It's the Student, Stupid

This isn't really what Dick Lilly over at Crosscut said but it's what went thru my mind reading his recent article.  Here's his premise about "closing the achievement gap":

Among the results of this frustratingly persistent problem is a vast, energetic industry of school reform, headlined in recent years by the involvement of powerful private foundations and the policy directives of the federal government: “No Child Left Behind” in the “Race to the Top.”

Over the years, a variety of structural changes have been proposed and, to one degree or another, tried: small schools, mayoral governance, charter schools, (more) intensive professional development for teachers, (more) leadership training for principals. Testing and more testing, along with the loss of federal funds and wholesale staff changes when schools have failed to improve scores (many states dumbed down their tests to avoid the consequences). And lately, paying teachers based on student test results, along with (more) federal money for states and school districts that promise to do a few favored things from these lists.

As for results, not much has changed.

What needs to change?

What we have is a system in which the progress of an individual child is actually unimportant. (Teachers, bless them, do not view it this way, but beyond the classroom door the system’s focus on averages takes over.)

What’s missing is a real standard — for example, the standard that EACH child will read at grade level by the end of third grade. For EACH child, a school or district should have to answer the question, “Can s/he read?” If for some the answer remains “no,” then the school and district and state have failed. You can’t hide that failure in averages.

It’s ironic, but to “close the achievement gap” we have to stop measuring and praising group gains. Schools have to focus on and deliver services — specifically reading instruction — to each individual child. K-12 educators need to measure not averages, but how many children at each grade level are actually proficient readers. And each child who is not proficient must get additional instruction sufficient to bring them up to grade level. 

Read the whole thing but bravo Dick Lilly.


Michael H said…
" If for some the answer remains “no,” then the school and district and state have failed."

You forgot to mention parents.
Anonymous said…
"...For EACH child, a school or district should have to answer the question, “Can s/he read?” If for some the answer remains “no,” then the school and district and state have failed..."

A Y or N would be useful...but, no one has failed if the answer is N. This is an opportunity to ask some more questions: learn more about that child and, penultimately, learn an effective way to overcome this.

ken berry
Jan said…
This has interesting parallels to what Everett was doing in terms of graduation. Instead of looking at the "group" of at risk seniors, they hired people to focus on each child, that child's specific needs for dropping out, failing classes, being absent, losing interest. Just as a specific child's reasons for not being able to read are specific to that child, so are a child's reasons for failing to graduate.

The individual successes WILL ultimately move the averages, but you don't address the averages -- you address each child.

That has long been one (not the only, but one) of the problems with NCLB's (and MGJ's) penchant for evaluating (and treating) at the school level. It boots you up to the wrong place for actually making changes.
Charlie Mas said…
Yes, Michael H, the parents have failed as well. And I'm sure the student also has a share in the failure. But since the parents and the students are not public institutions, we cannot do anything about them.

The school and the district and the state need to be strong enough at teaching children that they can do it without the parents. They have to be that strong because there are a lot of kids who aren't getting parental support, and that's not the kids' fault.
SPED Mom Who Has Reached the Other Side said…
And frankly, Michael and Charlie-- in some cases the parents haven't failed.

One of my children was not reading at grade level by 9 (this after 5 years of speech/reading therapy, a reading tutor, a year at Hamlin Robinson, 2 other private schools, intensive one-on-one work with me EVERY night (this child may need ANOTHER kind of therapy for that in the future!!:>)). My child was also not talking (much, or fluently) at 3 -- so we weren't particularly surprised by, and had in fact been warned to watch out for, reading problems.

No one (least of all my child) failed -- though there were a few notably weak adult performances along the way, where one might least have expected them). We just hadn't succeeded -- yet.

By seventh grade, my child was at a 4th grade level, by the beginning of 9th grade (the first year we entrusted this enigma to public school), we were at a 7th grade level, and now, this kid is pretty much at grade level -- though it will NEVER be easy, and it will ALWAYS be slow --

Given who my child is, and what we (teachers, SPED folks, tutors, etc.) did, I firmly believe this kid could not possibly have been reading at grade level by age 9. But, the approach suggested by Dick Lilly and Melissa is exactly right. It is exactly, perfectly right. It took intense focus on the child -- the student. Not a magic curriculum, not the aligned materials, not having, or moving to, a non-failing school, and certainly not extra "coaching" of, or "incentive pay" to, my child's teachers.

And, there are thousands more out there who are in similar circumstances. And their chances for an education burn while Ed Reform fiddles.
kprugman said…
Most countries don't create standards the way we do in the US. The American process is flawed as are the textbooks we produce for children. Standards are a non-issue - because textbooks include their own standards and when you adopt a textbook, you are adopting those standards. Also, the Ministry of Education tests curriculum. Not the publisher... Behind every major problem in education there is a publisher or his consultant that is meddling or influence peddling.

Why do students use drugs stupid? Because its a cheap escape from a callous institution that we educators dare to call school.
kprugman said…
The danger with putting ourselves above others is that we look for differences rather than similarities - we presume that Americans are more unique than other people, our problems are different and therefore we deserve more than what most schools can afford to provide. As more capital is drained from the US to expand new markets in Asia, my fears are there will be less focus in providing really important jobs for younger generations of Americans.
kprugman said…
Everett (most of Washington State) has been part of the national school reform coalition (Gordon/Metcalf/Nelson), since I was in high school. There is a significant correlation between real estate boom/bust cycles, school achievement gaps, and federal funding.
Anonymous said…
KPRugman, can you let us know which school is so blessed to have your teachings?

-Inquiring Mind

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