District Mandates Innovation in All Schools

New Fork, NY—Responding to the lack of innovation in some schools, and the multiple definitions of innovation in others, the New Fork Department of Education has ordered all schools to follow a streamlined, data-driven innovation rubric that spells out precisely what an innovative school and classroom should look like.

“It’s time for every school in this district to become innovative,” said schools chief Frank Lubie. “There is no excuse for doing the ‘same old, same old,’ or dibbly-dabbling in your own special thing. Innovation is research-driven, we know what it is, and it’s time for everyone to get on board with it.” Any school in the district that has not become innovative by 2015–2016 will lose fifty percent of its funding.

What does an innovative school look like? First, its bulletin boards must look innovative. “Every bulletin board must have a task, a Common Core State Standard, and a rubric, along with graded student work with a recent date,” said Lubie. “Not one of those items can be missing.” Just how is this innovative? “Research has shown that innovative schools have bulletin boards that conform to this standard,” he replied. “That’s why we call them innovative schools.”

Next, all classrooms must have a four-square chart on the wall. “It can serve various purposes,” said Literacy and Innovation Coach (LIC) Sally Onwys, “but it must be clearly visible, and it must be used.” One purpose was to show students how to write a paragraph. “In the middle, you’ve got your topic sentence,” she said, “but it’s in a diamond, so it’s still a four-square chart. Then you have an opening supportive sentence, two more supportive sentences with evidence—that’s the most innovative part, since no one used evidence in the past—and a summary sentence. Do that for four more paragraphs, and you’ve got an innovative essay in an innovative classroom, all thanks to the innovative chart.”

What if a student finds that a summary sentence is not needed, or that two supportive sentences do the trick? “That student will still have to follow instructions,” Onwys replied. “What’s good for one is good for all. To summarize: Even a student who sees no need for a summary sentence should write one, for the sake of our collective innovation rating.”

Speaking of collective innovation, all desks in an innovative classroom must be arranged in pods, until the neo-furniture arrives. “There should be no detectable front of the room,” said Onwys. “Students should have nowhere in particular to look except at each other. This will stimulate collaboration and group thinking.” In addition, all students would wear RFID tags so that they could be tracked at any time, for greater success. Additional monitoring might include discussion tracking (by computer programs that detect keywords), engagement measurement by means of skin conductance bracelets, and other items.

As for content, every innovative classroom must focus on informational texts. “We’ve got to catch up with the information age,” said Lubie. “Literature’s all very nice, and we’ll still teach it. But those kids have to be reading informational text every day.” To eliminate the cost of photocopying, and to provide texts at each student’s instructional level, schools would give each student an iPad with an interactive reading comprehension program. There would be no need to waste precious instructional time with class discussion; instead, teachers could circulate around the room and make sure students were on task. A typical check-in might sound like this:

Teacher: So, what strategy is Flubby teaching you today? [Flubby is an empathic animated tutor.]
Student: Today Flubby is teaching me the strategy of finding the main idea.
Teacher: Are you applying that strategy to an informational text?
Student: Yes.
Teacher: Let’s see.
Student (pointing to a highlighted sentence on the screen): Here’s the main idea.
Teacher: Great!

The teacher then makes a mark on a checklist and proceeds to the next student.

For Lubie, a strength of the innovative classroom is its lack of ambiguity. “We don’t have to worry about being misrated and misjudged,” he said, “because it’s obvious who’s innovative and who isn’t.” Nor is it necessarily time-consuming; the district has purchased five thousand Innovative Learning Packages that meet all of the specifications. A school need only set it up and use it. “If the district becomes entirely innovative, as we require,” he added proudly, “the time soon will come when it knows no other way.”

District Announces Value-Added Bazaar

In a major urban district that requested anonymity, teachers will be required to attend a bazaar in order to purchase the value-added formula that suits them best. (In education, value-added formulas are used to rank teachers on the basis of their students’ test score improvement.)

“It’s ‘bazaar,’ not ‘bizarre,’” said Superintendent Elmer Bozard, whose initial proposal inspired a major donation from an anonymous celebrity, an “influencer” who thinks education is important.

(Readers may be wondering: how can the urban district remain anonymous, now that Bozard has revealed his name? Answer: Bozard is as yet unknown to the education world. He just graduated from the Broad Superintendents Academy and has never been a teacher or principal. His appointment is still unannounced, as the previous superintendent has yet to be officially fired.)

“This is sheer innovation,” Bozard went on to explain. “Ever since we started rating teachers with formulas, we’ve been getting numerous complaints about errors, inconsistencies, absurdities, you name it. So we got together in a secret focus group with industry leaders and came up with this new idea: Let the market be the formula.”

At the Value-Added Bazaar, teachers will view demos of each formula and speak with a value-added consultant. After purchasing their own personal formula (prices range from $10 to $1,000), they will take a personality test. This will match them with a Holistic Evaluation Knowledge Consultant (HEKC) who will manage their Holistic Evaluation Needs. “Research has shown that teachers are valid people, but that they resist change,” said Shelly Speranza, CEO of Valid People, Inc. “So our consultants begin by affirming the teachers as people. Then they tell them that if they want to stay human, they will have to change, because humans change. For consistency’s sake, we make sure that our evaluations match the value-added ratings.” Consultants earn a minimum of $1,000 a day, but each teacher will only have to pay $100 a month for the services.

Although teachers may choose the formula that rates them “effective,” the sum total of ratings will lead to the firing of 50 percent of the teachers. “You see,” explained Speranza, “each time a teacher is rated effective, someone else is rated ineffective. We tally up each teacher’s ‘ineffective’ ratings and divide down the middle. The ones most frequently rated ‘ineffective’ will have to go.”

“Brilliant!” exclaimed the economist and movie actor Brian Handshake. “We’ve been dying to find a way to get rid of teachers so that student achievement can shoot up to the heavens. Now they can get rid of themselves!”

Curiously, teachers have not shown excitement over the bazaar. “I’ve got to prepare a lesson on Blake,” said a high school English teacher. “I don’t have time for this.”

“We’ll hype it up a bit more,” said Bozard, when we passed on her comment. “We’re planning to give out a lot of goodies there.” Noting that teachers often pay out of pocket for required bulletin board supplies, he has ordered a large supply of bulletin board backing paper, colorful borders with stars and animals, staples, construction paper, pushpins, and ready-made rubrics and standards.

In addition, at the bazaar, a leading software and hardware company will be offering to inject microchips in teachers for free. “When they let us track them, we know they’re not hiding anything,” said Bozard. “Their disclosure level isn’t part of the value-added ratings yet, but their HEKC will be informed of it and will treat them accordingly. Over time, their personal lives will figure into their ratings as well.”

Eventually it will be possible to purchase value-added formulas at regular grocery stores. “We expect many more brands over the next 5-10 years,” said Handshake, “and it’s important to keep the market fluid. So you can expect to see machines dispensing cards with barcodes. Teachers will just scan them against their chips, and the calculations will begin.”

  • “To know that you can do better next time, unrecognizably better, and that there is no next time, and that it is a blessing there is not, there is a thought to be going on with.”

    —Samuel Beckett, Malone Dies

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  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR

     

    Diana Senechal is the author of Republic of Noise: The Loss of Solitude in Schools and Culture and the 2011 winner of the Hiett Prize in the Humanities, awarded by the Dallas Institute of Humanities and Culture. Her second book, Mind over Memes: Passive Listening, Toxic Talk, and Other Modern Language Follies, was published by Rowman & Littlefield in October 2018. In April 2022, Deep Vellum published her translation of Gyula Jenei's 2018 poetry collection Mindig Más.

    Since November 2017, she has been teaching English, American civilization, and British civilization at the Varga Katalin Gimnázium in Szolnok, Hungary. From 2011 to 2016, she helped shape and teach the philosophy program at Columbia Secondary School for Math, Science & Engineering in New York City. In 2014, she and her students founded the philosophy journal CONTRARIWISE, which now has international participation and readership. In 2020, at the Varga Katalin Gimnázium, she and her students released the first issue of the online literary journal Folyosó.

  • INTERVIEWS AND TALKS

    On April 26, 2016, Diana Senechal delivered her talk "Take Away the Takeaway (Including This One)" at TEDx Upper West Side.
     

    Here is a video from the Dallas Institute's 2015 Education Forum.  Also see the video "Hiett Prize Winners Discuss the Future of the Humanities." 

    On April 19–21, 2014, Diana Senechal took part in a discussion of solitude on BBC World Service's programme The Forum.  

    On February 22, 2013, Diana Senechal was interviewed by Leah Wescott, editor-in-chief of The Cronk of Higher Education. Here is the podcast.

  • ABOUT THIS BLOG

    All blog contents are copyright © Diana Senechal. Anything on this blog may be quoted with proper attribution. Comments are welcome.

    On this blog, Take Away the Takeaway, I discuss literature, music, education, and other things. Some of the pieces are satirical and assigned (for clarity) to the satire category.

    When I revise a piece substantially after posting it, I note this at the end. Minor corrections (e.g., of punctuation and spelling) may go unannounced.

    Speaking of imperfection, my other blog, Megfogalmazások, abounds with imperfect Hungarian.

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