A Question of Scale

A lot of the work in education appears to be focused on small things that make little difference instead of big things that make a lot of difference. All of the fights are over the small stuff that doesn't much matter. These are distractions that keep us from taking the battle to the big stuff that really does matter.

Example 1: Seattle Public Schools is on the cusp of adopting a policy on waivers for instructional materials. The proposed policy includes a lot of safeguards that the district staff wrote in to make sure that the alternative materials work well and that the students make acceptable progress. The driving concern here is that we absolutely do not want 400 students using materials that don't work well.

That certainly makes sense, but you may be astonished to learn that our basic materials adoption policy has no such safeguards. So we have this elaborate feedback loop to make sure that 400 students don't use unhelpful materials, but we have no feedback loop to make sure that 20,000 students aren't using ineffective materials. That's messed up. The District demands proof of the effectiveness of Singapore math for 400 students. They will cancel the waiver if the results are not strong. But the District never measures the effectiveness of Everyday Math for 20,000 students and there is no chance, regardless of the outcomes, that its use will be reconsidered at any point in the (supposed) seven-year textbook adoption cycle. District administrators are not accountable.

Example 2: The State is seriously considering a charter school bill. This bill would allow charter schools. There is only one difference between the education students get in charter schools and the education they get in public schools - the charter schools don't have to conform to district rules. Let's just take a moment and consider what this bill - and our legislature - is saying about school district administration in Washington. They are saying that it impedes the education of our children. Grim. So if the district-level administration is holding kids back from achieving shouldn't we free ALL students from that regulation instead of just a few? The bill's supporters also claim that the charter schools will be subject to greater scrutiny and held to performance standards or they will be closed. If this is so wonderful then why don't we subject all public schools to that level of scrutiny and close them if they don't meet performance standards? If it is so wonderful, then why not do it for all schools instead of just ten a year?

Example 3: A lot of folks in the education reform business are totally focused on "teacher quality" and they are beside themselves with rage over the prospect that 25 children somewhere might have one of the few bad teachers. Supposedly everyone in the school knows who these bad teachers are. Which, I suppose, means that the principal knows who these bad teachers are. Doesn't it indicate that the principal is a bad principal if he or she allows a bad teacher to continue working in his or her school? Shouldn't we be at least as concerned about the impact of the bad principal on 400 students as we are about the bad teacher on 25 students? Yet I never hear any education reformers lay any responsibility for the continued presence of bad teachers on the principals, the people who have a duty to fire them. Instead, they focus their efforts on getting the state legislature to fire them. Managers are not accountable.

The education reform folks aren't just shaking with rage at the bad teachers, they are pretty upset over the concern that a lot of other teachers, while not actually bad, are just mediocre. I suppose it makes some incremental difference in students' lives if they have a great teacher or a good teacher or a mediocre teacher, but the impact of gradients in teacher quality - assuming that can even be measured - is tiny in comparison to the impact of the opportunity gap. Seriously, it's microscopic in comparison. Yet the focus on education reform is on this incremental difference that generally means incremental differences in student outcomes instead of this huge qualitative difference that generally means huge qualitative differences in student outcomes. They are focused on whether the student goes to UW or Western instead of whether the student goes to college or prison. The system is not accountable.

I'm not saying that we shouldn't evaluate the effectiveness of alternative materials, of course we should. But shouldn't we also evaluate the effectiveness of the board-adopted materials. I'm not saying that we shouldn't allow schools freedom from counter-productive district mandates or subject them to scrutiny, but if it is good for some schools why isn't it good for all schools? And of course we should have meaningful evaluations of teachers, but shouldn't we also have analogous evaluations of principals and district administrators all the way up to the superintendent? And if the state legislature is establishing a system of education for our children and that system isn't working for large number of them, then shouldn't there be some means of changing the system?

Instead of making the real changes in the system that will result in real changes in outcomes for our children, we focus instead on blaming or praising the front line workers who have almost no control over any element of their work or their results. Teachers at Eckstein are good and should get merit pay because the students in their classes pass the state tests. Teachers at Aki Kurose are bad and should be fired because the students in their classes fail the state tests. Except that the factors that cause these students to either pass or fail the test have almost nothing to do with the teachers.

Dan Dempsey writes frequently about W. Edwards Deming and his work. I don't know how many of you have actually read Demings; I have. It applies directly. Here's a central theme: while conventional management blames the worker for defects, Demings says that the system is the source of defects. If you do nothing else, take the time to learn about Demings' Red Bead Experiment. Read any Demings at all and you will very quickly realize the complete absurdity of the "teacher quality" effort as it is being conducted.

So what are the solutions? How does the system need to change? Some of the rhetoric can stay the same, but the actions and decisions need to match. We should set and maintain high expectations for all students. But we need to give students the support they need to meet those expectations. Different students need different amounts of support. Equity isn't equality. Some students will have to be in classes of 15, and some other students will have to be in classes of 35. Can you handle that? If not, then the system is more precious than the students.

The system is predicated on the industrial model of twenty-five to thirty students sitting in a classroom all getting the same instruction at the same time in the same way. That industrial model doesn't work. It worked tolerably well forty years ago because we had less diverse classrooms, failure didn't have tragic consequences, and we had some amazingly talented women stuck in the pink collar ghetto. Today we have students in the classroom who weren't there forty years ago - minority students, immigrants, disabled students, and students from low-income homes, so the classroom is more diverse. The one-size lesson might have suited the largely homogeneous class of 1970, but no more. The manufacturing jobs that were available without a high school diploma - let alone a college degree - in 1970 aren't around anymore, so the stakes are higher. And school districts need to compete for talent in an open market. Many of the women who were great teachers forty years ago would follow better-paying careers today.

Accountability needs to start at the top. The leadership needs to take responsibility for the design of the system and the impact of the system on the outcomes. There needs to be a re-definition of quality from "Did the student pass the test?" to "Did the student get the support needed to make appropriate progress?". We need to ask the teachers what impedes their ability to deliver support for each student or if it is even possible for them to adequately support some students. We need to break away from the industrial model for education. Everybody knows that. Everybody agrees. But where is the leadership at the state and district level to shift to a post-industrial model? I don't see it. I'll I see is people blaming the students and the teachers for the failure created by the system. I don't see anyone putting the responsibility for the failure where it belongs: on the people at the top who perpetuate and enforce a failed system.

It can start small. It can start with a district design for early and effective interventions. Let's see that. Let's make that the primary objective for the new superintendent. Is there a higher priority?


Charlie Mas said…
Yeah, I'm sorry.

This is just a ranting screed.
Anonymous said…
I agree with what you say Charlie. Although, this has all been said millions of times for the last 20 years. The question is, how can we bring about effective change towards a better system?

A lot of other people, organizations, PhD's, parents, students, billionaires have attempted to bring about change.

I agree with you, start small, start with ourselves. But, will it be scalable to bring about massive change that's needed?

A friend
Chris S. said…
Don't apologize, Charlie. This is just precious.

So we have this elaborate feedback loop to make sure that 400 students don't use unhelpful materials, but we have no feedback loop to make sure that 20,000 students aren't using ineffective materials. That's messed up.

I SO appreciate your clarity of thought AND communication. It is a real talent. Rumors of your uncivility are greatly exaggerated.

In an era of incessant spin, your candidness is restorative. If you lay out the facts like this and the facts are unflattering, it makes YOU negative. Talk about shooting the messenger.

Keep it up.
Donna said…
Charlie, you say:
"I suppose it makes some incremental difference in students' lives if they have a great teacher or a good teacher or a mediocre teacher, but the impact of gradients in teacher quality - assuming that can even be measured - is tiny in comparison to the impact of the opportunity gap. Seriously, it's microscopic in comparison."

It really stuns me that you think this way. Seriously. Say you're a low-income black student. You have a teacher who sees a future janitor or maybe a valet. You come in reading below grade level. Your teacher hands you a book based on that and really doesn't do much to improve things. You see her do the same with the other low-income kids, while she spends more time with the at-grade students and not only that, is nicer to them to boot. Because she's got years of experience and does well with those not suffering from the "opportunity gap", many parents think she's great, and the principal certainly hears those commendations. Meanwhile, you, the student, see the inequity and start misbehaving. Then you get labled as a problem, so you get angry and misbehave some more. And your learning is still not helping you.

This is played out all over the place is schools where the "opportunity gap" exists. Imagine of instead, you had teachers who help this kid with his reading while ALSO attending to those who do well. Imagine the kid learns to ENJOY school, and decides to work harder and BECOMES one of the successful ones. I've seen it happen, and I don't think the impact is microscopic AT ALL.
Chris S. said…
Donna did you miss this part?
It can start with a district design for early and effective interventions.

I'm not saying what you describe doesn't happen, and isn't important. But do you blame ALL teachers and ONLY the teachers? Why are 40% of our kids low-income? Why is being low-income such an impediment to learning?

Brad Bernatek, bless his incompetent little heart, showed on a chart one time that this "opportunity gap", as reflected in test *cough*
scores exists at kindergarten and stays pretty much the same. So this kid entered school behind. Do you expect teachers to fix all society's ills?
Charlie Mas said…
Donna, thank you for making my point so beautifully.

You're right. If a teacher is a racist idiot that's going to have an impact on the students in that teacher's class. Is there anyone - anyone - who thinks it's okay to have racist idiots working as teachers? No. Certainly not me. No one is coming out in favor of that. You can stop arguing that point, our side won.

Who's job is it to reduce the number of racist idiots serving as teachers? Right now it is the principal's job. If the principal isn't doing his or her job to remove racist idiot teachers from classrooms right now, then what, if anything, will cause that to happen? Take your time with that answer; don't feel rushed.

Just to be clear, I fully support encouraging principals to do their job to remove racist idiot teachers from classrooms. Okay? So let's put that bizarre straw man argument aside and start focusing on things that really matter.

Did you even read what I wrote about designing the system around serving students? I wrote that the solution is to change the design of the system so that the situation you describe could not happen, not to rely on the people in the system to keep it from happening.
Anonymous said…
Charlie please refrain from name-calling and ridicule of Donna's post as a "bizarre straw man argument." Perhaps some parents have more life experience in this subject than you give credit?

Have you already forgotten your thread September 20, 2011 "Seeking a Diversity of Voices" where you wrote:

"I would really like to hear from folks who disagree with me. They may be cautious about commenting here on this blog. No one likes to feel like they have been shouted down, attacked, or had their integrity or intelligence insulted. So I would like to create a safe space for people who have another perspective so we can discuss these things in a civil, courteous, and respectful manner."

-chill out please
word said…

At my elementary school we had a teacher who would call parents at home if their children were not keeping up with their work.

This was the best teacher we had in 5 years.

Ultimately, this teacher was fired by the principal for being too disruptive with respect to district policies.

So there you have it. This is the way the SPS administration operates. The problem lies with them - not the teachers.
Charlie didn't call anyone a name. He labeled her theory as a "bizarre straw man argument".

He was trying to explain that no, he doesn't support racist teachers (as she clearly seems to put forth). And he was trying to get to a point of the focus of his thread.

If a spirited conversation scares you, maybe this isn't the place for you.
Anonymous said…
'bizarre straw man argument' is not namecalling. it is a literary flourish. and an effective one.

don't want to be criticized? post and don't read the feedback. or go write fact articles, not opinion. this is an opinion forum. it might get a little sharp here, but after all, this is not LEV's "tell a happy story and get quivery when someone calls baloney" marketing machine.

Big Blog Fan
Charlie Mas said…
Look, chill out please, if you cannot distinguish between comments on a person and comments on that person's work then you're not going to be able to participate in any kind of meaningful discussion. Donna's argument was a straw man argument and it was bizarre. That's not name-calling. I didn't say that Donna was a straw man or bizarre; I said that her argument was, but only after I showed that it was. Can't you tell the difference? You can put on an ugly hat, but that doesn't make you ugly. And I can call the hat ugly after I describe how it is ugly.

This is the primary failure of Seattle Nice. That culture presumes that any criticism of a person's work is a criticism of the person and therefore mean and hurtful. That's messed up. We can judge people's work without judging the people. We have to be able to do it.

Your comment, like Donna's, is also an effort to derail the conversation from the real topic to some question about exactly what kind of a bastard I am. I'm whatever kind of bastard you want to think I am. Okay? Let's agree on that just as I agreed with Donna's digression so we could move on. Once those issues are resolved, we can re-focus on the real topic of discussion: a system that doesn't work for students and the people who design and maintain that system without accountability.
Anonymous said…
Melissa, am I reading your comment right, that I am no longer welcome on your blog because I disagree with Charlie?

Anonymous said…
Charlie, I think I agree with most of your points.

Teachers don't cause the opportunity gap.
Teachers can't cure the opportunity gap.
Teacher pay should not be tied to test scores.

But I disagree with your view that an individual teacher can't possibly have any effect, or can have only a microscopic effect, on individual students who suffer from the opportunity gap. This is based on my own life experiences. My opinion is your tone is sometimes unnecessarily sarcastic against people who disagree with you.

Cop, you are welcome here. But if you don't like spirited discussion, then, as I said, this might not be the place for you. We are grown-ups here and sometimes we disagree and (as someone else said) we use literary flourishes.

If that kind of thing offends you, it's your choice but I also get to state my opinion (which I did) that Charlie insulted no one.
Jack Whelan said…
When we're talking about system, we have to include dimensions of a student's experience that extend beyond the school building. I think that's something the reformers don't want to do for several complex reasons having to do with the corporate model for effective schools that they carry around in their imaginations.

The people who are most attracted to the reform mentality are those who think schools would be better if they were run more like corporations. The reform model, therefore, is dominated by a corporate imagination of rewards and penalties. Talent and ambition rises, and lack of talent and ambition stagnates.

There must therefore be something wrong with a lifelong, dedicated teacher who was not ambitious enough to get a better job. And there must be something about teaching that attracts unambitious, untalented bottom feeders to the profession, and so it follows if students are failing it's because of the teachers. And any anecdotal evidence that can be mustered to prop up that idea proves what the corporate reformers want to believe already.

We hear this kind of thing explicitly stated by people like Ann Coulter, but it's an assumed truth embraced consciously or unconsciously by everyone attracted to the anti-teacher, anti-union propaganda that dominates in corporate reform circles--teachers really don't deserve our respect--well, maybe a few do, but most don't. This is the mentality behind extrinsic incentives, as if real teachers are motivated by that rather than intrinsic motivations that are the soul of their vocation.

But in the corporate mentality, teachers are the weak link, not the administrators, because the administrators are bosses, and bosses wouldn't be bosses unless they were more talented and ambitious than teachers, and so therefore the higher up one is in the hierarchy, the more she deserves our respect.

But anybody familiar with most schools knows that the real talent and drive and passion to succeed is more likely to be found in the classroom than in the office. That's what makes schools different. Real educators don't want to be kicked upstairs; they want to work with the kids.

I know there are other parts to this, but one important part of systemic change must be to do what it takes to make teaching a respected profession that attracts the most talented people, and pay them decently.
Anonymous said…
c.o.p., I am not reading Charlie's words and hearing what you're hearing. He said,

"I suppose it makes some incremental difference in students' lives if they have a great teacher or a good teacher or a mediocre teacher, but the impact of gradients in teacher quality - assuming that can even be measured - is tiny in comparison to the impact of the opportunity gap. Seriously, it's microscopic in comparison."

He's not disputing that on an individual level, a teacher can have a huge impact on a child. He's saying that taken as a whole, the ability of teachers to individually impact their students is dwarfed by the larger, more pervasive, systemic impacts of the opportunity gap. It's a can't-see-the-forest-for-the-trees problem.

Anonymous said…
I don't see anything spurious or "straw man" or bizarre in Donna's post. There was no derailment, her views absolutely belong in this thread. Parents of minority children often witness negative interactions as described. It's also not a case of an occasional "racist idiot" teacher, Charlie. Sometimes the behavior is done unconsciously and is very subtle. The hypothetical teacher is "successful" and liked by most of the parents, not an ogre to be fired by the principal.

The structural inequality of our educational system reflects society as a whole. It will reinforce the status quo until we have the courage to change it.

dan dempsey said…
About the System of USA Education and its failure to improve.....

I got in an interesting discussion with Allen on Jay Greene's blog HERE.

Allen provides a nice conclusion on January 26, 2012 at 7:43 am .....

.... That the powers that be aren’t interested in improving education isn’t the reason they’re not interested in improving education. Absent an understanding, and appreciation, of the reason you have no idea if your pursuit is inherently fruitless or simply difficult.

It’s fruitless.

The notion of using data – derived from what other source then testing? – to improve education is hardly a novel thought. In fact, it’s sufficiently trivial a notion that it’s indicative of fundamental problems in our understanding of the public education system. We’ve been collecting data for decades, that’s what the SATs are, we just haven’t used it for the very obvious purpose of improving the insitutions that purport to generate the results implied in the SATs. So why is it that there’s been so little attention paid to the idea of using what data exists to improve education?

...... Sorry to rain on your parade but your quest is pointless. The reason’s because the structure of public education has disincentivised the pursuit of the improvement of education by the education establishment.


Look at the largely pointless .... tinkering around the edges being done with Olympia Education Legislation .... What an enormous piece of Nonsense. Use the phrase "achievement gaps" as often as possible but do nothing based on data to impact the ongoing disaster.

Lets all sit back and contemplate suggestions from the same folks that have provided 20 years of "failed proposals" .... The proposals were implemented but the results were regularly disappointing .... so lets all line up and believe it will be different this time. I guess we just weren't filled with enough naive hope in the past to make this stuff work. So put more effort into improved HOPE. ..... WOW!! IT IS FRUITLESS.

So Dr. Enfield and SPS Board please respond to this:

District Pass rates for 9th grade low-income algebra students on the OSPI Algebra EoC
38.5% : Seattle (Discovering Algebra)
29.6% : Bethel (Discovering Algebra)
33.1% : Everett (Discovering Algebra)
31.4% : Highline (Discovering Algebra)
43.8% : State average

56.7% : Clover Park (Holt Algebra)
51.3% : Spokane (Holt Algebra)

Percent of Students at level 1 (well below basic) for 9th grade low-income algebra students on the OSPI Algebra EoC
36.7% : Seattle (Discovering Algebra)
38.4% : Bethel (Discovering Algebra)
40.6% : Everett (Discovering Algebra)
43.1% : Highline (Discovering Algebra)
30.8% : State average

19.7% : Clover Park (Holt Algebra)
28.3% : Spokane (Holt Algebra)

—– The State board of Education found “Discovering Algebra” to be mathematically unsound …. but OSPI and the UW did not care so Seattle Adopted it anyway …. Now $800,000 on texts and $400,000 on professional development later … and the program sucks …. just like the data predicted at the time of adoption.

Anonymous said…
C.O.P. and others, here is where question of scale matters. If there is a systemic problem of discrimination occurring within Seattle public schools and one that is tolerated by the district's administration in their inability to control it or erase it out of our schools, then that is indeed a serious problem. Is that what you are saying? I want to make sure.

However, If your point is that within our society we have inequity and opportunity gaps and people who maybe racists or discriminatory for whatever reasons, then I agree. Would it surprise me that a staff, a parent, an administrator, a student, a politician, a police, a nurse, a doctor, a plumber could be a racist or discriminate? No. Should we do something about it. Sure, we should try. But I stop at using that to paint all. Can some incidence be a watershed moment in a person's life? Yes. My family's history and experience with segregation and discrimination can speak to that. But what I won't do is take my life's (or my parents') experience and color all prism with it.

I teach my children to be aware, to be resilient, to know that life isn't fair, to choose their battles, how to engage when one is the only brown face in the room, how to speak and act with law enforcment/ store security. That is the real world they live in. As I've gotten older and have lived all over the world, in some of the poorest and richest places on Earth, none of us are free of bias (and fear- for that is what I think is the root cause). It is learning to live with it, keeping things in perspective, managing the anger and action when one is wronged and learning to move on that is such a struggle.

Back to Charlie's main thesis, yes we have been distracted from the big things and have spent an inordinate amount of capital, attention, and time on little things. This is costly and ulitmately does little to help our kids. How can we change the focus?

weighing it out
Anonymous said…
I think people are becoming more aware of what they need out of public schools. When our boys attended public high schools a few years ago, our main source of information was the teachers. A couple were brave enough to criticize the current math curriculum. Now there are blogs like this one, Dan Dempsey and UW professor Cliff Mass to inform parents and the difference could be critical.

Of course the SPS should be monitoring the success of the math curriculum but they have not been doing this. Some of us spoke out to Terry Bergeson and the school board, wrote lots of letters and actively supported new board members. It is frustrating that more has not been done, but at least parents are now finding out what should be done. That is a big change from a few years ago.

Companies are demanding better skills and eventually they will figure out that it is better to improve the curriculum than keep bashing teachers who have little control over it.

In the meantime, parents, teachers and students should not be afraid to speak out to the school board and administration. Tell them about your experiences. It is the only way we will get change.
Anonymous said…
My name for the above post is S parent.
Donna said…
Charlie, c.o.p. explained my point better than I could have, but I will add that I wasn't saying that all teachers or even MANY teachers are bad, but that a single teacher can do a lot of long-term damage to a lot of children in even a short career. And they're not ranting, sheet-wearing rednecks, often they're so subtle that it can take both students (especially if they're young) and their parents much of the school year to catch on.

If one isn't aware of it, as a middle-upper income or Caucasian, it can be hard to spot. So maybe you think principals burdened with these kinds of teachers are just crappy leaders who let it go on. It's not as simple as that. If a teacher tells a child that she "can't" do multiplication that's she's been doing for 6 months and give her counting blocks, or says, "Here, sweetie, read THIS book instead," when it's several levels below his ability, the average kid isn't going to know what to say, other than they've been taught to listen to the teacher, so they go along, knowing something isn't right, but not sure how to deal with it. You're looking at it from a successful adult's point of view.

There are problems surrounding education systemically, locally and even nationally, and they cover a lot of ground-from math texts to ELL to income inequities and on and on ad infinitum (I hope I spelled that right). I was only looking at a small piece of the puzzle, addressing a single comment you made, Charlie. I'm sorry you feel it wasn't relevant.
Anonymous said…
The system is predicated on the industrial model of twenty-five to thirty students sitting in a classroom all getting the same instruction at the same time in the same way. That industrial model doesn't work.... [] ranting screed.

Do you ever actually go to a school? Sit in on classes? Work in a classroom? It wouldn't appear to be the case. No, everyone doesn't "get" the same lesson at the same time. No, the expectations are not the same. We have a huge variety in classes, and we have differentiation. Further, why do we always bring up "intervention" as if that were the magic bullet? Why is that any more of a magic bullet than the "better teachers"? Schools already have intervention. My school has tons and tons of after school and during school intervention. So does every other school I know about. We've got reading specialists, math specialists, after school programs, homework club, tutors, etc. etc. etc. It simply isn't an easy fix, and there isn't an easy answer like "intervention". Most interestingly the much lauded Finnish educational improvements came about primary from the notion of educational EQUALITY. Not quality. Not excellence. Not maximizing performance for some students. Not accountability. Not testing. Not progress monintoring. Not intervention. Not any of the things we say we want. But I don't think people really want equality. They actually want an edge for their own kids.

Here is the article from the Atlantic.

The most interesting comment, Accountability is something that is left when responsibility has been subtracted. is something you have to ponder every time you get that little addendum to every SPS email: Everybody achieving, everybody accountable.

Also notable was the fact that Norway, Finland's neighbor with similar demographics, adopted a more American style educational system - and has gotten more American style results.

-another parent
Anonymous said…
@another parent said:

But I don't think people really want equality. They actually want an edge for their own kids.

I disagree A.P. Rather than wanting an edge, I think many parents perceive their children are deprived of opportunities other children in other schools get, and they feel shafted, believing somebody else is getting a better deal than them.

SPS has allowed this attitude to fester for decades, diverting the blame away from central administration and onto "those schools" in other parts of town, who "have it better" on account of "working the system" or some other inequitable, scandalous scheme.

See how the district avoids being the bad guy in that scenario? And therefore why we have so much business as usual? WSDWG
Anonymous said…
If not, then the system is more precious than the students.

The system protects the people at the top. The people it is meant to protect. The profiteers. The big paychecks That's the American way.

The blame always starts against those at the bottom. Whether welfare queens or teachers. It never begins at the top. It is about power: who has it and who doesn't.

The leadership needs to take responsibility for the design of the system and the impact of the system on the outcomes.

If you're waiting for the leadership to take responsibility, you'll have a long wait. A mass of people in the middle have to make it happen. There is no other way.

These people are the smartest people in the District and the evidence is before our very eyes.

Unfortunately, it is societal. There's a bigger picture. Obama made sure that he included in his SOTU speech a chastisement of those people who got mortgages and should have known better. I was outraged by that. A whole industry criminally manipulated and targeted potential clients into getting mortgages they either couldn't afford or were victims of lies. To blame them was shameful. Even in one sentence.

We live in a sick society and the cancer is out of control.

Talk about a rant, huh? I'm just so disgusted with it all.

But thank you, Charlie, for your comments. Some of them haven't been aired enough: the fact that at-risk kids need smaller class sizes even if it isn't possible for everyone; that talented women have some place else to go; that management isn't doing its job.

We need to be in the streets. Maybe that's what's coming.
Could it be? Yes, it could.
Something's coming, something good,
If I can wait! Something's coming, I don't know what it is, But it is
Gonna be great!

I'm ready to rumble.

Anonymous said…
Donna: You've exhumed the Teddy Stoddard story told by MGJ during "teacher appreciation week."

Loud and Clear Message: Teachers Suck.

It's both a straw man and a cliche.

I don't see anyone arguing to excuse teachers from responsibility; only that responsibility must be shared if we expect success. What about principals? Families? Students themselves? Its at least a 3 legged stool. Maybe 4 or 5. But for some reason, all we hear about, and the only ones under the gun, are teachers. WSDWG
Maureen said…
Donna says(in part):
If a teacher tells a child that she "can't" do multiplication that's she's been doing for 6 months and give her counting blocks, or says, "Here, sweetie, read THIS book instead," when it's several levels below his ability....

I am presuming on my long history posting here and hope this can be taken in that context. But, I wonder if parents who post this sort of comment understand that this sort of thing does happen to white middle class kids as well? I have a kid who spent a chunk of 1st grade sitting under a table crying because she found the classroom so frustratingly chaotic and loud (it was actually probably an average class of 27 six year olds). That teacher (not the best, but not bad) thought our kid wasn't very bright. The worst part of the whole thing is that I almost believed the teacher. We all know our kids best and have to advocate for them (I didn't do that). Given how huge classes are, I hope we can all also advocate for other people's kids if we think a teacher isn't seeing them clearly. (I have tried to do this when I could.)
Anonymous said…
Donna, if that happened as you post, I would be first in line to tell that teacher to get into another line of work.

It does possibly raise the issue again of too many clients (children) for a teacher to manage. Think about that. I'm on a mission to get people to rethink how much public education expects of teachers today: teach twenty-to-twenty-eight students simultaneiously and every child as an individual. Don't you think there's something contradictory in that?

I do understand what Donna is saying. I have tutored in a class with a teacher who either did not want to recognize what abilities children had or could not. It's painful. But I honestly believe those teachers are few and far between.

I also think there are parents who expect education (and educators) to solve problems outside the classroom. It's just not possible and not fair to expect teachers to be social workers.

I will say that people here sometimes make some really poor assumptions about other people, their race, their lives and presume they know where your POV comes from.

I won't make assumptions about you if you don't about me.
Donna said…
WSDWG, if you're implying I have made the examples up, well, there isn't anything I can say that can change your mind.

For the record, I never said teachers suck. EVER. I think there are some great teachers. But I was responding to Charlie who was implying that what they do, or don't do, has little impact. Vast difference from saying they suck.

Maureen, I do know that white kids can have bad experiences. But Charlie was talking about the opportunity gap and low income kids (who are primarily kids of color).

n-of course class size can have an impact. Would it help any if I told you that the classroom of the best teacher I've ever seen at differentiation had a LARGER class than the one who let her minority kids fall by the wayside? I honestly don't believe she was being intentional about it. I think she just didn't see their potential.

Melissa, thank you. I agree with you to some extent. I guess the one thing I'd add is that expecting to be treated fairly is not the same as asking others to solve problems for us.

I think I've gone as far as I can with this topic. Thanks for listening.
Anonymous said…
Fair enough, Donna. Excuse the hyperbole, but even if it's a real example, we can't call it a fair sample. Not to say it doesn't happen. But the racial, SE, etc. angle always trends in one direction (misunderstood kid/prejudiced, oblivious teacher) which, as Maureen points out, ignores the fact that it can happen to any kid, even rich white upper middle class kids.

But we needn't enter that quagmire. My point - in line with Charlie's - is general fairness and comprehensiveness when we talk about accountability and responsibility. Why only teachers?

Remember MGJ's repeated citing of a McKinsey study to extrapolate that the "single most important factor in student achievement was the quality of the teacher." Well, for starters, the study was done in Singapore, where almost every kid is an observant Muslim and they still cane for punishment. That, and the oft-repeated "research shows" mantra was oversimplified misleading rhetoric at best.

As I said, focusing SOLELY on teachers is neither fair, nor wise, given the wide array of contributing, or competing, influences in a child's academic life.

It's not that we don't want great teachers, or comprehensive evaluations. It's that they aren't going to produce what we want, and will waste time, money, and resources, so long as we focus solely on patching only one hole in a tire that most often has three or more holes in it.

I don't think Charlie's original point was that complicated or controversial.

On the other hand, if the situation you describe is an epidemic - "played out all over the place in schools where the 'opportunity gap' exists" - with white teachers mis-judging or pre-judging misunderstood minority or poor kids, then what do you propose as a solution? Particularly if the behavior is so hard to detect or "unconscious" as C.O.B. suggests? How do you realistically fix such a complicated, difficult to diagnose problem? Can't we only fix what we can accurately find and diagnose with some reasonable amount of accuracy and reliability?

I'm trying to fathom a realistic solution to the problem you describe while focusing SOLELY on the teacher's conduct in your scenario, and I can't do it. How do we get there, proactively, without someone else stepping up? Isn't communication at least a two-way street, if not more?

What do you suggest?

seattle citizen said…
"the one who let her minority kids fall by the wayside? I honestly don't believe she was being intentional about it. I think she just didn't see their potential."

Part of the disconnect is that teachers are, more and more, expected to "teach to the test" and given standardized curricula to do it with little time and more and more students. If "X" is the objective, and there are 50 minutes to get there, it is easy for a teacher to think (and be told) that they have to use a standardized methodolgy to arrive there. Classrooms traditionally have been set up that way, and it's unfortunate that as we come to better understanding of the individual, developmental level of each student, teachers are being asked to simplify and standardize the classroom according to mechanical, industrial models. It's sort of a disconnect: "Teach the individual, but teach them in a standard way."

(Word verifier favors arrayism?)
Anonymous said…
Donna, you write poignantly and I think what you write could strike a chord with many people who feel at one time or another they have been treated unfairly for whatever reasons be it race, ethnicity, religion, disability, sexuality, age, SES, etc. We all want to be treated fairly. Does it happen? No, not all the time. We also need to learn how to deal with that.

Our children are taught not just by teachers, but those of us who care for them. As they grow, they start to learn for themselves. When they are young and are less able to advocate for themselves. They rely on us and others to do so. Perhaps that is what you are trying to do. Thank you for bringing that into the conversation. Reading many of the comments here, I think many people displayed that awareness. I'm grateful for that and their many perspectives.

Weighing it out
Anonymous said…
Sorry for veering off topic earlier. Does anyone know where the 2 education bills are in the legislative process? Are the bills still in committee being hashed out? I'm not up to date on the WA legislation process. But if some of you regular posters here are, please inform. That way I know when to contact my reps.

weighing it out
Charlie Mas said…
There are two ideas running side-by-side here and they are related.

My original point is that the dominant education delivery model, the industrial model, only works with the current student population if the class sizes are small, the population in that particular classroom is fairly homogeneous, there are not too many particularly disruptive students in the class, and the teacher is extraordinarily talented, skilled, and dedicated. It just so happens that we see this combination from time to time and those rare cases are packaged into stories that proclaim the model effective while the overwhelming data shows that it is not.

Those stories are being used as a stick to beat any teachers who can't make it happen in their classroom - regardless of their talent, skill, or dedication - if the other elements are not present to a sufficient degree. Regardless of the presence or absence of the other elements, the teacher is being made solely responsible for the success of a flawed model.

This does not mean that there are not a lot of teachers of ordinary talent, skill, and dedication - which should be plenty - or even teachers lacking in talent, skill, or dedication. Of course there are.

My point is that the overwhelming source of the failure in the system is the system, not the teachers.

Moreover, the pervasive failure created by the system, and the lazy habit of attributing all of that failure to the teachers, makes it difficult to determine which teachers are, in fact, extraordinary, ordinary, or less than ordinary.

A better system, which did not rely so heavily on a lucky constellation of factors and extraordinary teachers, would serve our students better. It would also enable us to make better use of all of our teachers' talents, skills, and dedication, and would better enable us to assess those teachers' work.

So, regarding Donna's sad example, the system allows such teachers to exist because the outcomes from such a teacher matches the expectations set by the system. If the system would see students as individuals rather than members of groups (black, FRE, IEP, ELL, etc.) then the expectations for each child would better reflect that child's individual combination of preparation, motivation, and ability.

Of course all teachers should differentiate instruction. Of course they should all be intimately familiar with each student's preparation, motivation and ability. Of course they should follow all of the best practices all the time. But that's just not within the normal range of human ability in the current system. Yes, some extraordinary people can do it, but we should not create a job that only extraordinary people can do.

I hope this expanded explanation of my perspective addresses both Donna's and chill out please's concerns.

Yes, teachers have an impact, but the impact caused by the variation in teacher practice - and there are some real outliers - is dwarfed by the impact of the design of the system. There is a great difference between the very best of teachers and the very worst, but neither of these groups represent the bulk of teachers. Instead of focusing on the rare outliers and the difference between them, consider instead the narrow difference among most teachers.

The pass rates for FRE students don't vary much from school to school, whether the school is regarded as a "good" school or a "failing" school. The system, much more than the teacher, determines the outcomes to an overwhelming degree.
anonymous said…
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anonymous said…
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Charlie Mas said…
another parent suggests that the old industrial model for education is not really the model in use. There's "walk to math", small grouping by skill level, differentiated instruction, parallel curricula, and a laundry list of interventions.

These things do exist. Of course. But they all represent exceptions rather than the rule. That's why there are names for them.

I have been to a lot of classrooms. I'm sure you have also. But I'm also sure that neither of us have been to as many classrooms as Cathy Thompson, the Assistant Superintendent for Teaching and Learning. She was at the Advanced Learning Task Force yesterday and she said that these types of efforts aren't done nearly enough. She's working really hard to get more principals and teachers to do these things, but it's a struggle for everyone.

All of these initiatives occur at the school level - not the District level. The occur at the discretion of the principal, so they come and go as school leadership changes. They are not part of the design; they are life hacks. What we really need is a system that doesn't require major modification to be functional. We need a system that doesn't start with a model known to be flawed and rely on the users to fix it.

Then there's the really troubling analysis by Allen that Dan Dempsey notes: that no one is going to fix the system because it doesn't benefit them to do so. By that reasoning, it is the rare principal or teacher who will bother to invent and implement these life hacks, these alterations, these after-market re-designs, to make school work for kids. And what if they do? They often catch grief for it - teachers from principals and principals from district administrators. Yes, sometimes they are praised, but they are just as commonly criticized.

I know teachers that were criticized for allowing students who had mastered the grade level material to move on to the next grade level's work. They were accused of disrupting vertical alignment.

I know schools that were criticized for forming small groups by skill level to differentiate instruction. They were accused of "tracking".

I can match folks anecdote for anecdote. I've been around a long time and I've heard a lot of stories.

I remember the Vega by Chevrolet. This was a small car made before US auto makers knew how to make small cars. The joke about the Vega was that you'd pull into a gas station and ask them to fill it up with oil and check the gas. The solution, we were told, to the Vega's problem was to line the cylinders with steel sleeves. Hey, wouldn't it have been better for GM to make it right at the factory than for the buyers to rebuild their engines?
anonymous said…
Maybe part of the appeal of charters to SOME families is that they are not, like public schools, remnants of the industrial era. They are new, and can be molded to meet current, modern day needs. After all a charter school teacher couldn't file a grievance if they were assigned a classroom with 35 average performing kids, while another teacher in the school was assigned a classroom of 15 struggling kids.

I hear Charlie's point though - if it's good for charters, then why isn't it good for all kids? But if all schools did exactly what charters did then wouldn't we be in the same predicament as we are now - with a one size fits all model?

After all many families that I know are perfectly happy with the way their traditional public school is currently working, and serving their kids. They are not even slightly interested in changing anything. Some are happy with Discovering math. Some like, and are even comforted by standardization. Some value test scores as the be all end all. Some wouldn't stand for a classroom of 35 students while another classroom had 15. Different strokes for different folks.

I don't know if the autonomy that charters have would be appealing to all families? Or even most families? But that autonomy would certainly be appealing to some families.

I like choice. I like the idea of having a traditional public school system that consists of having traditional schools, with some standardization and consistency, complemented by a group of strong alt schools with plenty of autonomy, or charters.

I just don't buy the mantra that if it works well for charters then why not just do it in all schools? That theory doesn't work because we simply cannot fit all kids and families into a box. Every family has different wants and needs. What we need is healthy choice, and options. Not one size fits all.

dan dempsey said…
"Hey, wouldn't it have been better for GM to make it right at the factory than for the buyers to rebuild their engines?

It might have been better for buyers ... but if the Government gave GM a lush "Engine Improvement Grant" ... I am sure GM would have preferred that Grant idea.

In the next week we should see OSPI reporting on the results of the School Improvement Grants given to persistently failing schools.

The School identified as persistently failing had to compete by writing grant proposals and OSPI only selected some of those schools to receive grants....

Looking at the amount of dollars the schools received ... some District's were being rewarded for having underperforming schools. This is certainly to some large extent about poverty. The Grant winners all made plans that were for extremely large gains in MSP scores etc .... each year for three years.

It will be interesting to see if OSPI pours a lot of pure maple syrup on the year one results. OSPI did select the winning schools to receive grants based on the plans that were submitted.

West Seattle Elementary, Hawthorne, and Cleveland received these SIG funds along with 30+ other schools in the state.
Anonymous said…
Traditional US public school system do offer choices. Charter offer similar choices but with less accounting to the public. (in my mind, that's a big difference) We get a dual system using the same tax dollars. We also get a larger, more costly bureaucracy to administer a dual system. We get more politics and more strife within community fighting for the same limited resources. It becomes a RACE where there are winners and many loosers. Is this what public education's about?

Yes, indeed, your chance of getting a charter school tailored to your desire and needs is probably better because the control of that charter can be less transparent, less accountable, can be done without the same scrutiny of going through a public discourse. It's a very desirable system for winners, and that could be you.

Maybe this is just a sign of our times. We are in a state of economic and political turmoil, of great inequity, and the sense of diminished optimism. So perhaps, it is understandable to give up on the idea of working together as a society for the (conceptual- meaning: non rival, non-excludable) public good and just go after the best of what public goods can deliver for me and like-minded folks. Perhaps it's an attempt by free-market thinkers to incorporate the "public good" into their free-market system.

Will our police and fire departments go the same way?

grousefinder said…
The end of "Industrial" Education:


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