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Monday, October 24, 2011

Teachers Please stand for something

Well here we go again!  Now No Child Left Behind is going to be modified and amended-we think.  For years we have known the law was mightily flawed.  But we got the law because the teachers and their unions were asleep at the switch.  If the change comes to be, it will be known as ESEA as amended, so we will go back to the original Elementary and Secondary School Act.
Why is the law being amended now?  Because the 2013-14 school year is coming and that is the year all of God's children were supposed to be on grade level in reading and math.  Any person with a grain of common sense knew that wouldn't happen but it sure made for great press.  As the time approaches the various governors are realizing that they will be saddled with many failing schools that have not made adequate yearly progress.  And they will be giving their electoral rivals a great issue to run on.  So the way to fix that is to remove the requirement for adequate yearly progress (AYP).  Finally a bi-partisian issue we can all live with.  Of course this is all for politics and has nothing to do with good education.

Where are those all powerful teachers unions now that they have a chance for a second bite at the apple?  Probably out worrying about some health and welfare issue.  They, too, are not interested in quality education.

Senator Isakson, a Republican from Georgia, wants to add an amendment that would remove more students with disabilities from the assessment process.  That may turn out not to be an issue if all the states are allowed to do what they want and pick and chose as to who will be included in the assessment.  Some special education interests are upset.  They think this change could take us back to the time when students in special education were barely challenged academically because there was no expectation for academic success.  That would be terrible.  By the same token, it is equally terrible for children with limited academic abilities to be repeated failures by expecting them to achieve that which they are unable to do.  We might be able to find a middle ground if we had professional rather than political leadership on the issue.  But we do not.

I continue to dispair that of all the professional groups, mine is the only one that has chosen to be more like a blue collar union and less like a professional group.  Then we jump and shout when we are not treated as professionals.

Looks like my miracle of all children being on grade level by 2014 isn't going to happen because the requirement will be gone by then.  Yet another miracle that didn't come to pass.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Let's solve the unemployment problem

The news is telling us that unemployment is running around 9%.  Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, is also making noises about waiving the requirement that all children will be proficient in reading and math by 2014 or their schools will be labeled failing.  Of course, the notion that all students would be proficient by 2014 was complete nonsense to begin with.  Now the political reality of so many failing schools is causing governors of both parties to run for the hills.  A real non-partisian fear of failure.

Let's get real.  Whether or not students can pass all those tests has little or nothing to do with whether or not they can earn a living as adults.  Every one who has ever studied learning knows that there are multiple intelligences and that all people are good at different things.  So how does the high unemployment rate have anything to do with testing?

We think if test scores go up, more people will be able to get jobs.  Here is the hard truth.  A significant minority of those unemployed don't have the skills to earn a living in this economy.  So what are out choices.  Well a very extreme choice would be to just kill off those folks who can't make an honest living  in competitive employment.  Of course that is repugnant, but it would lower unemployment.  A second choice is to accept the existence of a lower, criminal class that will prey on those who have assets  that the criminals want.  After all, humans must eat, have shelter, buy clothes.  If they do not work for the money to buy these things than the money must be given to them or they must steal it.  That brings up the 3rd choice.  The government (read American taxpayers) will declare some people unemployable for lack of salable skills and pay them a minimum wage for just living and staying out of trouble.  Of course, that is the essence of Communism, from each according to their his/her ability to pay, to each according to his/her need.  The 3rd choice would never fly either with the majority of our population.

Then what are we to do since all of these choices seen objectionable for a variety of reasons.  How about  educating people to earn a living!  Everyone does not need to go to college.  It is not even desirable.  Let's bring back those old fashioned vocational schools and teach kids to fix things that are always breaking or to sell stuff or work in the "take care of the old folk" industry.  All of these baby boomers are going to want and need caretakers.  These are real jobs that need doing.  I heard a man complain because he had a doctorate in ancient history and couldn't get a job.  Well if he knew how to fix computer problems he would probably be working.  Let's teach kids basic job skills, please and thank you would be a great start.

I don't believe we improve education by more tests and more measuring tools that measure what does not, in the long run, count for anything.  Perhaps if our Secretary of Education knew a thing or two about learning he might know that too.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Stunning news!

A blue ribbon committee of the National Academies National Research Council undertook a decade long study.  The committee wanted to see if the test-based incentive system really improved learning.  Just shocking results!! The testing system has had little to now impact on student learning and in some cases RAN COUNTER to the intended purpose.  Anyone who has ever been in a classroom would know that tests do not measure much learning and they are not an incentive for learning.  Perhaps for some students they are an incentive for memorization but memorization has never been equal to learning.
In Baltimore recently, a new union contract tied pay to merit for teachers.  I am all for tying pay to merit rather than just living and breathing and staying another year on the job.  The problem I have with the contract is that merit is defined as test scores.
First of all test scores do not measure learning.  Now that a special committee has agreed, maybe someone will hear that.  Test scores make us feel comfortable because they give us a number and we all like numbers but they do not measure learning.
Secondly, if a teacher's salary is tied to test scores everyone will want to teach the kids who are good test takers.  This isn't necessarily even the smartest kids, just the ones who test well.  Who will be left to teach the most challenged learners, the ones who need good teaching most.
Thirdly, if salaries are going to be all about test scores, who will be left to teach the poor test takers and the kids who need to learn how to think.  Where will teachers go if they want to teach in an exciting project based manner.

The big question is, how many kids and teachers be hurt before we realize how wrong headed this approach is?

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Immoral Expectations

Here we go again!  Expect more, get more.  Now we have the Common Core State Standards, that will soon be accompanied by better and tougher tests.  That will surely improved education for all kids.  Nothing could be more wrongheaded.  Ever since the publication of "Why Johnny Can't Read" back in the 50's, our country has decided that higher standards would allow all Johns and Janes to read better.
What ever happened to better teacher?  Or wonder of wonders, teaching our children the way they learn best.
Now one of our great missions is to make sure all children go to college.  Why would we do that?  Some children are not academically skilled even with the best teachers in the world.  Are they stupid?  NO, they just have different skills and those differing skills need to be nurtured and respected in the same way we nurture and respect academic skills.  People with mechanical ability may not need college to fulfill their talents.  The same may be true of children with artistic ability.
To insist that all children learn the same things and in the same way, is not just wrong headed, it is also immoral.  It disrespects the other talents and marginalizes people's other abilities.
These attitudes also send a strong message that the only skills that count are the academic ones.  When we tell people you are not good the way you are, you need to be someone else, we are losing the great opportunities to allow them to flourish as they are.  When will we ever learn!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

What is this thing called Rigor?

The latest and greatest way to aggravate kids and teachers is this thing called rigor.  But no one really knows what it is.

Rigor is supposed to be about higher standards.  That does not mean just more quantity of work.  Rigor should be about the level of cognitive processing that is expected of students.  That is the quality of the work, not the quantity.

More assignments and more reading doesn't necessarily mean more rigor.  It is what students are expected to do with that material that really counts and that often means covering less territory but in more depth.  Harder should mean more intellectually challenging.  Too often harder means something that has not been well taught or was taught to students before they were prepared to learn it.

What really counts is what we expect students to do with the learning that is presented to them.  Do we expect them to think about the learning and interact cognitively with the experience?  Or do we just expect them to cover lots of content and repeat what someone else has learned.  The ability to memorize other people's learning is not rigorous content.  Young children too can do rigorous learning if they are made to interact with the content so that they bring their own understanding of the content to the learning experience.

Are students asked to interact with the content in ways that cause them to bring their own personal experiences to what they are learning?  Are students asked to compare and contrast the content to what they know?  Are students asked to reflect on how this content has meaning in their own lives at this point in time?  These experiences will be different for different children.  They will be meaningful as well and will change the child because of the new learning.  New learning will also allow the child to view his/her subsequent experiences through the prism of this new learning.

Our President has called us to STEM learning, science, technology, engineering and mathematics.  These are indeed very important subjects and vital if our economy is going to continue to lead the world. Education, however, is about integrating new learning and new experiences in all subjects into our experiential fields.  Education is about changing our view of the world and changing our view of our own experiences.  Just increasing quantity will not do that.  In fact, increasing quantity does not give us time to do the quality learning we need to do.  We need to spend more time learning horizontally and less time covering time learning vertically so we cover more content.