WASL - Guest Column in the Times

This op-ed appeared in today's Times. It is by David Marshak, a respected educator in the College of Education at Seattle U. He details how Superintendent Bergeson's pass rate claims for the WASL are, by his measure, not true. He says at the end:

"Is this really a great achievement after 14 years and who knows how many hundreds of millions of dollars spent on testing? And, are our schools not pretty much where we were in 1992 before we started with this unproven yet very expensive obsession with standards and high-stakes testing?"

That is an understatement (posed as a question).


Anonymous said…
"Is it any wonder that instruction has been dumbed down in American schools, when educrats are rewarded and honored not for bringing more children to the top, but for nudging more over some contrived midpoint of mediocrity?"

From the New York Sun Feb 4, 2007

Anonymous said…
More from David Marshak:


Here is an excerpt from the above:

As the United States became an industrial power, schools were shaped to fit this same industrial model of efficiency and production. Children were sorted by age. Some were groomed for higher education, but most were deemed best suited for labor and encouraged to drop out and go to work. Competition among students was encouraged, and student/teacher relationships were minimized.

Now, despite evidence from developmental psychology that children grow and develop at different and variable rates, we still keep age-grading as a key structural element of schooling. Age-grading rewards those who develop more quickly and punishes those who are slower or different, even though they may have great abilities and gifts.

In elementary schools, children move from one teacher to the next every year, trashing the bond built between children and their teacher as well as the teacher's knowledge of the needs and abilities of each student. Each year, we tell every child and teacher to start all over again, even though we know that the teacher's knowledge of and caring for the child is the single most important variable for many children, particularly for children who are most vulnerable, in determining whether or not they will learn and succeed in school.

In secondary schools, students move from one teacher to the next every 50 minutes (or 80 to 100 minutes with block periods). Five or six teachers a day; for many students, new teachers each semester. No wonder that 50 to 70 percent of students pass through their high-school years without developing a single important relationship with an adult in their school. We dump teens into industrially configured high schools, and then we complain that teens are disconnected and alienated from adults.

No Child Left Behind will not change any of this. In its single-minded focus on accountability and testing, it does not address the key issue of moving from an industrial model of school to a post-industrial model that integrates relationships and personalization with academic and personal success for every child. Such a movement requires that we change the structure and culture of public schools simultaneously.

In spite of the above it appears that Dr. Goodloe-Johnson will follow the Mike Riley Model of uniform curriculum dispensed in a uniform manner.

Teachers are not making widgets in a factory from uniform raw material. Schools are set up this way for the convenience of administration not for the good of students.
Anonymous said…
I personally like the idea of having a different teacher every year. I liked it when I was a child, and I like it for my children. It always felt like a clean start, a new opportunity. It was exciting too. And, when I went to middle school, changing classes was invigorating to me. I loved having different teachers with different teaching styles and personalities. Even if I found one teacher boring I knew I would be in another class within the hour!

My kids went to an alternative elementary school where they had the same teacher for 2 and sometimes 3 years. I honestly didn't like it. I didn't like the way a teacher had to stretch a curriculum to challenge two or three grades worth of students, and I didn't like the fact that my son was labeled by his teacher and didn't have a chance to "start over" the next year. In middle school My son went to Salmon Bay where they had blocked classes. He was bored to tears in the block social studies/LA class. He had a teacher that he wasn't crazy about who he said was "boring". He had to stay with her for almost three hours a day. From a teachers perspective she had to work with two subjects curriculum's, instead of just focusing on one, which in my opinion made both subjects weaker.

We live across the street from The Waldorf School. They keep their students with the same teacher from 1st-8th grade. I have heard from many parents that it is a nightmare. Especially if the teacher/child don't have a cohesive relationship.

There are always two sides to every story.
Jet City mom said…
A separate team of five consultants, including former principals, will work with principals to improve struggling teachers’ performance. In cases where the teachers fail to get better, the consultants will help amass the documentation necessary to oust them.

The plans, at a cost of $1 million a year, are described in a memo and an accompanying letter to principals from Schools Chancellor Joel I. Klein. In the letter, he urged principals to help teachers improve but added, “When action must be taken, the disciplinary system for tenured teachers is so time-consuming and burdensome that what is already a stressful task becomes so onerous that relatively few principals are willing to tackle it. As a result, in a typical year only about one-hundredth of 1 percent of tenured teachers are removed for ineffective performance.

“This issue simply must be tackled,” he wrote.

From todays NYT

WASL was not meant to assess students but instruction, no?
Roy Smith said…
1964, if your son and his teacher at the alternative didn't have a good relationship, or he was labeled by the teacher and didn't have a chance at a fresh start the next year, why didn't you ask for a different teacher the next year? This is always an option at AS#1, and I would be a little surprised if this is not an option in the other alternative schools.
Roy Smith said…
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said…
Roy, you ask why I just didn't change my child's class or teacher each year. It's a good question and I will answer it.

First of all the school was AEII, and while parents did have some say in class placement, admin always made the placements according to what they thought was best for all involved. That means sometimes parents got what they wanted and sometimes they didn't.

Secondly, it was counter culture to request a different teacher every year, as it was an expectation and part of the schools philosophy to build this student/teacher multi year relationship. Since the multi year relationship was the norm, if you did request a change it was obvious to all involved that there was a problem. You were viewed as "anti-teacher", and it was awkward to say the least.

Lastly, it is socially awkward for the child involved, as all of the other children stay together in the same classroom. You are singling your child out, going against the grain so to speak. They have to explain to all of their friends why they were moved. Not easy for an elementary aged child.

So it's not so easy to simply move your child each year, if you are in a school where that is simply not the culture. I much prefer it now that we are in a traditional school, where it is the norm to have a new class, new teacher, and new group of classmates each year. So does my child. But to each his own, and that is what I love about Seattle, and the alternative school community. It provides much needed options so that everyone can find the right fit. No need to argue over which is right or wrong, because I don't believe either is better. Just different. What works for one kid doesn't for another. And that's a joy actually!
Roy Smith said…
1964, I hope I didn't come off as being snarky when I asked the question, and thanks for the enlightening answer. From your answer, it does seem that there are very different dynamics involved with student placement at AE2 than there are at AS1. I'm not at all sure that it would be considered counter to the school culture to have a new teacher for your child each year at AS1. Just further proof that just because two schools are "alternative" doesn't mean that they are anything alike, I guess.
Jet City mom said…
My child was at Summit- I could ask for a different teacher- but ironically while we actually requested Summit because of the advantages I saw in looping or mixed grades, my daughter had a different teacher every year, until she had been there for five years.
I was told you couldn't request a teacher or a program.

However, if you looked at the "social status" and history of the families who were able to choose a program for their kids, you saw differences.

I believe the difficulties in a class that teaches to the middle, and having transition issues each fall to a new teacher/class, exacerbated my childs academic difficulties.

The parents who were able to get their children in one of the mixed grade, team taught classes were much happier with their childs experience
Anonymous said…
I much prefer the looping to the mixed age classes. We have had both and the looping works great in my opinion. With the looping class the teacher has the same group of kids for two years, bu each year s/he teaches a straight grade. My child had a teacher for a straight K class and then the same group of kids stayed with the same teacher the following year for 1st. It was fantastic. Of course we had a really really great teacher and that can make all the difference. If you weren't crazy about your teacher the two year looping may not be a good experience. We have also had the mixed grade classes over the years and I am not crazy about them. The theory is that if you have a teacher teaching a 3/4 split grade kids have more wiggle room. A fourth grader that was a little behind would fit right in to a 3/4 class, while a really advanced 3rd grader would do really well to, as the curriculum was tailored to meet the needs of 3rd gr, 4th gr and everything in between. The problem was in actuality the teachers couldn't spread themselves that thin and what you wind up with is something in the middle. My child was very bright, and was always extremely bored when he was in the higher grade. When he was a 4th grader in a 3/4 split class most of the work was right in the middle, when he needed some real challenges. The teachers always complained that it was very difficult to stretch two years worth of work and challenge each child. Especially in the K/1 split where you could have a K child that had never even seen the ABC's in the same class with a strong reader in 1st grade. I actually think the split grades are a disservice to the child that is a bit behind and the child who is a bit ahead. The only work well for the kids right in the middle.

Just my experience, I'm sure many others have different opinions.
Anonymous said…
Anon at 8:20 AM said...
I much prefer the looping to the mixed age classes. We have had both and the looping works great in my opinion.

Two models that have been particlarly effective at grades 6,7, & 8 middle schools are:
The three year interdisciplinary loop
in which a team of four teachers (math, Sci, Social Studies, & Lang. Arts) take from 100 to 120 incoming 6th graders for their 3 middle school years.

In the teacher fixed loop a three or four teacher team teaches one class in their subject at each grade level each day. Thus a math teacher would teach the same children for three years but in doing so will teach a 6th grade class, a 7th grade class, and an 8th grade class each day.
In this model classes are sometimes longer than 50 minutes.

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