Ever since the education reformers began their crusade to “save” the public schools over 20 years ago, we have used one model, one metaphor, to view what we do in our schools. This model has been the center piece of everything we do in our quest to improve schools.
I call this model the Hoop Jumping Model. Everything we do in schools is designed to get students, and teachers, and administrators, jumping through the hoops of standards and high stakes testing. Last week I went to a meeting about improving professional development in our district. The focus? On getting teachers to teach the standards better. And why do we want to teach the standards better? So students will pass the standardized tests based on those standards better. But also so they get grades, earn credits, and pass on to the next grade or graduate.
Is there anything we do in education that doesn’t amount to compliant hoop jumping? We ask teachers to behave like circus animal trainers, cracking the whip to make students jump through the hoops. Students are the trained animals, hoping to get a reward – or at least avoid the whip.
The state is the ringmaster, and a rather sadistic ringmaster at that. If your animals manage to jump through the hoops he’s set, he raises the hoops. Or lines the insides of the hoops with daggers. Or sets the hoops on fire. Or waves the hoops back and forth so they’re harder to jump through. This is called Rigor.
And our value as trainers is determined by how many of our students can jump through the hoops, no matter how many obstacles they put in the way. This is called accountability.
There used to be other acts in this circus… clowns and jugglers and trapeze artists. But now it’s pretty much hoop jumping. We jump and jump and jump and it’s never enough.
The Ringling Brothers, Barnum and Bailey Circus is closing down this spring. The hoop jumping will stop. It’s time for the school system to do the same.
There are other ways to think about teaching. Those other models will be the subjects of my next posts.