Thursday, February 28, 2013

Walmart-style Education

Life is currently making blogging impossible, but you should certainly check out this article  connecting the dots between "school reform" and big business.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

When I don't have time to actually write, I snark.

Ron Paul. (Getty Images)
Ron Paul (Getty Images)

Brace yourself. Ron Paul is working on an Education Manifesto.

If you want to know how the free market will save our children's souls, this should be right up your alley.

I, on the other hand, expect it to be endlessly entertaining drivel.

There, my first psychic book review!

Saturday, February 16, 2013


Remember when I called for a conversation about the purpose of education? Here's the demonic version of that call.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Monday's provocative claim:

Higher Education is where good pedagogy goes to die.

Alright, come at me.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Garfield High's Protest Fizzles

This past week, the protests in Garfield High surrounding the MAP came to a rather undramatic conclusion.

We shouldn't be surprised, for if we were allowed to credence the claims leveled against the test, we wouldn't be able to help but deconstruct the entire testing industry that currently runs public education.

So, in my despair, I'd like to focus on the question of educational growth and the current structure of public Ed.

One of the most salient (read: measurable) points brought up by Garfield High teachers was the fact that the margin of error was larger than the expected growth, rendering results essentially meaningless.

To clarify, one of the strengths of the MAP test, at least in relation to other state and national standardized tests, is that it's based on growth. Students test in the fall, and their score is compared to a rather huge norm group. Based on that comparison and their current grade level, growth goals are set. The test is the administered again in the spring. One of the challenges is just how to deal with high-performing students, whose growth goals are both rather narrow and at the same time almost unattainable.

What I would like to question now, with an uncharacteristic lack of finger-pointing, is why our expected growth would narrow and shrink at the high school level.

The standard answer to that question is easy to infer. Elementary is a time of huge growth. Nowhere else will students be expected to process such large amounts of brand new information. Therefore, we should expect that once students have reached high school, that they are settling into a mere application of skills and knowledge.

We'll set aside a whole school of thought that argues against this set-up on the grounds that teaching later rather than earlier is preferable, especially math skills. Instead, let's just ask if this is what we want American education to look like.

Let me propose a different model: elementary education is dedicated to the building of basic skills. Middle school-as it ever shall be-becomes the gentle transition, shifting the focus toward the metagonitive, toward the reflective, toward application of knowledge. High school then become a place where years of skills can be brought to bear on an inexhaustible amount of content.

Essentially, elementary becomes the place where students learn how to learn (as schooling implies they need to do), and high school then becomes the locus for what should be a fairly explosive amount of learning.

I find this model at least as "obvious" as the one described earlier, but I don't believe this is how schools operate.

Of course, even if they did, this is precisely the kind of learning that is most difficult to measure on a standardized test, so we've really come full circle.

Nonetheless, i still have one question that I'll leave you with: Is it not possible that one reason learning slows to a crawl at the high school level is because teaching itself tends to vanish at that level?

There, I knew I could point a finger before I was done.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

A few Words from Mister Holt

This idea that children won't learn without outside rewards and penalties, or in the debased jargon of the behaviorists, "positive and negative reinforcements," usually becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. If we treat children long enough as if that were true, they will come to believe it is true. So many people have said to me, "If we didn't make children do things, they wouldn't do anything." Even worse, they say, "If I weren't made to do things, I wouldn't do anything."

It is the creed of a slave.

― John Holt, How Children Fail

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

M.A.P. Boycott

I continue to watch with great interest how the Garfield school's boycott of the M.A.P. test develops. Today's  news seems quite dramatic.

I continue to be a bit baffled as to why this particular test has drawn such ire, but I'm convinced of one thing: this is how meaningful change will happen, with teachers, students, and parents driving reform from the ground up.

Now, can we put AYP requirements on the agenda?

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

First Principles

Thanks to Edutopia for illustrating what I believe more and more to be one of the central problems within public education. Check out the following chart (click through the pic to download the PDF):
As with almost anything in America, we are hobbled by the sheer plurality of belief. How can we expect to accomplish anything in education when we cannot even agree on the most basic first principle such as the purpose of education?

What's important to recognize is that this is not simply a rift amongst Americans. It's not as if there is a difference between what the public thinks education is for versus what teachers think education is for. In any school building, you will find almost as many answers to the question as there are teachers.

Now this may appear a rather unimportant detail, this question of what education is for. After all, the mechanic doesn't need to know what you're going to do with your car in order to get it in working order. But in teaching, it has EVERYTHING to do with the way we go about our business. It affects what we teach, how we teach, what and how we assess, and how we respond to assessment data. The chart above barely scratches the surface of these differences.

What's more,  as much as I may wish it were otherwise, there is no clear demarcation between the beliefs of the "good" teachers and the "bad" teachers. I personally know teachers who deliver first class instruction, give excellent and exhaustive feedback, and respond to student assessment data all in perfect accordance with "best practices," all the while believing that the purpose of education is to get students ready to join the world of work. So it's not that there's any kind of one to one connection between belief and practice.

But (again, like so many things in American life) a teacher's beliefs are often the only rationale behind the very worst kinds of practices, and the fact that the belief system is pretty common in schools gives that rationale a kind of false credibility.

Take for instance a recent Edutopia facebook poll asking if teachers believe that students should be allowed to retake quizzes and tests. A surprising number of teachers answer quite emphatically in the negative. Now, this should not be so surprising, considering how it's a position with a great deal of inertia behind it, but in attempting to support their position, their own beliefs about just what education is for come to the forefront.

Answers like, "There are no retakes in the real world," and "They have to learn to be prepared and get it right the first time," (besides being demonstrably false) tell us everything about what these teachers believe their role in society is: To prepare students to enter a cut-throat work-world by replicating it as nearly as possible, right down to the sting of defeat.

I happen to believe that these teachers are flat wrong, but the fact that their belief system is so prevalent, and is actually considered beyond debate for many citizens AND teachers, means that these kind of detrimental classroom practices are unlikely to end anytime soon, again, not because they are a necessary result of that belief, but because the belief is a convenient support for bad practices.

One way we could begin to talk about improving education would be to start having this conversation all the way down to the building level. It's the most basic tenet of good instruction: You have to have the end in mind. If we can't agree on that, what kind of results can we expect?

So, chime in: What are we doing here?