Saturday, December 14, 2013

Real Education Reform

I am an opponent of corporatist, millionaire- and billionaire-backed Education Reform, but I am no supporter of the status quo. I want to see radical change in our public education system, just not the changes that the Gates Foundation, the Broad Foundation, or the WalMart heirs support. I support changes that directly address the failures in the system and are proven effective.

So, just to make it perfectly clear, I will list a number of education reforms that I absolutely support. These reforms address the fundamental flaws in our education system. And what are those flaws?

Our schools, here in Seattle and across the country, do a great job of educating students who come to them prepared, supported, and motivated. They always have. However, our schools, here in Seattle and across the country, do a dreadful job of educating students who arrive at school without preparation, support, or motivation. They always have. The solution, to me, is obvious: We - as a society - must provide the required preparation, support, and motivation when they are missing.

Reforms:
  1. Universal access to high-quality pre-school. Studies show that half of the academic achievement gap is present on the first day of kindergarten. By assuring every child access to high quality pre-school we can directly address students' need for preparation. When I was a child public school started in the first grade. Kindergarten was available in private nursery schools only. Now Kindergarten is provided by the public schools. Let's push that back one more year and make Pre-K available in our public schools. That's going to not only require more money for an additional year of education, but it will require school construction as well to provide about 8% more classrooms to hold the additional students.
  2. Extended school day. Kids who are behind need time on task to catch up. So let's offer supported study before and after school. Kids will get a stable, supported time and space to study, plus breakfast in the morning and a snack in the afternoon. Let's work to intentionally create lots of educational community events at the school in the evenings to engage the students' families and the broader community in the education of our children. Help families to learn how to support their children's education at home. This extension will directly address students' level of support and the family and community engagement will improve motivation. Let's not hesitate to extend the school day to give elementary schoolchildren more directed instructional time and to allow our middle and high school students to take more classes. Yes, this will mean paying teachers more - for more work - and reducing class sizes as well to keep their out-of-class workload manageable as well. What? Did you think it would be free?
  3. Extended school year. We have a short school year and there is no good reason for it. The academic achievement gap contracts during the school year and expands over the summer. Children do not need the summer off to bring in crops. Other industrialized countries like ours have longer school years. We can add another 20 days (four weeks) for a total of 200 days by eliminating the pointless mid-winter break and by shortening the summer break by three weeks. This would put us in a four-way tie for number ten on the chart shown. This would directly improve preparation, support, and, I believe, motivation. Of course teachers would be paid more for the additional work days. It also means that they could actually get through the curriculum. It might even mean that students could strive for mastery of the materials instead of just proficiency with them. They might only achieve proficiency but that's better than the familiarity which is all that many can now acquire.
  4. Teachers as coaches. Teachers are not needed as dispensers of information. I don't know if they ever were, but certainly not in an age with Google. Teachers training and the general understanding of the teacher role should shift to more like a coaching role. They should teach skills, provide opportunity for skills practice, and, more than anything else, motivate. I have come to believe that the primary determinant of a student's academic achievement is that student's personal motivation. There is no school so bad that a motivated student cannot wrestle an education away from it. Nor is there any school so good that it can force an education onto an unmotivated student. Lots of students get that motivation at home, but a lot don't. Teachers - and all school staff - should keep that motivational role at the front of their minds at all times. Teachers (and all school staff) should be trained to motivate and they should be evaluated on their motivational skills. It should be every one's primary focus.

    And what motivates people to do cognitive work like learning? Three things: autonomy, mastery, and purpose. Please read Daniel Pink's book Drive - or at least watch this video - for a more expansive discussion.
    • Motivational Reform: Autonomy. Students today get almost no autonomy at all. Outside of Montessori programs or The NOVA Project, student work is closely directed. They don't get to decide what to study, how long to study it, how to demonstrate their knowledge and skills, the pace of their work, or even when they can go to the bathroom. Students should be allowed more autonomy to improve their motivation to learn. Project-based learning can provide some of this. Montessori-style instructional strategies can provide some of this. More than anything else, teachers need to offer students more autonomy - as is developmentally appropriate and without giving students enough rope to hang themselves. This autonomy should come with some skill building on self-management and time management. Wouldn't those be wonderful life skills to teach our children?
    • Motivational Reform: Mastery. Near the top of the list of "Things that are Wrong with CPM II" is the way that the lessons come in modular workbooks. Once the teacher says it's time to move from lesson four to lesson five, the lesson four workbooks go away and are never seen again. Students with a continuing interest in lesson four and not able to pursue that interest. They aren't allowed to stay with a topic for as long as they want. They are barely allotted enough time to achieve proficiency and they are not permitted additional time to pursue mastery. Many of them have to abandon the subject after only reaching familiarity. Students should be allowed to pursue mastery of topics that interest them. They should be allowed to continue learning. What kind of educational institution tells students "Stop learning about that! We're learning about something else now." This shift would, of course, play holy hell with vertical and horizontal articulation, but I have never seen their virtue anyway. This additional work can be pursued during the before- or after-school supported study time.
    • Motivational Reform: Purpose. Students who come to school motivated are usually motivated by their families. Some cultures put an extraordinarily high value on education and children from those cultures are motivated to do well in school by those values. We are a multi-cultural society. Not only are many cultures represented in our society, but we are - each of us - multi-cultural. We have a home culture, a work culture, one or more heritage cultures, a faith culture, plus the culture of our self-selected tribes based on our hobbies. We behave differently in different contexts and among different sets of people. Each of these is a culture with their own norms, etiquette, language, and values. Schools can foster an institutional culture that values education and the life of the mind. Schools can be a place where the heroes are thinkers, scientists, artists, writers, and leaders instead of athletes and those celebrities who are mysteriously famous for being famous.
  5. Culturally relevant curricula. We have a multi-cultural society, but our curricula is overwhelmingly dominated by European culture in world view, content, epistemology, and norms. When the majority of our students bring a heritage culture from Asia, Africa, and the Americas, this monolithic focus on a European view makes no sense at all. Think of this - we all learned about the battle of Marathon and the battle of Thermopylae and how a small number of Greeks defeated the huge Persian Empire. But if the Persian Empire was the dominant force in the Western world at the time (and they were - Greece was a tiny collection of disorganized city-states on the western fringe of the known world, not the center of it) why don't we know anything about them? And what was happening in China, India, the Americas, and Africa at the same time, 490 BC to 480 BC? Anyone? Anyone? Culturally relevant curricula speaks directly to student motivation.
  6. Culturally competent staff and behavior norms. People should be at least familiar with these ideas from the Mann building protest and the investigations into disproportionate discipline, but I'll re-state it here in blunt language. Our schools are dominated by middle-class, college-educated White women and the school culture is a projection of their culture and perspective. The less students reflect that frame of reference - by not being middle-class, not having post-secondary education in their background, not being White or not being women - the greater the mis-match between the school culture and the student's culture. This leads to all kinds of cross-cultural misunderstandings due to differences in expectations, etiquette, and social norms. But since the power is all on one side, all of the consequences of those natural misunderstandings fall on the students. This leads to disproportionate discipline rates (and referral to special education) for students living in poverty, non-White students, and boys. And for non-White boys living in poverty the rates are off the charts. They aren't bad kids, they just work off a different set of rules. Of course the students need to learn the norms and the culture of the school, but shouldn't those norms and culture reflect the students as well as the staff? And shouldn't EVERYONE - students and staff - get some explicit instruction in cross-cultural competency? This speaks directly to motivation and, to the extent that suspended and expelled students aren't in school, support.
  7. A Mandate to Do What It Takes. There are these "no excuses" schools that Education Reform folks love to talk about. In these schools the teachers take heroic action to do whatever it takes for the students to succeed. This can range from the small (buy the student an alarm clock so he can wake up on time to get to school) to the large (laptop or tablet computers for all students!) to the really big (healthcare and counseling for students). Right now, however, teachers and staff don't have either the license or the budget for this sort of thing. So let's grant them the license and the budget.
This isn't a complete and comprehensive list - I don't want to write a book about this - but it does show that I, and other public school activists without corporate funding are not supporters of the status quo nor are we nay-sayers who simply oppose everything that comes from "the other side". I hope that you'll notice that all of these reforms touch students directly. We're not going to fix things for students by changing the ownership or governance of schools or in the teachers' contract. The changes have to come in the classrooms for them to impact the students. These are real reforms that will bring real solutions to the real problems that are causing under-performance in our schools. Not giving more hire/fire authority to the un-accountable principals. Not shuffling the order of teacher lay-offs. Not breaking the teachers' unions. Not de-professionalizing teachers or teaching.

39 comments:

Anonymous said...

On "Culturally Relevant Curricula"... my kids (middle school) have been taught a lot more about George Washington Carver than they have about George Washington.

Kids are not getting taught "traditional" American history as a base. You could argue that they shouldn't be, but you can't argue that they are. Ask any fifth grader whether they know more about Harriet Tubman or Thomas Jefferson and it will be clear how the curriculum is set up now.

I'm not complaining about the inclusion of African-American history topics---they are important and valuable. But from what my kids bring home, SPS is a long way from some sort of lily-white Euro-centric presentation of history. We're actually in a strange place where the traditional history that some parents might remember is pretty much absent, and instead we seem to be making up for past mistakes by overcompensating.

That said, you could argue that presenting a skewed version of history is worth it in that it keeps some at-risk kids engaged. Are there any actual good-quality studies that support this? I suspect we are not looking hard at this topic in any kind of data-driven way, because it is easier to choose a different textbook and call it good.

RollerCoasterFabio

Anonymous said...

How test prep doesn't produce better educational outcomes even when it produces better scores:


Even When Test Scores Go Up, Some Cognitive Abilities Don’t

Amid All the Good Things Going On in HISD, Why Is It So Many of Our Kids Still Can't Read?

Ann D


Anonymous said...

While I have already read this position paper in the comment section of the Seattle Times at least once, I must correct something glaring.

The SPS curriculum, particularly Readers' and Writers' Workshop (and the science kits), are based on teaching as coaching already.

This will not help the achievement gap at all. Students who come to school behind entrance standards definitely need teaching, as well as coaching.

The best teachers have always done this.

--enough already

Jon said...

Great list, Charlie. Most of these (especially the first three) cost a lot more money though.

We know some things that will work, such as more school hours, but they cost more money. We don't know things that will work that don't cost more money. To a great extent, the so-called education reform movement starts with a conclusion, that we can improve education without spending more money, and tries to find ways to justify that conclusion, like charter schools and anti-union measures, but so far has been unable to actually find anything that improves education without spending more money. And we do know how to improve education, but all the ways that have been proven to work effectively, especially effectively against the problems created by poverty, require spending more money.

I've spent a fair amount of time talking to people in the education reform movement. Ultimately, their position comes down to a belief that their taxes should not be increased to educate what they see as other people's kids. From these conversations, I've come to the conclusion that the so-called education reform movement isn't about improving public education, it's about eliminating it.

Anonymous said...

"Mastery" and "autonomy" are goals at odds with each other. "Autonomy" is a great goal, but it is at odds with almost everything done in schools including test prep which is really the end result of standards based education. Who would autonomously decide that they really wanted to grow up to be a great test taker? Who would decide that they really wanted to be standard? Those are more like hoops people have to get through to get on with the real business of their lives. Mastery likewise is the result of standards, and is defined in schools as meeting standards defined by somebody else. That is, standardization is the opposite of autonomous.

Most people don't "master" all that much, and it is unreasonable to expect students to do it, and to do it autonomously, on their own, equally across all domains. Students, like everyone else, should study subjects and learn skills to the height of their interest and ability not to the preconceived concept of "mastery" imposed by somebody else. Really what we want our schools to do is to make students independent citizens, capable and confident in their own ability to learn what they want to learn on their own.

Otto

Anonymous said...

Enough Already puts forth interesting thoughts ... among them:
"The Best Teachers do this already".

It seems the last 30 years the Ed School gurus have flooded teachers with a variety of often contradictory positions. Few of these positions have any valid data to support their use.

As we enter into the Common Core Standards "deal", again we see yet another untested and unproven "one size fits all model" being spread on a massive scale. Again a model being initiated without any proof of efficacy.

While Charlie points out that students who come to school from a sound family structure that is oriented toward school achievement do well, the USA Math achievement is seriously lagging for the percentage of students performing at the advanced level (even for those USA well prepared students).

It would be wonderful if the type of structures in the Ed Decision Making Process that produced 20 years of whole language confusion could be eliminated. Unfortunately that is hardly occurring.

Until teachers are directly involved at the decision making level of how to improve their individual school, decisions that are less than optimal will be imposed on schools and increases in academic achievement of students will be sub-optimal.

#1 The Ed Elites running this show do NOT use relevant data effectively to improve schools.

#2 Data is reported an interpreted in a such way as to push particular ideological positions rather than to uncover truth.

#3 In the last 20 years perhaps the most effective change in the USA to improve academic outcomes for students took place in Florida when students needed to have reading skill to be promoted to grade 4. The changes that took place in the teaching of reading k-3 have greatly raised the reading proficiency of students in grade 3. There are lasting effects all the way through middle school. (The first wave of these kids is just now in HS). Note for at least 30 years the false notion that grade retention harms students has been pushed. Differentiated Instruction was going to create a situation in which students lacking fundamental reading skills would succeed. {{Check the performance of students performing at level one far below standard on MSP tests grades 3 through 8 and see that this Differentiated Instruction mantra is baseless.}}

#4 If changes are to be initiated that are to be effective in producing positive academic gains for students they will need to take place on a school by school basis. Currently few places are set up for this to happen. In Florida the state mandated the testing requirement but teachers in individual schools figured out how to improve reading proficiency of students.

#5 At most a school could have three goals for improvement that teachers could focus on over time. Instead the teachers get confusing mandates on a periodic basis that produces an unsettling confusion (confusion which recently has been a permanent state).

#6 The schools job is to provide the optimal learning environment for each child to maximize their potential. .. Instead it often appears that equal outcomes for all seems the goal.

-- Dan Dempsey

Anonymous said...

From Lawrence Ferazzo:

Response: Teachers Must Help Determine New Ideas Being Implemented

Ann D

Anonymous said...

I want to support free universal pre-school, but we are kidding ourselves if we think that is going to close the achievement gap. ADK was also supposed to bridge the gap, but shortly after implementation, it was offered to all students, and as a result standards were raised even higher, making the gap even harder to bridge. Today's kindergarten expectations are the 1st grade expectations of 20 years ago. Unless we provide billions in parent support and education (from conception) along with free universal childcare beginning in infancy (in centers with highly trained teachers), the gap will remain large.
TS

i spend my life online said...

That's true, TS. K standards are insurmountably high for some kids. But not all kids. We need to divide K classes into Jr. K and K or some other division. Many K kids are ready for more while others are not. It is probably the one area change that would make the most difference over the life of a student. K teachers have tremendously difficult classes at my school. K kids tear up the place :) when they are pushed beyond emotional and social readiness.

Anonymous said...

I Spend,
If we divide K classes up like that, we will be providing separate but equal classes, and that doesn't sit well with me, for many reasons. We need to step back from the notion that 5 and 6 year olds NEED to be academically challenged to be happy. 5 and 6 year olds are wired to "play" and to learn through play. It is not normal to be pushing such young children up the achievement ladder just because they are "ready" on paper. I've never once heard a K student tell me he/she was bored in a play-based classroom, no matter how far along they were academically. We need to bring play back to our K classrooms. Through play, children who are ready for more will naturally learn more, while also strengthening their social development. It won't close the gap, but it will at least bring sanity back into the lives of our 5 and 6 year olds.
TS

I spend my life online said...

I agree that play-based (socializing) curricula is best for most K kids. I started my teaching at K. But times have changed and an awful lot of kids come in with skills they never had twenty or thirty years ago. Failing to recognize that some children are ready to tackle higher academics will only alienate and divide further the education community - parents and educators alike. That happens now between Spectrum and regular.

Kids have different needs and certainly don't enter school needing the same curricular package. A premature baby born in August or September is at a distinct disadvantage compared to a student born in November or December. Surely, you want what's best for the student rather than what reinforces some educational ideology you hold. I teach primary and I can tell you that many kids come into my classroom with stories of boredom at K. And I know the difference between "boredom" and "hard."

England starts at four and takes two years to get kids where we try to get them in one year. That was related to me via an art specialist in our school who was born and educated in England.

So, it's not so simple. Also, research has shown that Piaget's findings are accurate for a child without mitigation. However, parents who mitigate their child's development with early learning - reading, math talk, lots of talk - have children who start school with academic needs much higher than the average(?) child. What is average these days?

Again, your one-size fits all just doesn't cut it in this day and age. I, too, would prefer a stress-free start at school but we can't do it with current curricular requirements and by grouping children in highly-diverse (academically) classrooms.

And I haven't missed your emphasis on play. Should we go back to half-day K and just socialize through play? Maybe so. I don't know.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Dan, great job. I may borrow from your writing.

Play in K - look Montessori does a terrific job in teaching through "play." I believe it should be the model for K.

dw said...

I don't know how to say this politely, but TS, you are off-the-scale wrong.

We need to step back from the notion that 5 and 6 year olds NEED to be academically challenged to be happy. 5 and 6 year olds are wired to "play" and to learn through play.

Let me fix that for you: We need to step back from the notion that all kids need the same thing at the same time. Even kids in the same family have different needs at different ages from each other.

It is not normal to be pushing such young children up the achievement ladder just because they are "ready" on paper. I've never once heard a K student tell me he/she was bored in a play-based classroom, no matter how far along they were academically.

Either you are in an extremely unusual school, or you are not listening to your students. I'm hoping it's not the latter, but if you are so set on your own "agenda", it wouldn't surprise me. I can tell you from firsthand experience there are many kids who were stuck in "play time" kindergarten classrooms that were not only bored, but frustrated. I had more than one of these myself, and the results in my own family ranged from boredom, complaints and depression to frustration and outright anger. Yes, in kindergarten. Not all kids that are currently in APP had this experience, but I'll tell you that many did, and it's a big part of the reason that program is so important.

We need to bring play back to our K classrooms. Through play, children who are ready for more will naturally learn more, while also strengthening their social development. It won't close the gap, but it will at least bring sanity back into the lives of our 5 and 6 year olds.

For many, probably even most kids, I agree with your assessment. But attempting to say this is true for all kids is absolutely, unequivocally wrong.

If we divide K classes up like that, we will be providing separate but equal classes, and that doesn't sit well with me, for many reasons.

At the end of the day, THIS is the root of it all. THIS is why kids who are truly out of sync with their age peers cannot catch a break in Seattle schools. Because for your "many reasons" (which sounds like your own personal peeves), you don't think these kids deserve to have an appropriate education, but rather your own personal notion of a one-size-fits-all solution.

Can you please re-assess your attitude on this? Unless I'm mis-remembering your handle here, you're a teacher, are you not? If you believe you have never seen bored students in your classroom, either you are the lone miracle teacher in our city, or you need to open your eyes wider to see the deep social and psychological problems these kids face in "play time" classrooms. They do NOT want to stand out like a sore thumb from their peers, so they will often hide these needs, and it's your job as much as anyone else to assess this, not sweep it under the carpet. I'm a little sorry for lashing out, but adults who are set in their ways to the detriment of kids really make me angry.

Catherine said...

It seems to me that DW and TS are talking about different definitions of play. Piaget and Montessori both define activity/play very differently than the Kindergarden Play Time I'm accustomed to (and I agree that mostly they often leave a lot on the table as far as learning/discovery opportunity). Perhaps best described as purposeful play, activities and materials are structured to encourage discovery in a range of topics - math, shapes, volumes, sciences, letters, words, meanings, most importantly learning and resiliency. The two long standing teaching philosophies diverge, but some of the basics are shared.

It's frustrating in so many ways that we don't equally meet all children's needs. Some respond better to a variety of different teaching approaches. I think it's unreasonable for a teacher to be fluent in many different approaches. I think it's unreasonable for a child to be left out of the learning because he doesn't excel with his teacher's approach. Separate but equal has pitfalls, so does what we're doing. No magic.

Anonymous said...

Woah, calm down folks. There are no play-based kindergartens in Seattle Public Schools. I was not referring to the mind-numbing curriculum found in many SPS kindergartens. I don't doubt your children can be bored in K.

I was lucky enough to teach in a play-based K in Connecticut for many years. Learning was individualized for all, through play. I liked it, students liked it, parents like it- I'm sorry you find my opinion on that experience so offensive. I have never seen a child who did not learn best while playing. Human beings are wired to socialize. I find it sad that our kindergarteners no longer have the opportunity to engage in meaningful play, and there is a lot of research to back up that sadness. I never advocated for a one size fits all approach so I'm not sure where you got that from. Play does not look the same for each child. I'm advocating to individualize instruction for all.

My many reasons for not liking separate but equal, here are 3:

1. Children will end up being separated by their social class, and then by default, the color of their skin. There is no "equal" in that.

2. Our most experienced teachers will line up to teach regular K or advanced K, not the Jr. K, especially if their student test scores are going to be used to evaluate their job performance. This will result in the greenest teachers working with the neediest students. There is no "equal" in that.

3. Differentiation works for me and my students. I know that is not the case for all teachers, but I think working toward improving differentiation for everybody is a more equitable goal than separating by social class. In K, I have found differentiation is downright easy in a play-based classroom.

TS

Anonymous said...

By no means do I agree with all of Charlie's observations, but what I appreciate here is there is discussion. That's not true in all schools (some principals are self-appointed school saviors who dare not be crossed without consequences - and they justify it in the name of reform when it's just plain ego).

In terms of points made, having taught for several years now I agree with RollerCoaster that what is taught in SPS high schools (at least) is so far from Euro-Centric that I too have thought we're in an overcompensating stage (except for AP history courses which have more Euro-basis due to testing standards). Doesn't mean we don't have serious achievement gap issues, but I don't think it's due to euro-Centric history teaching.

In Seattle a lot more summer school options would be great, even for high school, but my friends in Central WA would totally disagree with a we-don't-need-summers anymore. I for one have either taken classes or taught most summers since transitioning to teaching... I would definitely jump at more summer teaching opportunities, but I also think we need fewer early-release/half-days and other interruptions interferring first. (Yes, I probably differ with my union peers on this one, although many are frustrated with the sloppy PD events most of the time)

The big $$ is in early education in terms of class size. In high school I mostly see smaller class size only being for the remedial and/or tough classes. 32 students for an IB/AP class isn't so bad compared to a 9th grade English/Algebra1/Gen Science class of 22.

**SPS Teacher


Anonymous said...

SPS teacher, funny about your comment regarding your HS class to be so far from euro-centric. Perhaps that's your choice as a teacher. My kids haven't gotten that sense at all through their many years so far in SPS. That's true for LA/SS, math, science, and electives. The majority of writers, scientists, innovators, historical figures and events they studied run the gamut, but euro-centric perspectives and contexts tend to outrank. Perhaps you are confusing studying different cultures and non western history as a marker for non eurocentric study. I would say be careful of that because to study it from a westerner's viewpoint only accentuates and perpetuates the eurocentric view of world history and culture.

As for remedial classes being smaller, that makes much sense to meet the needs of these students.
-concerned

I spend my life online said...

TS, I agree with some of your opinion. But you make a lot of assumptions about teachers. Teaching and teachers are not so black and white. And as for play-based curriculum, I'd be curious if you had a program that you can identify that did the job. Also, I've had several Montessori students and my complaint with it is that when students are confronted with activities that they wouldn't otherwise choose to do, they don't want to do them. They are great at diving headlong into their areas of strength which Montessori encourages but seem intimidated by activities and curriculum that challenges their weaknesses.

I wonder if that is your experience? If I ruled the world, I would err on the side of teaching to strengths because I believe that confident students will eventually tackle their weaknesses on their own. The real world demands that. But, alas, our "mastery of everything" common core isn't supportive of that philosophy at all.

Anonymous said...

concerned:

Clearly we are in a contentious area---what should be taught as history? is there a neutral viewpoint? what is historical significance anyway?

But Charlie's point was that "culturally relevant curricula speaks directly to student motivation." I question that. I don't doubt that it feels good to be able to personally relate to topics one is studying, and that it feels bad to rarely be able to do so...but I question whether those feelings are actually driving engagement in school in a significant way.

We've been trying this for decades, actually, and if nobody can point to how turning our curricula upside down and inside out has actually helped anyone in a measurable way, then perhaps it is just a feel-good exercise with more than a hint of condescension. Asking textbook publishers to find/replace "John" with "Marcus" or "Jose" is easy, of course, but again---is it doing anything? Or is it a mostly-empty exercise done?

Charlie, could you be suggesting that this is a matter of basic fairness and accuracy, and isn't actually strongly connected to achievement? That's a much better argument, but IMO our current curricula fail on that count as well.

RollerCoasterFabio

Charlie Mas said...

I'm really enjoying this discussion, both the content and the tone.

I do, however, see a recurring snag. When someone writes a generality - and we all have to write in generalities from time to time (such as that one) - let's not interpret that generality with an absolute and let's not take the example of the exceptional case in which the generality is not true as an argument to negate the generality, which is true in the bulk of cases. Instead, let's read it as an amendment to increase precision.

So when someone writes "Swans are white", the response that some swans are black should be seen as an amendment to incrementally improve the precision of the original statement rather than a negation of the original statement. And let's remember that the original statement was not "All swans are white". Let's read the note about black swans as more of a "Yes and" then a "No but", and maintain an understanding that generalities are not intended as absolutes.

For example, it may be true in some cases that world history is not taught almost exclusively from a European perspective or that American history only features stories about elites, but that doesn't mean that the curriculum isn't culturally biased in countless other ways - most notably in its epistemology.

It may be true that mastery cannot be pursued in all domains equally and simultaneously, but no one ever said that it had to be. The standards call for proficiency, but students should be allowed and encouraged to pursue mastery in the areas in which they are motivated to do so.

Standards can be antithetical to autonomy in many ways, but there is room for more autonomy nevertheless. It doesn't have to be absolute autonomy. Consider the examples given: Montessori and The NOVA Project. At NOVA students still need to take the classes that will fulfill their graduation requirements and they still need to meet the Standards - their autonomy doesn't exceed those limits. They do, however, have a lot of autonomy in how they demonstrate that they have met the Standards.

I enjoy a good argument, but let's not allow the capture of debate points to overshadow the capture of conceptual points. Let's accept general statements for what they are with the understanding that they are not intended as absolute statements, that exceptions exist, and that those exceptions or limits do not negate the fact that the generality is true in the bulk of cases.

Charlie Mas said...

I absolutely agree with Jon.

My review of the proposals made by Education Reform Organizations shows that all of their efforts, in the end, are either about reducing the costs of education - and therefore keeping a few tax dollars in their pockets - or about directing some of those tax dollars into their friends' pockets. It's all about their money, not the students. I wish someone could prove me wrong about that.

TFA - de-professionalizes teaching, promotes the idea of teaching as a temp job done for a few years (without climbing the pay scale), promotes teacher turnover.

End of seniority - allows the dismissal of higher salary teachers thereby reducing payroll, makes teaching a less attractive career, promotes the idea of teaching as a temp job rather than a career

You will notice that the end of seniority for determining lay-offs doesn't come with a companion proposal to end the use of seniority in the pay scale. You'll notice that the proponents of the idea that newer teachers could be as good as experienced teachers don't suggest paying the newer teachers the same as the experienced teachers.

Pricipal authority to hire and fire - this will allow the dismissal of senior teachers and their larger salaries from the payroll, makes teaching a less attractive career, comes with no oversight or accountability

Blended education/online education - directs money to private interests - hardware and software companies - reduces payroll, de-professionalizes teaching

Charter schools - directs money to private interests, de-professionalizes teaching, reduces payroll, promotes the idea of teaching as a temp job rather than a career

Testing, testing, testing - directs money to private interests, de-professionalizes teaching

Accountability - applied from the bottom up rather than the top down. The first people held accountable, the students, are the people with the least power to change the system. The second people held accountable, the teachers, are the people with the second-least power to change the system. The people who control the system and really drive the outcomes are never held accountable. Where are the accountability and consequences for the state officials and the district officials? Nowhere.

Read the plan for education reform from the Washington Policy Center.

You'll see that their real focus is money, not education.

Anonymous said...

Roller, it sounds more like it's your feeling or sensibility that you are talking about. Believe it or not, some of us studied H. Tubman in the 1970's alongside actual letters from civil war soldiers and their families, the Dred Scott case alongside the Jayhawkers or the Iroquois confederacy established long before the pilgrims arrival and the Federalist paper. This is not new. Studying about the Underground Railroad wasn't about feelings then, wasn't about PC - which I think is what your posts are really alluding to, nor is it now.

Learning takes place all around you. Your posts serve as that reminder.

concerned

Melissa Westbrook said...

Charlie, I may post your last list as a thread. I don't even care if people comment - I want them to read it and see that this is truly what the end game is.

I note that Rodney Tom and his ilk keep saying "no new revenue for ed spending and we need to change how we spend the dollars we have."

And I ask - over and over - what would YOU change? What would you eliminate/beef up to get better academic outcomes?

Never get an answer.

Anonymous said...

“I went to a class where the professor said if you didn’t appreciate Beethoven, Bach and Brahms, you were culturally deprived, to which I responded, if you didn’t appreciate James Brown, you were culturally deprived.” – Gloria Ladson-Billings

The above quote is by Dr. Ladson-Billings, who coined the term (culturally relevant education) in the 1990's. I happen to agree with the professor she quotes AND with her response. Dr. Ladson-Billing's work is interesting, thought-provoking and goes way beyond history curricula issues.

And with that I'll leave this topic alone...

RollerCoasterFabio

Anonymous said...

We had one high school doing a fantastic job teaching students about race and gender in society.
But because of one white student’s complaint the curriculum was disbanded and the teacher was transferred - despite the protests of teaching staff, students, parents and alumni.

Remember how Banda made a lot of noise about how they were going to make sure teachers, district-wide, were going to be trained in the Courageous Conversations curriculum.

Yet, here we have….Radio. Silence.
(and more than half of this schools teaching staff has left)

So, how can we EVER have any reforms in any direction when one white student can dismantle a successful curriculum and almost destroy a teacher’s career?

TCS

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

I am glad Jon Greenberg is still teaching students in SPS. After the way he was treated, I would not be surprised to see a private school or college recruit him.

Superintendent Banda showed no spine on this decision. He punished an iconic teacher and the Center School has been demoralized. My son took this class many years ago and it was one of his favorites.

Shame on Mr. Banda. No courage from him.

S parent

dw said...

TS said: There are no play-based kindergartens in Seattle Public Schools.

It sounds like you're talking about something specific, though this still reads in a generic way. Most of what I saw in my kids' K was play, and there was very little, if any, learning derived from it.

I never advocated for a one size fits all approach so I'm not sure where you got that from.

Not explicitly said, but comments like these lead one to believe that you feel Play is a great model for every kid:

- I have never seen a child who did not learn best while playing.
- Human beings are wired to socialize.
- 5 and 6 year olds are wired to "play" and to learn through play.
- It is not normal to be pushing such young children up the achievement ladder just because they are "ready" on paper.


There certainly are parents that push their kids, that's clear. But there are also kids who are eager, craving and demanding to have "real" academics at that age as well. Just as there are kinesthetic learners, there are also visual learners and even "thinkers" that learn best by reflecting on topics by themselves.

Do I think it's possible that there are better Play models than my kids had in school? Sure. But none of them would have fulfilled my kids' need for math and literacy lessons that would have been a terrible fit for most of the kids in their classrooms. THIS is why they need to have their own classrooms.

1. Children will end up being separated by their social class, and then by default, the color of their skin. There is no "equal" in that.

Are we striving for "equal"? Why? I want the best fit for the most kids possible, and that will never be the same for all kids in a given school or district. I believe there are better ways to do ability grouping that don't need to end up racial segregated (except when districts are stupid about program placement), but even still, let's not hurt children for the sake of trying to address bigger societal problems. Let's attack those big problems directly and help every kid achieve to the best of their ability.

2. Our most experienced teachers will line up to teach regular K or advanced K, not the Jr. K, especially if their student test scores are going to be used to evaluate their job performance. This will result in the greenest teachers working with the neediest students. There is no "equal" in that.

Again, no idea why you think "equal" is virtuous, but this is an adult problem, with adult solutions. First, I don't think it will map out that simply. Some teachers take pride in helping struggling kids, others are better at helping advanced learners, and most are going to teach the middle 80% in any case. District policies can help make certain buildings or classrooms more attractive. This is a non-issue.

3. Differentiation works for me and my students. I know that is not the case for all teachers, but I think working toward improving differentiation for everybody is a more equitable goal than separating by social class. In K, I have found differentiation is downright easy in a play-based classroom.

This is approaching a straw man argument. No one wants to separate by social class, nor by race. But thoughtful ability grouping does help ALL kids learn better. It's easier to get help from classmates, less ridicule (either for being below or above expectations). Differentiation is necessary in virtually any classroom, but I think you're vastly overselling it, because without peers children struggle in so many ways, not just academically.

- continued -

Anonymous said...

"But none of them would have fulfilled my kids' need for math and literacy lessons that would have been a terrible fit for most of the kids in their classrooms. THIS is why they need to have their own classrooms."

How do you know what would have been a good "fit" for the other students in the class? Being a volunteer does not provide you with such information, nor should measuring one's child against the levels of other students be the purpose of volunteering (although it certainly happens).

Sometimes posters sound like one-issue voters who are trying to protect their pet cause, even when it causes one to argue against the obvious. Yes, children do learn through play...

--enough already

dw said...

The last comment brings me back to the most important point I'd like to make.

You said: "Human beings are wired to socialize."

Let's stay away from pedantic notions and assume this is true for a minute.

I don't know if you are male or female, young or old. But imagine yourself sitting in a room full of people of the opposite gender, opposite age group, and the polar opposite political views, perhaps central Texas. If you are a person of color, they are all white, if you are white, they are all minority, every last one of them. Take a minute to visualize yourself in this environment.

Now imagine yourself trying to socialize in this environment where you have nothing obvious in common with these people, and in fact they may find you threatening or offensive. Or you, them.

This is a bit of an exaggeration to make a point, but for the highly gifted kids at the top end this is the kind of environment you throw them into if you're truly advocating for fully blended classrooms. No, I'm not encouraging that we slice and dice up and down the entire range, but for some kids the cognitive differences are so great that they are not able to socialize with most age-peers! As adults, we can use our life experiences, if we're clever, to search for something in common with others, and even then we may fail. Young kids do not have those extensive life experiences to draw from, so many of the highly gifted kids who are left in these classrooms can be robbed of the opportunity to effectively socialize, to build friendships, camaraderie and a safe place to be themselves! So they are left to either withdraw or to act out in undesirable ways, both of which are common.

Getting a little off-track, but your comment made me want to address this very important point. By high school, these kids don't necessarily need to be grouped together for social reasons, but in elementary school it's critical for many of them.

Melissa Westbrook said...

DW, I think you overdid it somewhat.

A classroom of kids - no matter their abilities, color, social class - have something in common. They are all children.

I think the point is that once you get past that obvious element and the kids start socializing, then it become true that if one child cannot find commonality with any other child in work/play, that child becomes isolated. I think that is often the case with advanced learners.

Anonymous said...

Kids who have autism spectrum disorder and affective disorder- bipolar, depression, high anxiety often have socialization issue. I agree kids with these issues required more consistency and less disruption. Many of the school based interventions under structured setting tend to favor social integration not segregation though. The plan is to help children develop social coping strategies and socialization skills. Kids with severe sensory issue need more controlled environment. Whether these kids kids get adequate and appropriate intervention and accommodation in schools is another matter.

frustrated

dw said...

enough already said: How do you know what would have been a good "fit" for the other students in the class? Being a volunteer does not provide you with such information, nor should measuring one's child against the levels of other students be the purpose of volunteering (although it certainly happens).

It seems like you're assuming a lot about my (reasons for) volunteering and/or somehow peeping into other kids personal affairs, though I said nothing of the sort.

I do know for a fact that when a young kid is functioning 3-4 years ahead (academically) of what's happening in a classroom that there is a significant mismatch. Attempting to teach anything academic that would have been interesting and valuable to my kid would have been completely inappropriate for most of the other kids in the class. No insult to the other kids, it's just a statement of fact. Not sure why anyone would even question this. To Charlie's point above, there are of course soft edges, subtleties and exceptions to the rule, but in general this is the case.

Sometimes posters sound like one-issue voters who are trying to protect their pet cause

I advocate for many different kinds of kids and issues, but at this moment, sure, I'm harping on a particular issue. That's how it works, one issue at any given moment. So many people in this city have no clue about the real needs of highly gifted kids and they push their own moral judgement onto kids when it can actually be damaging. The young kids can't advocate on their own behalf, so we adults need to. Believe it or not, we were all kids long ago as well, and some of us remember these situations ourselves.

Can kids learn through play? Sure. But even well-designed game play has its limits in reaching across really wide ranges of needs and cognitive levels. The bottom line is that kids need real peers.

Anonymous said...

Many gifted students are late readers. Early readers cannot be assumed to be gifted. This is research validated.

Based upon this fact, there were undoubtedly a few truly gifted students in the classroom who would not have been recognized by your radar.

Truly gifted students, not simply "advanced learners," have been shown to demonstrate specific emotional and social needs. Hey, maybe even your child is one of them. But your assessment of the other students is way off base.

--enough already

dw said...

Melissa said: DW, I think you overdid it somewhat.

Perhaps, but I don't know how to make people understand the isolation these kids can feel right from the very beginning of their schooling, and how damaging it can be to have zero peers that you can talk freely with and be yourself. I think it's worth trying an example that might possibly get someone to internalize the problem and question their own rigid beliefs about what is important to young kids. Socialization and feeling safe are huge! Highly gifted kids in general ed classrooms aren't the only kids facing this issue, but they seem to be the ones that many adults take pride in thumb their noses at.

A classroom of kids - no matter their abilities, color, social class - have something in common. They are all children.

You made me smile here. Of course this is true, but I know you understand the issue because you get right to the point below:

I think the point is that once you get past that obvious element and the kids start socializing, then it become true that if one child cannot find commonality with any other child in work/play, that child becomes isolated. I think that is often the case with advanced learners.

Absolutely. And the farther out of sync a child is with the other kids in their classroom, the more isolated they become. This is why we hear so many tales of kids who were lost and frustrated in their neighborhood schools and yet they found friends and blossomed immediately after joining APP. This is at least as important as the academics, and yet so many people (teachers, no less!) ignore it.

I'm going to attempt to stop on this topic now because we're veering down a road that has been traveled many times before. I'm just hoping to reach out and make at least one person question their beliefs a little bit, though I'll never really know if I was successful.

Lynn said...

enough already,

I wouldn't assume dw made that determination based on the age at which her child's classmates began reading. It is not too difficult to notice when a child's academic skills are three or four years advanced in kindergarten. In any case, she was in that classroom and we were not. It's probably best to assume she is a better judge of that classroom than we are.

I'm confused about something. I have the impression that you feel too many students are being identified as gifted - that many are just "advanced learners" and truly gifted students are very rare. Why then would you assume that there were a few truly gifted children in dw's child's classroom? How many is that? Three in a typical kindergarten classroom of 25 or so?

Anonymous said...

Perhaps we can move this discussion to a new APP thread? Please?

reader

Lynn said...

Let's just move back to the original topic!