Education is not an assembly line

Russell Sadler

Efforts to reauthorize the Bush regime’s signature No Child Let Behind Act are facing a formidable backlash. At least 50 Republican members of Congress have signed onto a bill sponsored by Rep. Peter Hoekstra, R-Michigan, that allows states to opt out of the act’s testing mandates.

The backlash against the No Child Left Behind Act should surprise no one. Like so many policies of the Bush regime, it is based on a foundation of false assumptions. No Child Left Behind takes the worst of the industrial education model and imposes it on every school district in the country by congressional fiat.

No Child Left Behind treats students like interchangeable widgets sitting in their assembly line seats getting their daily dollop of knowledge from an authority figure who stands in front of the class -- the sage on the stage. Then tests are administered to insure the prescribed knowledge has been absorbed. In some cases the curriculum is provided by a private contractor, and the classroom teacher is not permitted to deviate from the “script” to assure uniformity of results.

No Child Left Behind assumes all children learn the same information at the same rate in the same way at the same time. It assumes the accumulation of this information can be measured by tests. Any student who cannot pass the test is labeled deficient. It’s the school’s fault. The law assumes equality of outcomes. Every student will “succeed.” And this rhetoric comes from self-proclaimed conservatives who usually criticize programs like affirmative action for demanding equal outcomes instead of equal opportunity.

Children are not widgets. They are individuals who learn with different styles and methods at different rates and they require individual attention at times.

Teaching is an art, not a science. Following formula curricula designed by contractors who make campaign contributions to the Republican Party is not education. It is indoctrination. It is driving creative teachers into early retirement and discouraging potentially creative teachers from entering the profession. You cannot make teachers solely responsible for a child’s education when some of that child’s learning problems are the result of home life beyond the teacher’s control.

Testing simply measures how well students take tests. Real education is measured by active, creative projects that show how well students can apply what they are expected to learn to real-life situations. But there is no time for teachers to do that now because it’s not on the federally mandated tests.

And the paperwork! Teachers tell me of long hours of filling out forms and reports so administrators can prove they are “accountable to the taxpayers.” This congressionally imposed bureaucratic paper shuffling reduces all teachers’ classroom time with their students.

Parents are realizing this. The Republicans who are bailing on Bush have heard from angry parents, and Democrats who want to reauthorize No Child Left Behind Act with some tinkering and more money had better start listening. In poor and affluent districts alike, many voters believe the No Child Left Behind Act has harmed their schools.

Creative or innovative schools are forced into a one-size-fits-all straitjacket by federal testing standards. Subjects not on the tests are dropped from the curriculum.

No Child Left Behind is underfunded by a penurious Congress, so local money is siphoned from field trips and music and programs for talented and gifted students. These voters are not wrong. No Child left Behind is a prescription for uniform mediocrity.

Oregon is not immune to these problems. They have arguably been made more acute by what teachers and administrators tell me is an increasingly sluggish bureaucracy at the Teacher Standards and Practices Commission and the Department of Education.

Oregon’s burgeoning education bureaucracy is the result of voters passing conservative Don McIntire’s Ballot Measure 5 in 1990. McIntire’s property tax limitation shifted Oregon school finance from property tax dollars controlled by local voters to income tax dollars controlled by the legislature. Control of Oregon schools moved from local school boards to the legislature. and the state education bureaucracy has grown commensurate with the money it now controls.

There is simply no evidence that any of these state or federal schemes have improved classroom teaching or student learning. It is clear a growing number of voters actually believe these “reforms” have hurt the schools and are voting to do something about it. It appears about 50 Republicans in congress get the message. It’s not clear anyone else has. Perhaps we should reserve judgment until we see what the Democrats who now control Congress and the Oregon legislature actually produce.

Comments

  • chuckbutcher (unverified)
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    The law of unintended consequences strikes once again. Politicians seem unable to grasp that this exists.

  • Thomas Ware (unverified)
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    The National Priorities Project reports the cost to Oregon of the war in Iraq at 3.02 billion dollars. That's a lot of schools, healthcare and infastructure.

  • Bill R. (unverified)
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    Isn't it duplicitious and ironic that the GOP, who markets itself as the party against big government regulation and for local control, passed this monstrosity of a failure? Ask any teacher, any school board, and nearly every parent and they will tell you NCLB is a "crock", an albatross around everyone's neck and hasn't helped education a lick, instead has simply diverted resources and energies away from real classroom teaching.

  • eugenean (unverified)
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    Is this why the most recent NCLB talking points are calling it Senator Kennedy's NCLB act?

  • Dickey45 (unverified)
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    Please don't throw the baby out with the bath water. Without NCLB, there is literally no accountability. The testing (approved by ODE AND feds) only tests 99% of all kids. 1% is left behind.

    In the minimum, these kids should read and do basic math. For G*ds sakes, they deserve no less. Without any testing, there is no idea of what is going on. Without accountability, there will be no change.

  • Donna Wilker (unverified)
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    To Dickey45: No one is saying that testing children should be removed. The tests should assess what has been learned and show what needs to be learned. Would you administer the same test to someone wanting a driver's license as someone who wants to fly a Jumbo jet? The analogy is accurate.

  • Steve (unverified)
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    "Testing simply measures how well students take tests. Real education is measured by active, creative projects that show how well students can apply what they are expected to learn to real-life situations."

    OK< but testing at least gives us some normative way of assessing how one school does against another. In the real world where you have jobs, most tasks are like tests - How well can you follow instructions and complete an assignment. If your aptitude allows you to show some creativity great.

    Before NCLB, I didn't see a lot of active and creative projects in school that prepared kids for life outside of school. I hear more stories about personal finance classes being cancelled in favor of more sex education (this was from a PPS teacher.)

    Unfortunately, until you can come up with a better way to objectively measure student performance, tests are it. And if we can't measure performance, how do we improve it?

  • Dickey45 (unverified)
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    Donna - no the analogy is not accurate. Kids either learn to read and do basic math or not. I am referring to K-5. Oregon's assessments beyond that are wack. The assessments WERE NOT designed by the federal government. The assessments were approved and paid for by ODE and the Oregon tax payers respectively.

    It sounds like you have a beef with the OREGON tests approved by OREGON DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION.

  • lin qiao (unverified)
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    I have a child presently in 5th grade in the Portland Public Schools. The opinion I have heard from teachers and administrators in unguarded moments is that, as with many modern GOP initiatives, NCLB was intended to fail. It's entirely analogous to the starve-the-beast approach promoted by Grover Norquist and his ilk: push public entities towards failure and then use the failure to justify privatization. NCLB is the dream of right-wing pseudo-libertarian ideologues. Let's give it as quick a burial as possible.

  • jrw (unverified)
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    The problem with testing as the current NCLB methodology has it set up is that it does not, quite simply, measure the growth of an individual class. I can tell you, as a teacher in a middle school, that we have had outstanding 8th grade classes--and we have had mediocre 8th grade classes. Because, as a special ed teacher, I look at some of the scores and see progress (or the lack thereof) from year to year, I have a decent idea of how much progress is going on.

    But that's not the way NCLB measures things. It measures the current class--take 8th grade--against the previous year's class. It does not measure the group's progress from 7th grade. It compares apples to oranges.

    Additionally, NCLB influence upon special education students through the latest authorization of IDEIA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act) is appalling. Until this year, we could test special ed students at their actual performance level, have it count as participation and have their progress recorded, and measure whether the student was showing actual progress in learning or not. The student was not expected to perform three to four grade levels above their actual performance level (which is what challenge down testing is all about--you don't do it for a kid who's just slightly behind but one who is significantly behind).

    Now, those students must struggle through grade level tests. Instead of an accurate measure of student progress from year to year, we have a wildly inaccurate measure.

    And don't get me started on the Vantage Learning TESA computer testing fiasco. I had kids testing on the computers the week Vantage Learning pulled the plug. It was ugly.

    I also wonder just where on earth Dickey45 is getting his/her statistics about students being left behind. It doesn't sound to me like this person knows much about what's going on, quite frankly.

    The students getting "left behind" are those students forced out of the system in unscrupulous school systems like Rodney Paige's (former Secretary of Education, promoter of NCLB) Houston district, where low students most likely to fail 10 grade tests were either retained in 9th grade or eventually forced out of school, with the data regarding school leavers fudged.

    I'm proud of the district I work in, because we don't do that (to my knowledge, and considering I'm on a sped accountability panel I think I'd know this). I'm also proud because for the most part it seems as if Oregon has managed to avoid the Houston methodology.

    Both Steve and Dickey45 are unaware of the realities of NCLB and those provisions of IDEIA that implement it for special education. I can say that I have seen my personal paperwork load increase, not decrease, as a result of NCLB and IDEIA mandates. I have had to go back to parents at least three times with the same document to be signed, with slight changes, thanks to changes in Federal DOE and ODE standards caused by those two measures. I put the blame on the bureaucrats, but the parents are fed up and I can't blame them.

    Accountability is a nice piece of rhetoric. But it overlooks the reality that Oregon implemented the CIM/CAM system before NCLB was passed. It overlooks the reality that many districts and states already did yearly assessment testing. NCLB took a hammer to a system that needed a surgical scalpel.

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    "Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire."

    -- William Butler Yeats

  • Dickey45 (unverified)
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    If you could clarify exactly what I said that is wrong I would be appreciative.

    "I also wonder just where on earth Dickey45 is getting his/her statistics about students being left behind. It doesn't sound to me like this person knows much about what's going on, quite frankly."

  • Steve Bucknum (unverified)
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    Once again, I find myself in agreement with Russell, but find he doesn't go far enough into the "false assumptions" that are the foundation of the No Child Left Behind mess.

    My wife did a thesis on education in 2000 - before Bush and the NCLB mess from the standpoint of investigative reporting/journalism. Her research was very interesting to me. It showed that just at the time that the Republicans were calling for the closure of the Cabinet level Dept. of Education, research showed that our American youth were falling behind youth in Europe and Asia in key areas. Based upon those "facts", we have marched forward for what is approaching 20 years now. One way or another we have framed the whole issue in education in the paradigm of being behind, and American education being inferior.

    There is one major problem with this paradigm – it isn’t true. – Or at least it wasn’t until the Bush Administration / NCLB messed up our education system.

    The testing that this perception of being behind is based upon was at best poorly done, but more probably was deliberately misleading for a lot of reasons. The chief reason I can see is that educators thought that a study that showed American’s being behind would bring more money to education. In any case, what is wrong with the studies? -- They compare ALL American youth to the best of the European and Asian systems. In the other parts of the world, youth are tracked into college and vocational tracts at an earlier age. In the landmark studies that have taken us to where we are today, ALL American youth were compared against the best of Europe and Asia, and not the vocationally tracked youth.

    So, our A Students, B Students, C and D and even F students were compared to their A and B students.

    And guess what the results were? Yep, somehow our lower functioning students weren’t doing as well as their higher functioning students.

    So, back to the consequences of the paradigm of failure – Democrats that have bought into it want to increase funding, and Republicans that have bought into it want to create an opportunity for private business to take over education for “improvement” and profit. And somehow, the bureaucracy of the Dept. of Education got a new lease on life.

    The NCLB “system” has mandated failure. It has now come to pass that we actually are worse off than the rest of the world. We no longer have a learning environment where our youth are encouraged to learn and get excited about learning – we now have a school system geared to testing facts. Just as the industrial revolution no longer needs the type of worker that will do repetitive motion tasks, we have finally found a way to create that kind of worker.

    In any field, when the professionals are told what to do by the politicians, ruin follows. And there we are.

  • Dickey45 (unverified)
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    jrw - there are things that I agree with. I don't like the test alignments (approved by ODE). I think that scores should follow students. I think there are somethings that are overdone with Special Ed (my district requires us to take the pamphlet every single time, up to 12 times per year for EACH of us, mom and dad) and the whole requirement to re-establish autism with tests even though parents AND the teacher agrees - yep, the autism hasn't disappeared.

    So yes, there are problems.

    But.

    Special ed is not NCLB.

    Houston doesn't represent every single school district and it doesn't really tell me why NCLB doesn't works. Houston just shows me that people lie and cook books.

    Having a teacher allow a student to test at a "developmental" level and not grade level is a slippery slope. It is the MAIN reason I thank the heavens there is SOMETHING on my son's side. Yes, with appropriate curriculum he can learn and so can many others with disabilities and even those without who are not able to read (just visit my son's school). Because of NCLB, when I asked for the research behind the reading and math programs at his Title I school, the district rep at the IEP table suddenly had to call another school district person. We got effective reading and math. The curriculum was forced on the special ed teacher and frankly I don't care what the teachers thought as long as it works. And it has for the past 4 years. They even expanded teaching the curriculum to other kids. But too bad Oregon aligns with crappy math and reading pedagogy (dogma).

    I am very left leaning. But when it comes to public education, we can do so much more. Just 2 ideas to help - cut back on OEA union power and require effective curriculum by bringing back ODE's mission statement before Castillo:

    "In the relentless pursuit of each student's success:

    1. Assuring that our work and that of Oregon schools is done with best practices and cutting-edge research
    2. Fully partnering with others in the education community
    3. Fostering conditions for Oregon schools and the Department of Education to be great places to work and learn"

    A good reason to use research based curriculum in the schools - this is not Dr. Frankenstein's laboratory.

  • Dickey45 (unverified)
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    Steve, curriculum/pedagogy shifted in Oregon from traditional phonics reading to whole language reading in the late 80's thru the 90s. Curriculum/pedagogy shifted in Oregon from traditional math to "fuzzy" new math in the 90's. Now we see scores (NAEP, ACT, SAT) going down.

    There is grade inflation and students are having to take remedial math: http://gazettetimes.com/articles/2007/03/25/news/top_story/1aaa01_college.txt

    And these are the ones "prepared" for a university.

    Are you saying the teachers, teacher schools, methodology, and curriculum have absolutely nothing to do with it?

  • jrw (unverified)
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    Dickey45--I dispute your 1% of kids left behind. Show me your figures.

    You're also wrong about special ed not being NCLB. Under NCLB, all students--including special ed--must be performing at grade level on statewide assessment by 2014. That assumes that students not performing at grade level are simply suffering from inadequate instruction, and not issues related to learning problems, cognitive profiles, and specific disabilities.

    That means kids with mental retardation. Period.

    Oregon had some excellent alternative assessments that the Feds ruled out, ergo, the current testing situation in special ed.

    Your district has not gotten the word about Procedural Safeguard pamphlets, or else you haven't noticed the changes this year. We now only have to offer it to you once. The catch is, we must document that one time offer, and establishing that paper trail means that I've offered the pamphlet several times with the letter that documents the offer.

    Additionally, it is best practice to retest to measure the educational impact of a child's disability every three years. Period. The educational label is just that--a label that determines that said disability affects/impacts a student's learning. We are required by the State and the Feds to document that. If you have a medical diagnosis, great. That's hard to get with autism.

    But I will fight hard against those who say once-qualified, always-qualified. Things change. Students develop coping strategies. Their brain development catches up to their chronological age.

    I also see you are a phonics fan. Let me tell you this--the studies show that 80% of all students will learn to read no matter what the method is you use to teach them. That 20% who doesn't learn from the method used--whether it is whole language or phonics--need different strategies from what is first used.

    Additionally, decoding does not equal comprehension. I have students who can decode up a storm and know their phonics backwards and forwards. Can they comprehend?

    Nope. Just because they can read it aloud does not mean they understand it.

    The same holds true for math. I see more challenging concepts being introduced at an earlier age. "Drill and kill" methods, however, are not going to solve the issue of processing problems in the brain of a kid with a disability.

    You need to reread what I wrote about Rodney Paige and the Houston example. Houston was held up as a shining example of the improvement that NCLB-like measures could perform on American education. But you know what? The shining example was achieved by cooking the books. NCLB was based on Rodney Paige's Houston experience. Don't dismiss it that easily.

    As for curriculum--you can have a crappy teacher and the best curriculum, and it may not work for a specific kid. I don't buy into the "magic curriculum" dogma. Some kids learn best visually. Others verbally. Others by hands-on means. What NCLB requires, by judging schools based on the response to one type of feedback--test-taking, ideally computerized test-taking--is a complete and total ignorance of the fact that not every student learns in the same way, or can express what they have learned in the same way.

    As for test scores, one issue to keep in mind is that the SAT score I got back in the mid-70s is not directly comparable to the current SAT scores. They've been adjusted and renormed.

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    I am not a fan of NCLB. Why? Because I am not considered a "highly qualified" teacher despite the fact that I spent 14 years as a radio news broadcaster who decided to give that up to become a broadcasting teacher at the high school level. Because I have an undergraduate degree in Fine Arts, I am not qualified to give Fine Arts credit due to the fact I didn't get a credential in fine arts.

    NCLB has had the ripple effect of impacting our elective classes, including career and technical education. I teach social science and language arts issues in my program. Students learn by doing but according to the President's program, I have to have a teacher of record in order for my students to get core credit.

    I'd rather have our students learn career related learning standards to prepare them for the real world while also learning the basics. However, under NCLB, the process isn't set up to allow that to work without a great deal of paperwork, time, and political process.

  • Alice (unverified)
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    How can Oregon Democrats peer past the forest of CIMCAM to talk about a few trees in NCLB? Nothing paints more hypocrisy paint on you Democrats than your dissing NCLB while hiding your shameless perpetuating of CIMCAM. The wildly wastefull and enormous failure CIMCAM was defended by Democrats year in year out. I'm no fan of NCLB with the exception of it at least having genuine consequences. But CIMCAM was a mountainnous outcome based education reform perpetrated on falsehoods one after another. And without any consequences for anyone in education.
    It was amazing to watch every single Democrat fall in line to support this sham. It is stunning for these same democrats to pretend they still have education credibility. Mary Nolan's support for CIMCAM was such that she once stated in a public hearing Oregon should patten CIMCAM and sell it to other states. Steve Novick defended CIMCAM saying "We can't turnover the testing of our students to "big fat evil corporations". Funny at the time the ODE was contracting a corporation to provide online testing. Worse yet using Oregon's own assessments which have no corellation to any national measurement or norm. In other words they are on the edge of useless. Oh yes the rehtoric flowed during CIMCAM's 15 year flop. The "World class high standards" and "benchmarks" speak was so thick all the stakeholders couldn't notice Oregon had nealry the lowest in the country English and Math course requirements for graduation. Some standards.About as high as Oregon Democrats have for truth in education. The record is thick on this issue. Be sure now to hide as much of your track record as it takes to pretend like you are the ones to continue dominating K-12 education. We can expect more of the same.

  • Dickey45 (unverified)
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    OK, I admit it, I'm a troll. But I'm a dem who NEVER supported CIM/CAM because it was costly, not aligned to any real standardized/national norm (per above poster), and aligned with warm and fuzzy developmental instruction (whole language, fuzzy math).

    Firstly, I like to call "Mental Retardation" a "Developmental Disability." It is more in line with today's times.

    Yes, ALL students are tested but the school district gets a waiver on 1% of the population's scores. See: http://72.14.253.104/search?q=cache:Uiq5pe6eyGIJ:www.kansped.org/ksde/fridayfacts/ff2004-02.pdf+nclb+1%25&hl=en&ct=clnk&cd=3&gl=us

    "Judi Miller has asked that we emphasize that the 1% is not the percentage of students taking an alternate assessment, but rather the percent of students who can be considered proficient or above in calculating adequate yearly progress (AYP), based on the alternate assessment. IEP Teams should continue to determine which assessments are appropriate for students with disabilities. The 1% cap refers to students scoring proficient and above on the alternate assessments. The 1% cap determination is made at the district level."

    Phonics is only one part of 5 in learning to read. According to the National Reading Panel, you also have comprehension, vocabulary, phonemes (sound parts), and fluency. See:

    http://www.nifl.gov/partnershipforreading/publications/reading_first1.html

    So I am advocating for the NRP recommendations which whole language is in direct conflict with. My son learned with whole language and it has taken 3 years to get the text guessing under control. SOUND IT OUT and don't do contextual guessing.

    You're right, once qualified for special ed services is not always qualified but in this particular case, NO ONE disagrees that the disability is still there. It is a waste of resources at that point to re-qualify with required testing if EVERYONE at the table (teachers, parents) agree the disability still exists.

    A medical diagnosis of autism does not mean that a student qualifies for educational autism services. See Weaver vs. Corvallis School District.

    Just because Rodney Paige is behind NCLB doesn't mean EVERYTHING about NCLB is bad. I don't like to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

    You are correct - a bad teacher can make things bad and no amount of good curriculum will may help. But the gray area is if the teacher never learned to teach well, a good curriculum could help. If you look at turn around schools in Baltimore & City Springs, you'll find the same teachers getting better results. Why? Because they moved to a good curriculum and at least 80% of them believed in it.

    You are correct - the SAT scores have been re-normed. They are a terrible indication of competence of students over time because test takers are self selected.

    Currently, ODE standards do not dictate students learn their math facts by 5th grade. This is causing problems for many students, even bright ones. Fuzzy math in the form of Everyday Math and Connected Math is not helping our students. There is all sorts of research on fluency - and math fluency in math facts is a big one. See any research by Ogden Lindsley.

  • jrw (unverified)
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    Dickey45--at least you admit your trollness.

    The problem is, you a.) know just enough to think you know more than you do, and b.) are philosophically committed to a specific, direct instruction curriculum method.

    DI ain't the end-all, be-all method. Neither is whole language. Drill and kill ain't the be-all, end-all in math--neither is constructivist stuff, either. The advantage to elements of the Connected Math program is that you can spend more time working with real-life problems than with other programs.

    You're also behind the times if you call mental retardation a "developmental disability." That went out the window a few years back. It's Mental Retardation, officially and legally, and it ain't no stinkin' developmental disability. It's a criteria of a below 70 IQ plus a flat academic profile plus a specific adaptive behavior profile which shows a deficiency in life skills performances and tasks.

    Your 1% waiver is what is legally allowed but that is not the same as students being left behind on the NCLB testing. Another issue where you think you know more than you do.

    Your quote from Judi Miller (whoever the heck she may be) has no relevance with special ed testing rules as they are currently practiced. You clearly do not comprehend what you quoted as it does not address the issue you try to make it fit.

    And you don't understand the rationale for retesting and requalifying a student every three years, especially a child younger than 8th grade. IQ profiles can and do change. If the team believes there is no significant change, then there is always the option of opting out, but it's also best practice to continue to assess every three years. Why? Because areas of need change, and diagnostic assessment is one of the better ways to identify long-term growth.

    As for your assertion that the medical diagnosis doesn't automatically qualify a student for services--stop trying to put words in my mouth. Go back and reread what I wrote. The educational diagnosis, while easier to get than a medical diagnosis, addresses how the disability impacts a student's access to their education. Then we look at if the student will benefit from specially designed instruction. Then we look at what would serve the student best--an IEP or a 504 plan.

    You're wrong about Rodney Paige and NCLB. Period. The concept was founded on false ground, the foundation was built on shifting sand, and it ain't working.

    Long story short, you're trying to teach your grandma to suck eggs here--and I ain't buying it.

  • Dickey45 (unverified)
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    jrw - well i guess we'll just have to agree to disagree.

    I see you have refuted my links, quotes, and research with "you are wrong." You must be correct because you said so.

    If you would refute my information with links or research, maybe I would find out I'm wrong. I have no problem with that. I'd like to know the truth and what works.

    You saying so doesn't change my mind. But then I'm just one person in a small minority and it really doesn't matter.

  • JMG (unverified)
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    <h1>This is a note I sent out today in response to an article in The Progressive Review (quoted below my note):</h1>

    Note especially the late start age--this is something that a friend of mine who had been a reading teacher for many years first alerted me to--the Nordic countries don't set kids up for failure the way we do. They start kids in formal schooling much later, so even the slower kids are developed enough to succeed in school.

    With later starts, brilliant children stay brilliant (after all, it was the home environment that made them that way in the first place) and the lesser-gifted ones succeed much more often, rather than being singled out for "special attention" and labeled as slow learners at an early age (and, predictably, becoming frustrated and disruptive as a result of being asked to do what they are not yet developmentally ready to do).

    The factory school model has many, many sins, but the worst is the way it turns children into failures with such skill.

    Worse, the push in America has been to start the process at ever younger ages, continuing the American tradition of deciding that, whatever you're doing, from Vietnam to Iraq, from highway congestion to the war on drugs, whenever it's failing, the only possibility is to do it more and harder.

    There is a huge class bias apparent whenever you suggest starting kids in school later--the kinds of people who sit around and talk about ed policy (upper and middle class) inevitably agree that their children would not be harmed by keeping them out of the factory schools longer, but that we need to get the 'at risk' kids into those schools as early as possible, to counter the "educationally deficient" environments they experience at home.

    This is perverse--it leaves kids in precisely those environments during the most formative years (0-3 years) and then starts them on the failure track in schools before they've had the extra years needed to catch up and have a chance to succeed.

    ================================================

    WHY DO FINLAND'S SCHOOLS WORK?

    [This is a long but consistently interesting report on the Finnish educational system, especially for those struggling with the hypocritically named No Child Left Behind and other peculiarities of American public education. A major difference is that Finland is a much more homogenous culture than the U.S. but there is still much to learn.

    SIX DEGREES, FINLAND - Finland has repeatedly been rated top of the class in international comparisons of educational standards, even though spending on education is low, and Finnish children spend much less time in school than kids in other countries. . .

    Foreign educationalists are particularly interested because Finland's success does not seem to be related to money: OECD statistics show that Finland spends just 6.1% of its gross domestic product on education, significantly below the OECD average of 6.3%, and well below spending levels in many similarly wealthy countries.

    Another factor to discount is the amount of time children spend in the classroom. For a start, Finnish kids only graduate from the kindergarten sandpit to the primary school at age 7. Their schooldays remain short, often ending as early as midday or one o'clock, and their 10-week summer holidays must be the envy of kids all over the world. All in all, Finnish pupils spend an OECD record low total of some 5,523 hours at their desks, compared to the average of 6,847 hours. . .

    The results of Finland's brightest students are not significantly above those from other successful countries, but where Finland really shines is in the scores of the lowest performing students. This means that very few Finnish schoolchildren are falling fall through the educational net. . .

    Looking after low achievers The Finnish system is designed along egalitarian principles, with few fee-paying private schools, and very little streaming of pupils into different schools or classes according to their exam results. . .

    Another factor behind Finland's success could be the narrow focus of the PISA tests. Levels of reading literacy are extremely high in Finland. Many children learn to read before they even start school. Although many foreigners find Finnish hard to learn, the language is so phonetically logical that words are always simple to read and write correctly. . .

    The atmosphere in Finnish schools is generally informal. Teachers are given considerable freedom to teach as they see fit, without overbearing supervision or bureaucratic reporting. . .

    http://www.6d.fi/index.html/page.2007-02-21.9993404054

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    There pretty much needs to be some kind of measurement for any endeavor that uses huge amounts of taxpayer dollars.

    Something as critical to all of us as competing in the twenty first century economy, definitely needs some sort of standard applied.

    So, Russell, JRW, Deborah, Steve: What, if any, kind of testing is appropriate to demonstrate to parents, taxpayers, and yes, the Evil Corporations, that our children are learning what they'll need to know to survive the world that we're leaving to them?

    Since we already understand that the instillation of a Work Ethic by requiring that the little darlings actually learn to.......you know.........work, is barbaric and akin to slavery, so that's one more tool gone from the box.

    Right now, India, Japan, China, Korea, and a lot of other countries are eating our lunch.

    Why is that? Poor worldwide testing methods, biased in favor of "developing nations"?

  • Steve (unverified)
    (Show?)

    "Right now, India, Japan, China, Korea, and a lot of other countries are eating our lunch. "

    Amen.

    Every time parents ask for someone normative measure of performance on kids in school, we are either told: 1) Here is a watered-down test no one accepts (CIM/CAM) 2) Any testing is flawed because of something we as non-teachers don't know about 3) Go away and let us teach

    All we are asking for is some standard measure of performance, which, unless you have something more accurate, is a test. I'd ask the same to measure doctor/hosptial performance as a start also.

    Yet while schools overseas kick our collective butts educationally, we can keep finding reasons not to measure performance.

    I'll save you jrw the trouble re-butting since they'll say I don't know what I am talking about and to go away. Maybe they should study whythere is a lot of demand for non-public education - people have given up trying to reform an old rickety system.

  • jrw (unverified)
    (Show?)

    I had an excellent rebuttal written to various people but the dang tab key does something funky to this post and it went away.

    Oh well.

    Dickey45--go do your own research. I suggest going to Daily Kos for some excellent education diaries there, especially the Education Uprising diaries on education reform. I'm not doing your homework for you. It's my break, and I have a lot to do besides hold your hand. If you're not willing to do your own work, then you're most likely not willing to consider other points of view.

    Testing--the current high-stakes testing methodology is a flawed measure in many ways, including the following: 1.) It does not measure all learning. 2.) It requires teaching to the test and/or watering down the testing system to work. 3.) Unlike many other countries the US is being compared with, we test all students, not just our college-bound students. 4.) Any testing method that takes a month out of student instruction to administer--which the current Oregon TESA system does--removes one of the most crucial pieces of successful instruction, which is actual classroom time spent in instruction instead of testing. Studies show the more time spent in instruction, including electives, the more successful the student. 5.) For those of you looking at other countries and bemoaning them eating our lunch, also look at these factors: a.) Actual instructional days/hours students spend in the classroom. b.) Parental support of academic/school work. c.) Money spent per capita on all students.

    I think you will find that in those countries, all three of these factors (especially a and b) play a large role in student performance.

    Parent support of teacher attempts to make a student accountable for their lack of performance is a BIG issue.

    Too many people think a magic test will tell them how well their kid is/isn't doing in school. Quite frankly, all the current testing system is gonna measure is how well the kid will do in postsecondary education. A more effective means of preparing all students for later life would be to bag the concept that all students need to perform at the college-bound level, and focus on developing useful skills for later life that are hands-on, pragmatic, and useful.

    There is no magic test. Not every student is college-bound. Until the current crop of educational policy wonks accept those realities, we're gonna have these problems.

    NCLB assumes every student will achieve a college-bound level of literacy and numerancy. It ain't gonna happen, nor should it. There are students who will never comprehend algebra very well in a classroom, but who can use practical, hands-on concepts to do mechanical work and other hands-on work where they can see real-life uses for the skills they learn.

    Unfortunately, our current testing system does not allow for us to measure the skills of students who learn in that manner. And it is only the arrogant who feel that these students don't count in the future (and gee, after enough years of this sort of testing, is it any wonder these students become behavior problems, discouraged, and uninterested in learning?).

    Oh yeah. I don't have a valuable opinion in this area. I just am there working with those kids every day. But I guess that doesn't count, does it?

  • jrw (unverified)
    (Show?)

    I had an excellent rebuttal written to various people but the dang tab key does something funky to this post and it went away.

    Oh well.

    Dickey45--go do your own research. I suggest going to Daily Kos for some excellent education diaries there, especially the Education Uprising diaries on education reform. I'm not doing your homework for you. It's my break, and I have a lot to do besides hold your hand. If you're not willing to do your own work, then you're most likely not willing to consider other points of view.

    Testing--the current high-stakes testing methodology is a flawed measure in many ways, including the following: 1.) It does not measure all learning. 2.) It requires teaching to the test and/or watering down the testing system to work. 3.) Unlike many other countries the US is being compared with, we test all students, not just our college-bound students. 4.) Any testing method that takes a month out of student instruction to administer--which the current Oregon TESA system does--removes one of the most crucial pieces of successful instruction, which is actual classroom time spent in instruction instead of testing. Studies show the more time spent in instruction, including electives, the more successful the student. 5.) For those of you looking at other countries and bemoaning them eating our lunch, also look at these factors: a.) Actual instructional days/hours students spend in the classroom. b.) Parental support of academic/school work. c.) Money spent per capita on all students.

    I think you will find that in those countries, all three of these factors (especially a and b) play a large role in student performance.

    Parent support of teacher attempts to make a student accountable for their lack of performance is a BIG issue.

    Too many people think a magic test will tell them how well their kid is/isn't doing in school. Quite frankly, all the current testing system is gonna measure is how well the kid will do in postsecondary education. A more effective means of preparing all students for later life would be to bag the concept that all students need to perform at the college-bound level, and focus on developing useful skills for later life that are hands-on, pragmatic, and useful.

    There is no magic test. Not every student is college-bound. Until the current crop of educational policy wonks accept those realities, we're gonna have these problems.

    NCLB assumes every student will achieve a college-bound level of literacy and numerancy. It ain't gonna happen, nor should it. There are students who will never comprehend algebra very well in a classroom, but who can use practical, hands-on concepts to do mechanical work and other hands-on work where they can see real-life uses for the skills they learn.

    Unfortunately, our current testing system does not allow for us to measure the skills of students who learn in that manner. And it is only the arrogant who feel that these students don't count in the future (and gee, after enough years of this sort of testing, is it any wonder these students become behavior problems, discouraged, and uninterested in learning?).

    Oh yeah. I don't have a valuable opinion in this area. I just am there working with those kids every day. But I guess that doesn't count, does it? After all, it's not listed on a web site somewhere, included in a talking point somewhere, or published in a flawed Federal study. Must be worthless.

  • (Show?)

    JRW brings up some excellent points. We talk about testing. My students do go through testing, realistic testing, at the end of their second year in my program. NOCTI offers testing in all areas of career and technical education. I do prepare them in the area of workforce readiness giving them tools from the career related learning standards. In addition, my students are part of a pilot program where they can earn language arts and social science credit for being in my Career and Technical Education program. The majority of my students do go on to college and in the process also have the necessary skills that help them learn to write and read better for no matter what choice they make in the future.

    My hope is Oregon sees CTE is a real option for sustainable funding so more students can learn in a hands-on learning environment that does work.

  • Rick T (unverified)
    (Show?)

    The issues of education are complex because they defy generalization. As Mark Twain would have it, "Never commit a social science." That said, these observations from a 28 year teaching veteran, still practicing, may illuminate.

    Students are not widgets. The further to each ends of the curve of performance one looks, the more particular and complex become the learning problems. An AP class has a diversity of challenging learning patterns to break or build, as does a Resource Class struggling against multiple learning hurdles and assets. The broad middle can be generalized about most effectively, but again, not always meaningfully.

    Student opportunity for learning is now more than ever "contrived." The girls softball team loves waching the movie "The Sandlot" because there are not neurotic coaches and parents screaming about "college scholarship opportunities!" Still, they have rarely, if ever, had a pick-up game in an empty lot where the rules are self made and self enforced. Testing at the 10th grade level, similarly, is a contrived situation made for and enforced by adults who have forgotten the thrill of simply doing writing and reading. Most of our students would rather have root canals than read voluntarily, or for genuine pleasure. We have killed fun softball and we have killed fun reading. But by God, we know how to teach them to outpsych a multiple choice test!

    Student opportunity to learn from the environment, the lessons of social groups, the fun of common hobbies, has been boiled down to "consumption." Most do not take weekend trips to the rivers, streams, snow or mountains, because their parents work too much for too little pay, and many dads are now out of the household. The joy of getting out of the mall and in the presence of their friends and teachers is palpable. Home life has become for many, a prison sentence, particularly for those unlucky enough to have parents who watch FAUX NEWS, Fear and Loathing of your Neighbor Channel. Just go buy something. The emptiness is visible.

    Education must directly address these issues. Extraordinary teachers and programs are still struggling to exist in this "Machine-Test- Consume for the Empire" environment. We are still aware that each one is a human being, able to transmit society's neurosis, or break free and learn independently, thoughtfully, for a lifetime. This is the message we try to give them; your learning is YOUR business, and may be carried out with pleasure, even if it doesnt earn you one thin dime. Life is for learning, learning is for doing, doing is for yourself and others. It isn't a competition. It is for democracy, freedom of the human mind. If those conditions exist, one cannot help being rich.

    It is time to scrap the NCLB. It is a machine test for a machine model of culture. It should be understood in history as No Contractor Left Behind.

  • Dickey45 (unverified)
    (Show?)

    RickT - you need to inform my son to stop reading mangas, the Great Brain, Nintendo Power, National Geographic Kids, Nintendo Instruction guides - oh, and stop googling cheat guides online. For the shame. He should be hating reading because he is the result of year round, during and after school SRA Direct Instruction reading, math, spelling, and writing. That on top of full blown autism.

    You can't just teach the mechanics of reading and stop there. You're right. You have to pull out fun and interesting things to read. But you can't NOT teach the mechanics of reading and then expect kids to want to learn to read and figure out how on their own. I really don't like the method of "teach and pray." With direct instruction, you teach. You teach the rules and give so much practice and learning to mastery that the student can build on what they've learned. Learning becomes easy and fun. I like it because I ham it up with SCRIPTED teaching. Sounds easy. No. I have to know what has been and where the scripted lesson is going, and how to correct all sorts of errors.

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