preplanning you have guessed correctly. Giving us two days to set up our classroom and plan accordingly for the upcoming school year.

People don’t become teachers to get rich or even acknowledgement. In fact in recent years because we have summers off, are often home by three or four and the state developed a grading system that called some schools successes and others failures there has been a bit of backlash against teachers, that they are under performing and part of the problem but nothing could be farther from the truth. Most people have no idea how much unpaid over time teachers work or how much of their own resources they pump int their classrooms. Furthermore, teachers today are better trained, more capable and experts at doing more with less than at anytime in history.

The problems in education here in Florida started when the state government began to siphon off money intended for education to give tax breaks to big businesses and people that owned second homes, and when they created a test, the F-CAT, which has become a pox on the whole education system. These things were further exacerbated here in Jacksonville with the creation of magnet schools which have created a two tiered education system, continuing, if you sprinkle in the fact that it is has become nearly impossible to get help for unruly students, then why things are such a mess becomes readily apparent. My question to you is, how are these things teachers’ faults.

Common sense should tell the powers that be the answer shouldn’t be to pile on tons of additional tasks on teachers already over burdened shoulders or worse to make them afraid for their jobs if all the new ducks dropped into their laps aren’t in the exact same row. Things would be much better if our elected officials looked up the law of parsimony in the dictionary and went with it, because it’s obvious they didn’t learn what it meant while they were in school.


  1. This is just too much talk initially. Get to the point. It should not take a dissertation to get to the point

  2. Strong work--as a teacher of 40 years, I agree with your points

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