Maya is a social studies teacher at a school under performance improvement, hear how the flexibility of their schedule enables deeper learning:
Lisa teaches AP physics at a large urban school. Listen to her view on teaching to a test and how she more easily deepens learning after the test is over:
Regulations on school time and performance evaluation create structures that inhibit deeper learning.
Time is a highly precious and limited resource for teachers. Educators have no say in certain regulations on school time and evaluation, which impacts what they can do in a class and school year. One teacher noted the irony that “[teachers] don’t get to make policy choices, [they] just see the kids everyday.” Schools are evaluated on how well their students perform on standardized tests, which often feels like an over-simplification of college and career readiness. For example, one teacher described his disappointment in the “sterilized, imposed teaching focused on standards.” Another teacher recounted how students who performed poorly on standardized tests were in constantly monitored classes. With the need to focus on standardized tests, many teachers make sacrifices with what they know to be best practices and getting through content. One teacher mapped it out and discovered that he truly only has 120 days in a school year to engage students beyond standardized tests. He described the conundrum that “they keep adding, but don’t take anything away.” Traditional class time is not enough to engage deeply. One teacher who used to have block scheduling is now unable to facilitate engaging projects in 40 - 60 minute classes. We heard frustration with imposed common planning time. Teachers told us that without the same students in common, planning time with other teachers is counterproductive.
Structural flexibility and measuring desired learner qualities in students helps teachers prioritize students over content.
When given structural flexibility, educators feel more engaged and can more easily deepen learning for students. Schools under performance improvement are in a better position to deepen learning because they are given a window of leniency from the district. For example, one teacher at a mid-sized urban school under improvement described how the flexibility of block scheduling and teacher teams enabled a hands-on 3 hour class where students were cooking with a local chef — something impossible to do in 40 to 60 minutes. The way schools are evaluated impacts how teachers prioritize content; as one teacher said, “you can’t change the masses if you don’t change the metrics.” We spoke with administrators who are either in process or experimentation with measuring student learner qualities that mirror some deeper learning competencies. They’ve seen how meaningful incentives can help teachers re-prioritize how and what they engage students in learning.