Hearts and Minds
It sounds bad. YetĂ˘€Â¦
So, unofficially at this point, we may be nothing more than just another example of school policy roadkill, a perhaps-unintended casualty of what amounts to little more than a numbers game, and weĂ˘€™re left to wonder what will happen to us under our new special status -- a status that nearly all schools will eventually attain as the demand for 100% passing rates by 2014 draws ever nearer. Hoping that none of those mandated Ă˘€śalternative governanceĂ˘€ť measures will kick in, we know that sentiment in Alaska runs from cool to openly hostile toward federal interventions in just about any area you look at. So weĂ˘€™ll wait and see.
As for me, I am done caring about reformist nonsense. At a staff meeting earlier this year we were discussing our AimsWeb Data Boards put up around the room to show how many students in each grade level are below proficient, at risk, or proficient based on how well they handled an oral one-minute timed reading. To me, this was a disgusting display of a brain-dead method to evaluate reading. We were asked to say what we planned to do to improve our studentsĂ˘€™ scores. Since the data showed lots of kids scoring Ă˘€śbelow proficientĂ˘€ť in first and second grade and very few in that category by the time they got to sixth, I observed that the trend was positive, and that at least as far as word-calling skills go, we seem to be doing all right. Teachers at each grade level announced what they planned to do, like focus on comprehension, vocabulary, decoding Ă˘€“ the usual. When it was my turn, I said IĂ˘€™d be going with the happiness plan. WhatĂ˘€™s that? ItĂ˘€™s getting the kids to enjoy reading so that they do it on their own. How does it work? Easy. Give them choices and time to read every day, and then celebrate their accomplishments. [emphasis added] I got a round of applause. Kind of sad, really, when I think about what that might mean.
People say that testing narrows the curriculum. Pressure to make the cut does worse than that; kids with the greatest needs tend to get trampled. Diane Ravitch points out that the one sure way to succeed in this environment is to stop enrolling poor kids, or kids with language limitations, homeless kids, or those with learning disabilities:
Educators know that 100 percent proficiency is impossible, given the enormous variation among students and the impact of family income on academic performance. Nevertheless, some politicians believe that the right combination of incentives and punishments will produce dramatic improvement. Anyone who objects to this utopian mandate, they maintain, is just making an excuse for low expectations and bad teachers.
To prove that poverty doesnĂ˘€™t matter, political leaders point to schools that have achieved stunning results in only a few years despite the poverty around them. But the accounts of miracle schools demand closer scrutiny. Usually, they are the result of statistical legerdemain.
Being scapegoated for not being miracle workers, teachers and teacher unions should remind these critics that there is no excuse for child poverty, now running close to 21% in the U.S. If poor kids donĂ˘€™t do well in school, then letĂ˘€™s address the real problem and take care of them. Knowing that sick kids donĂ˘€™t do well in athletics do we blame coaches for not making them winners? People would ridicule the idea.
Ignoring what we know about the effects of poverty on families and children creates the impression that schools are somehow the cause of a social condition rooted in economic policy. William Mathis, director of the National Education Policy Center, explains the harm done to kids and to all of us when reformers Ă˘€śshine the light only on schools and leave the greater void in darknessĂ˘€ť:
There is great harm in this myth, that schools can do it all. It provides the excuse for politicians, vested interests and advocates to wrongly declare schools Ă˘€śfailures.Ă˘€ť It gives a false justification for firing the principals and teachers who work with our neediest. It tells us a complex society does not need to invest in its skills or its children. It serves as a moral cloak for actions that are technically unjustified Ă˘€” as well as just plain wrong.
IĂ˘€™ve seen enough Ă˘€śdataĂ˘€ť. Next year my classroom is going to be about creativity, projects, and having fun with ideas. The way I look at it now, every year may be my last, and I donĂ˘€™t want to go out playing a numbers game that was rigged against me and my students from the start. Rigidly applied standards will fail the kids; thatĂ˘€™s not my job. [emphasis added]
FAIR USE NOTICE
This site contains copyrighted material the use of which has not always been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. We are making such material available in our efforts to advance understanding of education issues vital to a democracy. We believe this constitutes a 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. For more information click here. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.