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Change for the Sake of Change

Us editors are "out of the loop" to a certain extent-one of us has risen in the ranks of IT, and the other is ensconced in a basement of Hebrew U., working with the disabled of the disabled...

IOW (In other words), we don't do HOTS. We don't do "ma'agen"s (The final grade given by schools, based upon achievement in school in English, that tempers the Bagrut grades). I do Bagrut-but it doesn't resemble the Ministry Bagrut very much.

So I guess we watch from the sides, as the debates broil and boil. We are both vatikim and have been watching for quite a long time... one of us a very, very, very long time!

The latest debates about HOTS and ma'agens caught my attention, as I was editing this edition of the Rag. I thought, "I am getting old... been there... done that... several times!"

And this was the first opportunity that I could apply my career learnings from the USA, where I was a "real" professional... a children's lawyer/advocate and lobbyist.

My conclusions? Do-gooders love change! Child advocates and social workers and teachers are do-gooders. We don't always have a lot of power, or funds, but we can change rules and regulations and requirements in the bat of an eye. I learned as a lobbyist in Florida that it is really easy to change child welfare laws, too. As long as you don't ask for any money to implement them! But guess what... without money, nothing really changes very much or very quickly.

So it is with educational system changes. Don't like something? Change the law, the system, the regulation, the procedure...

But there is a deeper problem-even though a change won't usually change much without funding, it will create chaos. Teachers suffer from chaos. But kids suffer much more.

I was here when we had a very old curriculum, and through several NEW and NEWER curriculum changes, and eventually now to HOTS. I even taught teachers new curriculums. And I honestly don't see much change. Or rather, where are the empirical results of the change?

But I see a lot of opposition and discussion and fear: HOTS has had almost 500 messages on the ETNI! That's a lot! But let's save that one for another issue of the RAG...

What really caught my attention is the maagen: What about those maagen grades! We have been debating them since I became a teacher here. But not until recently did I understand what the whole issue is about!

As a high school teacher and teacher trainer/counselor, many, many moons ago, I was appalled by the system of giving students a maagen. That was during my days of persistent outrage-I don't get along well with systems, and still balk at authority at the ripe age of 58. How dare the system require us to soften what a student earns on the bagrut by giving a tempering grade for their work in English!

I stayed outraged for about 5 minutes.

Until I realized that ma'agens do exactly what a bagrut exam does not-it reflects the work of students for as many as 9 years of studying English, or at least the last few. As a teacher of students with special educational needs, my students could never score on the bagrut as well as they performed in my classes. My high school principals and coordinators were smart enough to realize that the way I weighed my students' improvements and efforts was bound to benefit them, and they left me alone. Before ma'agens there was no way to consider this. With a ma'agen, my students had a fighting chance to score good final grades.

My point? Get some smart principals and coordinators, and retrain the ones that aren't playing in the same ballgame: Our school was in a system that recognized that we don't want to reward whiz kids who do no work, but we do want to encourage those less able, by taking into consideration their heroic efforts to do well. And those same principals and coordinators, as well as administrators, were not afraid to weather a challenge or 2 or 10 by officials for large gaps between their ma'agen grades and bagrut scores. It happens-and will continue to happen. But if you have a fair system, and don't mind being criticized and examined by outsiders, and have the "goods" to back up your decisions... Well, that is what keeps us honest in this business, no?

Don't read me wrong-I am all for new teachers with new ideas. I was one once, and I actually managed to get some people to listen to me (even if now, looking back, I am haunted by some of my ignorant ramblings!) New teachers, especially new olim, breathe life into our system. They bring new ideas, new blood, new energy. But we have to move cautiously: to make a good change, you need funding and something better to replace it. And we have to make sure that we really want to change: or do we want to improve? Remember the old adage: Don't throw the baby out with the bathwater. IOW, we want to keep the valuable things when we get rid of the things we don't want-- don't throw out the good stuff when we throw out the bad stuff.

Or maybe what we really want to do is tell the higher-ups in our system-our coordinators, principals, school administrators-that getting criticized or enduring oversight by officials is not always bad. Especially when we are doing it for something as important as our kids, our students. The ones who really need our help. So outraged teachers out there-use your voice, explain how to use the ma'agen system the right way, and band together with your officials as an educational community.

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