The "Needs" of a High-Need School

Teaching in this era of data-driven instruction can be a bit overwhelming. Whether you're a twenty year veteran struggling to keep up with changes in pedagogy and technology or a first year teacher stunned by the sheer volume of assessments and paper work, the fact remains it's difficult. More than that, the emphasis on data can be somewhat off-putting for a group of idealists (or former idealists). The emphasis on test scores and data has also created a shift in the entire focus of schooling. Perhaps this isn't true everywhere, but I feel it acutely at my own school.

You see, you have to understand a bit about the immense pressure my school's administration is under. Because of test scores that have failed to rise my school has been identified as a School In Need of Improvement (SINI) and it also received a D in the first round of Bloomberg's new report cards. The D grade and the SINI designation were almost completely based on a lack of improvement on test scores and so the entire focus of our school has been forced towards raising test scores.

Which brings us to the simple question (with a complicated answer): How? One answer seems to be with materials. My students have plenty of textbooks. For math alone they have their Everyday Math Journals, Everyday Math Study Links, Everyday Skills Links and Math Steps. Those are all for class and homework. On top of that we have test prep books published by New York State to prepare for the ELA and Math exams. And then today the smartboard arrived.

Don't get me wrong. I'm ecstatic to finally have a smartboard of my own. Even if I'm not sure where it'll fit in my classroom I know that it will open up a whole new array of learning options for my students and me. And considering that most suburban schools have had this technology for a number of years I think it's essential to helping my kids keep/catch up with their better heeled peers.

What I do wonder is whether we can really hope to improve my students scores with a smartboard and test prep booklets when my students don't really even have a well balanced classroom library. Or a set of classroom dictionaries and thesauri. Or, and this is what I've been thinking about a lot lately, access to regular counseling.

Off the top of my head I can think of four students who need, and I mean need, regular counseling. If I really knew the home situation of all my students that number would probably be higher. And yet in a school of 1,050 students we only have one full-time counselor. Will the NYS approved text on fractions and decimals sink in when my student is struggling with genuine post traumatic stress disorder? Is a smartboard going to help my students make the leap from a failing grade to a passing if they don't have anyone who's there to listen?

At a "high-need" school like mine there's a long, long list of needs. And it's hard to distinguish where one need is greater than the others. And it's very hard to find funding for all, or even half of them. But in the end which will provide the greatest gains? Technical support or emotional support?


asdfuiop said…
There's a downside to improving a school, too. The elementary school where I'm teaching is a "high-need school" that's made adequate progress for the past four or five years, long enough to be "redesignated". That means the school will no longer get the "extra" funding for positions such as nurse, counselor, instructional aides, parent liason, etc. Our students have a huge need for more emotional support and more attention to social development in general!

Every year schools have to struggle to get these positions funded, then filled - it ensures a lack of continuity and wave after wave of "programs" as support staff turns over and over again. Next year, it looks like the budget cuts will finally make it impossible for this school to scrape the money together - hard to imagine, not even having a nurse ONE day a week, no one to relieve the secretary at lunch, no floating sub on-site, etc.

(We had an all-day staff meeting today sitting in the cold cafeteria that left me in a bad mood, but even on a good day I sound like this.)

The school achieves the goals, and in return gets massive take-aways. And I'm in CA, where the education budget is about to be eviscerated. I already have to put in monthly requisitions to be doled out chalk, pencils, binder paper, chart paper, etc. - many colors of construction paper are out and the only other art materials supplied are some tempera paint and crayons.

Could I use a smartboard? Oh yeah! I'd love to have one. Does it take the place of a well-rounded classroom library? No, but it's all about the test scores and the smartboard would probably raise test scores more than an improved library that few of them would use.

The biggest irony of all is that my students don't have any time to read! I was hired at the end of October - they were with subs for the first 10 weeks of school - and we'll be working nearly double-time on math trying to make it up for the next two months. I have to catch up to the pacing schedule to be able to give the necessary assessment before our standards-based report cards are due. I could figure out the report cards without the assessment, but then I'd still have to double up to be ready for the state tests...

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