Posts Tagged ‘reform’

I’m curious about what parents wan their kids to learn in school.  I’ll start by answering the question for myself.  I’m interested in how closely what I’d want for my own child lines up with what I am obligated to do at work.

1.  I want my child’s curiosity to be nurtured.  That means I want some of what he learns to be determined by what he is interested in at the time, which means the teacher needs the flexibility to make changes and follow a line of thinking wherever it goes.

2.  I want my child to learn to love reading.  I’m fearful of what will happen when he’s no longer motivated by statistics on Accelerated Reader.  I’m concerned that he isn’t getting that reading has an intrinsic value that can’t be measured quantitatively.

3.  I want him to learn mathematical reasoning–I want him to be able to estimate, to determine likely solutions to multi-step problems.  I want him to understand clearly what real world situations are reflected by various math problems.  Mathematics is the language in which we quantitatively describe the universe, including our own world.  Math is real.  I don’t want it to just be numbers on a page.

4.  I want him to learn about music.  I want him to know it as math, as language, as protest, and as love.  I want him to know the history of classical music and jazz and hip-hop, and I want him to understand that it has a cultural and historical relevance to all people, everywhere.  I want him to learn to make music, and to realize that everyone can.  Sure, only a few of us are born with Adele’s talent, but nearly everyone can learn to carry a tune or keep a simple beat.  We all have a song to sing!

5.  I want him to learn about art–what separates a good drawing from a poor one, how to render people and emotion through line and color, how to create the illusion of three dimensions where only two are possible.  I want him to know and see how as a species, our ability to do those things has changed from our earliest days to now.  I want him to see that his own work is part of that progression, and to know that anyone can practice and improve upon their artistic skills, even if they can’t practice themselves into being Monet.

6.  Most importantly, I want him to learn about his own abilities, and that a determined individual can change the world.  Those that have exist not only in history books.  They existed, and continue to exist and be born, in the world he lives in outside of school.  I want him to know history from many perspectives–not just the winner’s.  I want him to know about the atrocities, the injustices, and the shameful places humanity has been.  I want him to know those things so that he can determine what he believes to be true and important.  I want him to come home with difficult questions, with controversies to debate and facts to discuss.

-1.  And I don’t care if he never learns to take a standardized test.  No one ever talked to me about the SAT, I never practiced for it, and I never got any list of test taking strategies.  I scored 1300.  Not amazing, but not terrible either.  I’ll be fine with whatever my son can do on the SAT as long as the above requirements are consistently met.  Hint:  They won’t be, so I’ll be supplementing his state-mandated ten years of test preparation with an actual education at home, which I have to do on evenings and weekends since I’m busy at my own school subjecting other people’s children to the same thing my kid gets all day long.

What it seems like the bureaucrats don’t realize is that getting kids better at passing any given test proves nothing, in and of itself, except that we are good at getting more kids to be better at taking tests.  It’s madness.

If anyone comments that they would actually prefer schools spend more time getting their own child to pass minimum competency tests, like their state’s standardized test, (not the SAT), and they can convince me that they are being sincere, I will eat a practice test live on my web cam.


On Monday, students across the state will take the FCAT. Regardless of whether or not they must pass this year’s FCAT in order to move on to the next grade or to graduate, the test is high stakes for all students. Those that score below the minimum threshold for grade level proficiency in reading or math will be placed in Intensive Reading or Math classes, as required by state law. This requirement has the effect of excluding these students from electives that might develop creativity or career interests, in addition to stigmatizing them among their peers.

Aside from the negative effects mentioned above, at its core, it may sound like a good plan—provide additional instruction and practice for students who are not performing on grade level. Certainly parents hope that the instruction, practice, and assessments employed will assist their child in reaching acceptable levels of performance in basic skills. But do they?

Students now are subjected to as many as 28 standardized assessments in reading throughout the school year, excluding the FCAT. The purpose of these tests is to determine mastery or need for improvement on the thirteen (out of 81) language arts benchmarks tested on the FCAT. Aside from the loss of instructional time spent administering these assessments, the question must be raised publicly as to whether they measure what they are intended to measure, and to whom this measurement is beneficial.

The results of these assessments may well determine what your child spends their school day working on, what small group instruction they receive, what grades you see on their report cards, and most importantly, how they perceive themselves as students .

Education in its most noble form should model and promote intellectual honesty, curiosity, and integrity. It should promote creativity, problem-solving, and inquiry. It should develop individual talents and natural aptitudes. Incessant testing does none of these things. In at least some schools, the data these assessments produce serve as the only indicator of student success that matters. As struggling students recognize that they’re playing a losing game, they begin to resent their teachers and their schools, and to disengage from the educational process.

As a teacher, I have spent ten years promoting accountability measures because I believe that schools should be required to do what they are paid by the taxpayer to do, and I recognize the value of ensuring basic literacy and numeracy in the citizenry. However, our current approach, which focuses solely on standardized tests and the increasing standardization of instruction to match the tests is not accomplishing that aim, and it doesn’t provide students the benefits one would hope it would. What it does is satisfy bureaucrats and box-checkers while it destroys young peoples’ self-image, motivation, and opportunities to become contributing members of society by labeling them as incompetent and ultimately turning them out of the system with no marketable skills.

Particularly for struggling students, many of whom come from poverty, these circumstances have dire consequences. Many will wind up in prison or spend their lives on public assistance or in low wage jobs. This is a consequence that extends far beyond the individual. It is we who pay to imprison them, we who are often the victims of their crimes, and we who fund the assistance. That money would be better spent on real educational reform that addresses the reality schools are presented with: some students arrive in Kindergarten dramatically underprepared for school and need a longer school year in smaller classes, doing the kinds of exploratory activities and having the kinds of conversations that mimic what good parenting provides, and some kids aren’t interested in pursuing post-secondary education. These young people need technical school options presented much earlier, starting in sixth grade. By tenth grade, it’s too late. They’ve already lost interest in school, because school is only interested in something they can’t do well enough to please the system.

Hello, World!

Posted: April 10, 2012 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , ,

I’ve started this page so that I will be searchable outside of facebook, and so I have a little more freedom in terms of formatting and what I can put on the page. Please feel free to comment and share; I’ll be posting links, commentary, and video.

My purpose is to further the discussion of what real education reform should look like and how to achieve it, with a particular emphasis on what is needed to begin to address the many issues facing youth in the inner city.

I’m inspired by my own students and by Mr. Geoffrey Canada and his work with the Harlem Kids Zone.