Everyone onboard is relieved when your monomaniacal captain finally succeeds in killing the great white whale that was his nemesis. However, he then insists upon sailing around and around the South Pacific, looking for a great mauve whale.
June 17, 2008
High Achieving Students in the Era of No Child Left Behindnew study on how high achievers have fared under No Child Left Behind is out. (See NYT coverage here.) Here's the main story:
* While the nation's lowest-achieving youngsters made rapid gains [on NAEP] from 2000 to 2007, the performance of top students was languid. Children at the 10th percentile of achievement (the bottom 10 percent of students) have shown solid progress in fourth grade reading and math and in eighth grade math since 2000, but those at the 90th percentile have made minimal gains.
* This pattern - big gains for low achievers and lesser ones for high achievers - is associated with the introduction of accountability systems in general, not just NCLB. An analysis of state data from the 1990s shows that states that adopted testing and accountability regimes before NCLB saw similar patterns before NCLB: stronger progress for low achievers than for high achievers.
All of this, of course, should have been expected in a system focused on proficiency rather than growth. And contrary to popular belief, NCLB's growth model pilot doesn't allow true value-added models, but is instead based on a "projection model." Michael Weiss has a great commentary in Ed Week this week on this issue:
In practice, projection models are extremely similar to NCLB’s original status measure. In schools where students enter with high initial achievement levels, the learning gains required to get students on track to become proficient are quite small, while in schools where students enter with low initial achievement levels, the required learning gains to get students on track to become proficient may be unrealistically large. Consequently, under the federal growth-model program, schools are still held to different standards—some must produce large gains while others need only to produce small gains. Both status and projection models require all students to reach a fixed proficiency target regardless of their initial achievement levels. It is because No Child Left Behind’s status model and the growth-model pilot program’s projection models are so similar that very few new schools are making AYP because of “growth” alone.
If Tom Toch's post over at The Quick and the Ed is any indication, it looks like many factors are coming together to shift the winds on NCLB - both from proficiency to value-added models, and from ignoring the role of out-of-school factors to acknowledging that it is unfair to hold schools solely accountable for them. Said Toch:
What we need to do is find ways to give schools credit for successfully improving the educational performance of the kids they have, by using so-called value-added measures of student performance, and by capturing more than just how well schools teach basic reading and math skills....Yes, we need to hold schools and teachers accountable for their performance....But no, we shouldn’t pretend that poverty has no impact on students. No accountability system can work unless it is credible, and NCLB, as currently crafted, is not.
To: The Honorable Barack H. Obama
John C. Kluczynski Federal Office Building
230 South Dearborn St.
Suite 3900 (39th floor)
Chicago, Illinois 60604
From: The Undersigned
Of all human drives, the need to satisfy curiosity, to learn, to understand, to make sense of experience, appears earliest in life and is more powerful than any other. That the current thrust of public education reform has not moved us significantly closer to meeting that deep human need is now apparent.
Consider: Standards have been imposed. Art, music, recess, history, civics, geography, and other "frills" have been eliminated. Students and teachers have been shamed, intimidated, pushed out, fired. Vast amounts of money and instructional time have been spent on corporately produced tests and test prep materials. "Bars" have been raised. Students have been sorted, labeled, and retained indefinitely in grade. Distrust of educators has been publicly demonstrated as politicians, business leaders, and other non-educators have replaced professional educators in positions of authority.
And what is there to show for this radical, punitive reform strategy, a strategy now known to have been designed to undermine confidence in public schooling and pave the way for alternatives? Look past the ideology-driven, cherry-picked and manipulated data and it is clear that systemic problems not only persist but have intensified. The achievement gap has not closed. New teachers quit at an alarming rate. Homeschoolers continue to abandon the system. Conscience-stricken educators risk job loss to protest policies that are at odds with research and common sense. Experienced teachers resign or seek early retirement. Preoccupation with test scores brings educational innovation to a standstill. The worst and best students are neglected as resources are concentrated on those whose scores might be raised enough to save a school from reorganization or closure.
It is accepted that economies are too complex to be centrally designed and controlled, and that America’s long dominance of the world’s economy is due in large part to the imagination, flexibility, creativity, and initiative of individuals. What must also be accepted is that educating—discerning and altering the images of reality in others’ minds—is more complicated and challenging than maintaining an economy, and therefore even more dependent upon those personal qualities.
Continuing on our present educational course, propelled by the simplistic notion that educating is a mere matter of setting standards, covering the material, and then testing, is a recipe for institutional and societal disaster. Standards? Of course! But standards tied not to a random handful of disconnected school subjects but to the personal qualities essential to individual and societal well-being. Tests? Of course! But tests not of what can be remembered of something read or heard in class and stored in short-term memory, but tests of the ability to make more sense of the present moment, of the trends of the era, of life.
These kinds of standards and measures of accountability cannot be mandated by centralized political authority or acquired by the letting of contracts to corporations. They are products of a constantly bargained agreement between individual learners and their teachers or mentors, based on mutual trust and respect.
We urge you to appreciate the dangers of standardizing education, of focusing narrowly on achieving minimum standards, of locking static subject-matter standards in place in an era of accelerating change, of seeing the young as mere cogs in the wheels of commerce, of assuming that doing more diligently what we have been doing since the 19th Century will see us safely through to the 22nd. We urge you, in short, to reject the superficial "standards and accountability" approach to education reform and the reactionary policies to which it has led.
There are, of course, constructive roles the federal government can play. Welcome, for example, would be actions encouraging broad dialog to clarify the institution’s overarching aim, policies promoting more equitable and stable funding, measures increasing support for research and innovation, and, of course, comprehensive programs addressing poverty, cultural deprivation, environmental degradation, and other problems directly affecting student performance.
But attempts to manipulate what teachers and students actually do must be entirely abandoned. The inherent complexity of the task, its dynamic, constantly changing nature, the importance to its success of imagination, flexibility and creativity, and the gross inadequacy of presently available standardized measures of performance, make centralized control of the classroom dangerously counterproductive.
Let us help you build a system of education we can believe in.
Once upon a time there was a little boy who studied at a big school.
One morning the teacher said "Today we’re going to draw."
"Good" thought the little boy.
He liked to draw lions, tigers, chickens, trains and boats.
He got his color-pencils and started drawing.
"Wait!! Don’t start yet." said the teacher.
She waited until all the students were ready and then said ...
"We’re going to draw flowers."
The little boy started drawing beautiful flowers with his pink, orange and blue pencils.
"Wait" said the teacher. "I’ll show you how to do it."
And the flower she drew was red with a green stem.
"Ok" said the teacher "now you can do it."
The little boy looked at the flower the teacher had drawn , looked at his own flowers and liked his best. He couldn't say that so he turned the sheet of paper over and drew a flower just like the one the teacher had drawn - red with a green stem.
Another day the students were having class outside and the teacher said ...
"Today we are going to play with clay."
"Great" the boy thought.
He liked to play with clay.
He could make things like elephants, mice, cars and trucks.
He started to take some clay in his hands and make a big ball.
Then the teacher said ... "Wait ! Don’t start yet."
She waited until all the students were ready.
"Now" she said "we’re going to make a plate."
"Good" thought the little boy.
He liked to make plates of different sizes and shapes.
The teacher said ... "Wait !! I’ll show you how to do it."
It was a soup-plate.
"Ok" she said "now you can start."
The little boy looked at the plate the teacher had made, looked at his own plate and liked his best. He couldn’t say it so he got his plate, made it into a big ball and started it again.
He made a soup-plate just like the one the teacher had made.
And since early in his life he learned not to do things by himself but to wait for a model.
And then the little boy went to another school.
This one was even bigger than the other one.
One day the new teacher said ... "Today we’re going to draw."
"Good" thought the little boy.
He waited to see what the teacher would draw.
The teacher didn’t draw anything.
She only walked around the room.
Then the teacher approached the little boy and asked "Don’t you like to draw?"
"Yes" he said "but what are we going to draw?"
"I don’t know" said the teacher "draw whatever you want."
"How can I do it?" he asked.
"Any way you want." said the teacher.
"But what colors should I use?" he asked.
"You choose. If everybody makes the same drawing with the same colors how can I know which drawing is yours?" she said.
"I don’t know" answered the boy.And he drew a red flower with a green stem.
Then there are all the curricular materials that claim they are science, or research based. Go into a classroom and ask to see the teacher guides for the literacy curriculum or the math curriculum. You need a PhD in Teacher Guides to understand them. They are a waste of my time. Why do I so pompously claim they are a waste of my time? Well, because teaching does not require teacher guides.
Teaching requires so much more than proper training. Hell, my credential program was a joke! I learned next to nothing; a few conventions for creating a lesson plan, some terms/jargon that I am not sure anyone really understands (CALPS, BICS, TPR, huh?). It cost me $4000 and I found it basically useless. But, I got my credential.
I think I found the teacher preparation classes useless because there is not one, or two, or twelve ways to teach anything. Think about how you select a music teacher for your child; or how you select a tutor, or handyman. You do it by asking someone who has utilized the services of said professional. Each comes with his/her own way of getting to the result. Some are more creative than others. Some can see issues others wouldn't see. Some have a better command of certain domains than others. All the variables come into play. Less so when one is looking for a specific fix to a specific problem--like when your washer breaks down; mechanical fixes seem more straightforward, especially if there are instructions and schematics. These things don't exist for the mind, especially the elastic mind of a child; or the instructions are more open-ended, like "color it" but the choice of colors is open.
So, teaching boils down to an art, for me anyway. It requires the artist to be informed, interested, well read, intelligent, nimble, forceful, dramatic. Think of great artists and what they have communicated (that's what artists do--they communicate, they teach!). Consider some of the great works and the impact they have had. It is what teachers do everyday. We make the hard to understand a little less hard to understand. We give context, enable questions--and answer them honestly, excite minds, induce curiosity, expand the world, compress the world, expose the interrelatedness of things, cause and effect, and explain away erroneous cause and effect notions.
Teachers who can do the above are artists, and most would not need another math adoption, or literacy sanctioned adoption to help our students. In fact, making us use these materials can be claustrophobic. I cannot follow someone else's script when trying to teach something, because I have a mind of my own. My mind may even be better equipped for the task of teaching than the mind of the author of the curricular guide!
I think there are a lot of teachers out there who are not artists. How could they be? How can a system expect to hire brilliant artists when they are paid nothing, and blamed for every negative outcome, and condescended to by being required to use materials inferior to what the teacher has to offer.
NCLB is ruining teaching, and bolstering the wrongheaded notion that teachers can be trained. Teachers are born, not trained. Double the pay, and see who shows up!