Sunday, November 30, 2008

The Ethical Battle of Doctoral Work and Positions of Power in Public Schools

While most of the posts on this page have to do with direct classroom literacy practice, book reviews, and things of that nature, I do occasionally talk about issues in the public schools, including things that I hear about, things that I face, and other issues happening.

As I've stated many times before, I teach 5th grade. This means that I teach all subject areas, not just the language arts, as my literacy focused blog might imply. The state and school district I work in are both heavily focused on standardized testing measures, which are ongoing. Pre tests, mid tests, post tests, formative, summative, daily, weekly, monthly, semi-monthly, one-shot, short term, long term, you name it, we're asked to do it all.

In math, we are in the second year of our adoption of Math Investigations. The adoption process was highly politicized, which is something that, if you're a new teacher, you need to get used to. What I mean is the fact that everything that happens that involves large sums of money and massive, multi million dollar contracts, probably involves some sort of nepotism, friendly hand outs, pocket lining, or some other sort of politics. Now I'm not claiming this happened with Math Investigations, but after participating in the adoption proceedings, it was hard not to feel like someone in a position of power wielded some sort of influence into the final decision to hand over millions of dollars to the Investigations people.

OK, OK, anyways, on to today's little story. Recently, the entire district was asked to give some sort of numeration assessment, and this was tossed at us mid-year, right in the middle of everything else. Of course, the initial reaction from the teachers in the 25+ elementary schools around town was "why?" There never was an answer. Now, I am a doctoral student at the local university, and happen to know people that move in and out of both circles, public schools and university, their paths cross often actually in a town such as this one.

What I found out, through contacts both in the university system and knowing contacts who work at my districts central office is that we're doing this assessment to help someone in a position of power downtown with their doctoral dissertation. Now the issue becomes ethical from where I stand. There is nothing I found out there that actually says this is wrong, in fact, it's probably not, so I'm not implying wrongdoing on the part of the university or the public schools, or this person. I think it's an issue of individual ethics, and it's from that perspective that I will proceed.

It's one thing to complete a doctorate while working as a director of some program or another with a public school district, but it's quite another to mix the two, and ask 1,000 teachers to do the dirty work. I am still a little new to the whole process, but that gives me unique perspective as someone who moves within both systems (both high levels of the university and the public schools) to see this from an individual perspective not influenced by "the way it's done according to..." When I get to the dissertation sequence of my doctorate, my research will be my own, and if I need to assess students, I will do that, and if I need help, that's what grad assistants are for and others in the university level, not people who work for me and have no power to say no.

I tell this story simply as a cautionary tale, especially if you're in a situation similar to mine (and I'm not saying I'm unique, there are literally tens of thousands of teachers who are working on doctorates simultaneously). I think that, in terms of action research, to better my method and praxis, it's definitely appropriate, if not necessary, to have ongoing research, experimenting with new methods, and other things, within my own classroom. It's another thing to impose that on other classrooms without prior consent (that's not based on an "I said do it" mandate) from the instructor. So watch out, stand up for yourself, and know your rights. As for me, I'm not too sure what my rights are, so it looks like I'm stuck, but at least I can vent, right?


Ste_Spud said...

I have a story that is similar to this. I worked in a small school district in Idaho, which is also home to a university that offers doctoral degrees in education. Our associate superintendent was working towards a PhD in educational leadership, and used the entire school district as her personal guinea pig.

We were in the process of adopting a new language arts series, and were basically pushed in the direction of McGraw/Hill because of her personal bias and issues that stemmed from her doctoral work, which, oddly enough, involved a body of work based on McGraw/Hill published textbooks.

When word of all of this came to light, no one did anything, and that was the end of it.

I eventually left that district, naively thinking to myself that it would be different somewhere else. It's the same everywhere you go. People put themselves first, especially people who work in administration. They usually get there by being weak of their own ideas, willing to step on other people, and most of all by being major kiss asses. Your post reminded me that it goes on everywhere.

The Buss said...

"It goes on everywhere" has basically become a way of life these days in public schools. That's about all I can say that hasn't already been said.

yucaree said...

hello, i'm new to your blog (courtesy of a fuse #8 production).

i just had to comment on this post because my husband is a phd student in education, specifically for research methodology (which means he deals a lot with data and how that data is collected). when i told him about your situation he obviously said that was wrong and asked how that passed the IRB (the institutional review board) at the university. perhaps that is an avenue you can investigate if you feel this administrator has crossed the line?

The Buss said...


I really don't know if it's worth it. This is just something that angers me, but I think I might just vent and let it go. I do plan on talking to this administrator though and finding out more about the specifics of the research, and hopefully I can say some of this at that point directly to that person.

The Buss said...

As an update to this, my school district countered all of this talk and rumor(which definitely wasn't started by me, since only a handful of people in my district even know that this is my blog, I refrain from using names on here) by saying that this is definitely NOT a part of someone's doctoral work. Unfortunately, I'm still not convinced. Would school districts lie to their employees? Of course they would, so I don't know, I'm still looking into this one.