Gravity

No, not that “Gravity.”   I like my cinema closer to home and just a little bit lighter.

No. Forget the movies.

Imagine instead a Pearson Common Core multiple choice question that might go something like this:

The gravity of the state of American education cannot be underestimated.  Which of the following answer choices best defines  gravity as it is used in this sentence?

A) weight

B) magnitude

C) the attraction of the mass of a planetary body at or near its surface

D) solemnity

Don’t misunderstand.   I don’t dislike the Common Core.  As an English teacher, I am a huge fan.  I love close reading.  I love supported, well-crafted argument.  I love that implemented appropriately, the Common Core will simultaneously challenge both high achievers and reluctant scholars.

No, the Common Core is not the problem.

Those most closely  connected to instruction –administrators, parents, teachers– agree, too:  American students must be well prepared for their post-high school lives.  This is not negotiable.  The success of a democracy rests in an educated populace; the success of a competitive economy resides here, too.   There is no contention about this shared goal.

So what’s the problem, then?

Education has become a prop in the theater of American politics.  Contenders for public office who may know little about the ingredients of successful instruction wave education about, making sweeping promises, sometimes vilifying teachers.   They glad-hand voters, swearing that more rigorous tests are the answer. More tests will promote learning.  More tests will lead to accountability.  More tests will provide the data necessary to fix what ails US schools.

But politicians who mislead the public into believing that more high stakes testing will somehow magically yield  universally stronger students over- simplify an extremely complex issue. Rigid adherence to the notion that linking teachers’ annual ratings to standardized tests will lead to improved performance fails to account for the intangibles that affect instruction, things like poverty and security.   Kids who come to school hungry will not perform well on tests.  Kids whose health care needs are not met will not perform well on tests. Kids who are anxious will not perform well on tests. Schools that are underfunded may not have the resources to support student achievement.  Time devoted to testing would likely be better spent cultivating a culture of intellectual curiosity,  nurturing the thrill of discovery, fulfilling the potential of every child in every classroom.

Gravity.  So much rests on education.  It’s not about number two lead pencils or  tabulated data.  It’s about the weight of wanting to know more tomorrow than you know today.  It’s about a solemn promise we make to all kids that if they work hard, their futures will be bright. It is about the magnitude of the responsibility we have to promote preparedness and achievement.  It’s about the pull of the moon, Mars, Venus that will draw today’s students to become tomorrow’s explorers.

 

P.S.: Again, I thank everyone for following/reading this and my other blog.

Advertisements

Data: What Would J.Evans Pritchard, PhD Say?

There will always be a J. Evans Pritchard trying to force the arts to yield to statistical analysis.

If you’ve been listening, you have heard the conversation. Data, Data. Data.

Standardized tests are the treasure troves of statistics that are driving–oh, excuse me, informing— instruction. # 2 lead pencils are the wands that, with the right sleight of hand, can make you see anything a skilled statistician wants you to imagine you saw.

But like poetry, teaching is an art, a fine art.  Just as it is obvious intellectual farce to reduce the mystery of poetry to the “data driven analysis” spoofed  in the clip, the same could be–no, should be— said for the purely statistical analysis of the instructional artistry that happens in classrooms every day.

Armies of academics going forth to evaluate kids and teachers via mathematical calculations, cold hard data?  Pardon?

Don’t misunderstand; testing has a place in education.  It is one of many tools good teachers use to plan and adjust their instruction. Reliable and valid testing can provide benchmarks of achievement. Sound tests can show teachers where kids need more time on task.

But great teachers know that testing–particularly one-size- fits-all testing– provides only part of the masterpiece that is learning. Learning is about curiosity and confidence. It’s about taking academic risks. It is about the intangibles that make every parent’s child a priority.

Every child who crosses the threshold into our classrooms is a unique and complex individual.They come to us with strengths and challenges, enthusiasm and fears.  No child should ever become a statistic on a bar graph, a mere blip of data on a spreadsheet.  Kids are people, not commodities.

Like poetry,the art of instruction defies scientific deconstruction.  There is just too much happening in classrooms on a day-to-day basis to reduce teaching to a few days of testing, especially flawed testing, especially testing created by one of the biggest text book publishers in the country.

Obviously, you say.

But here’s the rub. Politicians use data mined from classrooms nationwide to further their own ambitions, to promote their personal bureaucratic promises.

Just as J. Evans Pritchard’s method of deconstructing poetry ultimately destroys the beauty of the text, data driven education crushes the joy of learning, stifles creativity on both sides of the desk.  Teachers, fearful of the way test scores now compute into annual performance reviews, are far more likely to play it safe. Meeting Pearson’s benchmarks of  proficiency has become a matter of professional survival.  Kids, too, will stay within the lines because everyone knows standardized tests have no patience for divergent thinkers.

Where’s the data on the data?

P.S. : And big  thanks to all who continue to follow me on all my sites.

The Kids Albany Doesn’t See

In a supermarket in Quincy, Mass:  a man checking out ahead of me was wearing a school-bus yellow tee shirt emblazoned with the slogan: “The Revolution Will Not Be Standardized.” The image on the back was a No. 2 lead pencil X’ed out in red.

***   ***   ***   ***   ***   ***   ***   ***   ***   ***   ***   ***   ***   ***   ***   ***   ***   ***   ***   ***   ***   ***   ***   ***

Last week, in a school in north-central NY state, my great-nephew started first grade.  Ever since kindergarten let out last June, he has been anticipating this momentous occasion.  First grade. The big time.

This little man–all of six years old–boarded the school bus excited. He was sporting his brand new sneakers and toting a superhero backpack. He was going to buy pizza for lunch and do twenty jumping jacks in gym. He was going to write about getting his own library card during summer vacation.

Two days later, this same child was deflated. After some questioning–plied with a few oreos and some milk– he confessed to”failing” first grade. He had sat for a “pre-assessment” and he couldn’t answer the questions; it was all about things he had yet to learn. His teacher very gently tried to tell him it was OK, he wasn’t supposed to be able to answer the questions. But he knew better.  It wasn’t OK.

He doesn’t know that in a month,  by Thanksgiving, by the spring, he will be answering those questions without hesitation. He doesn’t care.  Children live in the present. Tomorrow is important only if it’s someone’s birthday.

My niece is rightfully concerned that her previously happy little boy has developed unexplained weekday headaches and stomachaches.

As adults, we know he will get over it.  We know this first grade angst will pass. Yesterday fades for kids.  He doesn’t know that, though. And today, he is sad.

We are told this is the most expeditious route to education reform. Local and federal politicians, often removed from the day to day process of raising and teaching kids, assure us testing will yield what we need to know in order to make children stronger students, better citizens.  The data will inform instruction and teachers will be better able to effectively meet the needs of students.

That may be true.  I’m just a teacher, neither a seer nor a politician.

I wonder: have we taken testing to the extreme? Have we reduced children to raw scores and percentile rankings? Are we taking the thrill of discovery from this generation of kids?

My niece does not see her son as a number on a grid. Reducing a child to data may look fine on paper, but kids are people.  Every child in every classroom is someone’s most precious possession. Mitchell is my niece’s first born. He likes tractors and working on the farm with his dad and uncles. He is protective and proud of his little sister even when she torments him as little sisters like to do.  And now he thinks he has failed first grade.  How effective will his teacher be able to be when this kid feels so bad about himself?

What ever happened to the true joy of teaching and of learning?

And this is not just in here in NY. http://www.boston.com/news/education/higher/articles/2009/08/30/pressure_cooker_kindergarten/?p1=Well_MostPop_Emailed1 This article in the Boston Globe suggests that the so-called success stories of education reform in Massachusetts, the tales that have been used to give New Yorkers hope and patience for similar progress across our own state, may have been altered in the retelling.. This article reveals pressure in kindergarten where kids even younger than my great-nephew are feeling let down about the things they are being required to do and their teachers are having trouble finding the simple joy in coming to school.

To achieve real education reform,  we need to reconsider what constitutes education and how we would like that to be measured. We need to remember the ways the in which our children grow and learn. Do we want our kids to be life long independent learners, intellectually curious, wiling to risk academic risks or do we want good test-takers?  There is a difference.

***   ***   ***   ***   ***   ***   ***   ***   ***   ***   ***   ***   ***   ***   ***   ***  ***   ***

The man checking out ahead of me in Quincy, Mass left  with his groceries before I could ask him about his tee shirt.  But the slogan has been playing in my mind: “The Revolution Will Not Be Standardized.” But I want one of those shirts.