To: Our teachers and other educators
From: Your Superintendent
May 21, 2021
I am a lifelong public educator. My core beliefs reflect my devotion to the ideas and theories of John Dewey, Maria Montessori, Aristotle, Plato, Jean Piaget, and Sam Hinkie.
For this particular testing season, I am relying on the wisdom of Sam Hinkie.
Many fear that a year of remote learning has hurt our neediest students, making it inevitable that they will perform poorly on the forthcoming standardized tests. However, the tests are the law, and we all should agree on a strategy that will help our students, our district, and our teachers.
There are two options. One is to begin intense ‘drill and kill’ test practice right away. While this is monotonous and boring, D&K often produces quick upticks in scores, which leads to positive coverage in the media.
(Of course, the steep ‘learning curve’ is ephemeral, and the “forgetting curve” that follows almost immediately is even more dramatic in the opposite direction.)
The teachings of Sam Hinkie point to another way. More about that in a minute.
As you are aware, math and English Language Arts tests are mandated by the 2002 No Child Left Behind Law and the 2015 Every Student Succeeds Act. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona, who has refused to cancel the tests, told an education group that student data obtained from the tests would help target resources where they are most needed. He said, “We have to make sure we are laser-focused on addressing inequities that have existed for years. … Every bit of data helps.”
Basically, he wants to know which school districts are performing poorly in order to see that they get as much federal money as possible. That seems to mean that districts whose students perform poorly will get MORE federal money.
But what about the teachers whose students stink out the joint on these tests? Will they be penalized or even fired? Well, more than once Secretary Cardona has indicated that it would not be appropriate to judge teachers based on these scores.
Maybe he won’t evaluate teachers based on their students’ scores, but I intend to. Classroom teachers whose students do NOT perform well will get MORE resources next year, including smaller classes and teaching aides. That seems only right to me.
Now let’s explore the teachings of Sam Hinkie, a significant influence upon my thinking. Mr. Hinkie was the architect of the now fabulous Philadelphia 76ers NBA team. How did they get so good? They did it by losing!
Under Hinkie’s leadership, the team was just plain terrible…deliberately. As Yaron Weitzman wrote, General Manager Hinkie realized that “The Sixers’ best chance at succeeding would involve acquiring as many high draft picks as possible. Since the worst teams get the highest drafts, Hinkie believed it would pay to be bad for multiple years. Few leaders in the history of sports have ever so willingly and aggressively sacrificed the present in order to chase a better future. Less than two months into the job Hinkie traded his team’s best player…..Hinkie didn’t stop there. Veterans were shipped out. Salary cap space was left unused, infuriating the players’ union. Hinkie never instructed his coaches to lose games; given the roster he handed them, he hardly needed to.”
As a die-hard fan of the Philadelphia 76ers of the NBA, I am over the moon at how good they are this year. Yes, they lost a lot of games in previous seasons, and some fans were upset, but I knew they were playing the long game. They amassed a stockpile of high draft picks, chose some great players, and today my team is at the top of the heap as the NBA playoffs begin, with a real shot at winning the championship.
Like Sam Hinkie, I would never instruct my employees to do anything but their best. I want us to always keep the interests of our students and our school district in mind.
So, please, please think long and hard about how to best help your students in the coming weeks.