On Deer Whistles and Direct Instruction
This article is from Substance, January 2005.
Members of the Reading First panel of experts don't hang around with children, don't listen to children or know the literature they love.
NPR is comfortable with the wisdom of truck drivers standing up against "small studies" provided by science. It is time for teachers to behave like truck drivers and stand against the Reading First mandates for scripted reading. It is time for NPR and the rest of the media stop calling the studies underlying Reading First mandates "scientific." Call them what they are: small.
As Doctor Spock advised parents, "You know more than you think you do." We teachers need to remind ourselves that the science refuting what we know in our bones consists of very small studies on the brains of cadavers.
Beware of the Progressive Stalking Your School
Too many people who should know better figure if the conservative think tanks offer damaging policy about public schools, then those think tanks labeled liberal must offer good policy. These days, when you look at policy briefs, it is very difficult to tell a neo-con from a neo-liberal. Take a look at The Progressive Priorities Series: Ensuring a High-Quality Education for Every Child by Building a Stronger Teaching Force issued by the Center for American Progress. These fellows call themselves progressives, but you will have a hard time figuring out just how their recommendations differ from rhetoric spewing forth from Education Trust and the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation.
The Progressive Priorities Series: Ensuring a High-Quality Education for Every Child by Building a Stronger Teaching Force is available at
Below are a few excerpts from the 24-page report. As you read the excerpts consider the way they are stuffed with bloated and deceptive rhetoric, words that hide more than they reveal. Funny thing, these are the same overstuffed words used by think tanks labeled conservative.
Here they are in their own words.
Excerpts from The Progressive Priorities Series: Ensuring a High-Quality Education for Every Child by Building a Stronger Teaching Force
building the teaching profession. Strong, private efforts have coalesced around this issue,
resulting in bipartisan agreement around key principles. Federal policy already supplies a
foothold for efforts to build teacher quality. The No Child Left Behind Act of 2002 requires that states work to ensure that all teachers are highly qualified by 2005-2006. . . .
We must work to increase the amount, meaningfulness, and quality of information
about America?s teacher workforce, and encourage the use of such data for greater accountability and smarter decisionmaking. The federal government should demand better information about America?s teachers, and provide enough support to enable school systems to provide it. Improved data with respect to teacher credentials and performance can be used to improve instruction and help rectify inequities in student opportunities for learning.
To offer some examples: in Chattanooga, Tennessee, the district uses value-added data to identify highly effective teachers and then provides them with incentives to teach in the highest need schools. This type of data analysis can also be used to identify a teacher's weaknesses so professional development can be provided in those areas. Conversely, a teacher's strengths can be identified (e.g., data may demonstrate that a particular teacher is exceptionally good at teaching fractions) and that teacher can be used as a resource for teachers needing coaching in those areas. . . .
Oh my, where do we begin with such bloviating? First, let's look at a few words they use.
The corporate push for data worship in the schools began in the late 1980ies and within the last few years Progressives are repeating the mantra. Here they announce that such data collection may demonstrate that a particular teacher is exceptionally good at teaching, say, fractions. The data will allow schools to make her a fraction coach, and then all kids will learn fractions. The policy writers stop short of creating competition for a Fraction Teacher of the Decade. And so far they haven?t lobbied for apostrophe queens.
I'm not disparaging the importance of fractions, but the progressives? total worship of data derived from standardized test results is chilling. These were supposed to be the good guys. Why did they throw away their white hats and climb on the corporate bandwagon?
And it gets worse. The Progressives want career ladders (based on student test scores) because, they say, "experienced teachers need incentives to remain" and "compensation systems that recognize the value of teachers coupled with career advancement systems that more effectively reward good performance'based on results'and respond to poor performance will make larger investments in teacher salaries more politically viable and maximize the returns on such investments." Standardized test scores to measure the value of teachers.
Think about what is being valued here. Such a scheme will destroy the profession, turning it into one more competitive scrambling for another dollar. The report excerpted below has to make you wonder that if we lament the way standardized tests rule classrooms today, what will happen if the progressives get power?
As a antidote to such a distressing report, daring to travel under the name progressive, I offer a baseball metaphor. Although I find National Public Radio's education coverage distressing, we can take a lesson from a baseball metaphor. Former Clinton speechwriter Eric Liu traveled the country looking for life lessons from 15 mentors-- race-car drivers, Indian potters, ballet dancers, rappers, research scientists, law professors, Montessori teachers, aerobatic pilots, master carpenters, and many others. Guiding Lights: The People Who Lead Us Toward Our Purpose in Life (Random House 2004) is the result.
From pitching coach Bryan Price of the Seattle Mariners, Liu learns that "a teacher of pitching is ever operating on two levels, a surface curriculum about how to pitch and a curriculum beneath about how to be.? Liu concludes that "Failure, in many ways, is the default setting in baseball. A pitcher can be on a roll and cruising through a game, but he is always just one bad pitch, or one fielding mistake, away from a meltdown. The thing Bryan Price teaches is not how to win all the time. What he teaches is how to right yourself when you falter or fail."
Isn't this a large part of teaching? We need to stop listening to the rhetoric about winning all the time. We need this message: How to right yourself when you falter or fail.
Price chose to teach Liu the change-up, and though there were a myriad of skills that Liu didn?t know, Price settled on just one: "Keep your head quiet," he said.
This meant making sure I held my head steady and square as I pitched, so my eyes would remain fixed on the target. It also meant not overloading my brain with anxiety and data. A quiet head in the psychological sense is hard to achieve. Bryan got me there by emphasizing a quiet head in the physical sense. By worrying only about keeping my gaze steady and my skull centered, I stopped overthinking.
A quiet head. With the data processors working overtime on the standardized test outputs, and the data warehouses piling up facts faster than rabbit poop, all the Standardistas are overthinking; teachers need to stop listening. They need to gaze steady and keep their skulls centered.
Once this skill is learned, then teachers should get mad as hell and start resisting.
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