Inside her science classroom, Candice Kaiser kept order with brief, whispered asides, denying troublemakers the spotlight. Her students sat clustered in that twilight of adolescence where facial hair, curves, and tattoos counterpose backpacks depicting Spider-Man and the Incredible Hulk, vestiges of childhood betrayed in their posture, shoes half off, minds deep in concentration or its opposite. They'd been occupied filling in bubbles since third grade, starting with spring reading and math tests and then other subjects depending on the year. The state tested science proficiency in fifth, eighth, tenth, and eleventh graders, dividing all human understanding into five "objectives." Parents received a report scoring performance on each objective as "commended," "met standard," or "did not meet standard."
Though she knew about the state's algorithms for "required improvement," Candice set herself a goal of 100 percent passing and wasn't shy about saying so. When a woman from the state education agency came to visit, Anabel called her into the meeting and said: "Ms. Kaiser, why don't you tell her your goal for this year?"
So she did, and the TEA lady said it had never been done before, and Candice went home that night thinking, "Did I really just tell that woman from TEA that I was going to have all my kids pass?" Later she figured Anabel must have had a reason for putting her on the spot. Anabel had heard her say the 100 percent thing before. Maybe Anabel was forcing her to believe in it.
From Saving the School: The True Story of a Principal, a Teacher, a Coach, a Bunch of Kids, and a Year in the Crosshairs of Education Reform by Michael Brick (Penguin Press, 276 pp., $25.95).
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