My Parents Spent $30,000 A Year

by Robert Pondiscio
July 1st, 2008

New York Post…and all I got was this lousy safety school.

Update: Kevin Carey at the Quick and the Ed has a serious — and solid — take on all this.

“Exceptional” Schools in Texas

by Robert Pondiscio
July 1st, 2008

Dallas Morning NewsSome Texas schools and districts have raised their academic rankings without actually improving student scores on the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills, according to the Dallas Morning News, which files a terrific piece of reporting on the problem.

For example, TAKS reading scores slipped this year at Medrano Elementary School in Dallas. But under a new procedure granted by the Texas Education Agency, Dallas school officials expect Medrano to rise from “acceptable” to the more impressive “recognized” when 2008 rankings come out in August….Critics say this bureaucratic sleight-of-hand can make schools look good on paper when many students still need help. Why, those critics ask, would school leaders strive to improve learning when they can use automatic loopholes as a means to elevate or maintain their ratings?

The paper quotes a Dallas associate superintendent who says, “There are so many measures in an urban district that we have to deal with. When a school gets rated lower because of one group, that is really demoralizing. It condemns the whole school because of one group.”

Am I missing something here? Isn’t the entire point of accountability to guarantee good outcomes for every group of students? Say what you will about NCLB, but redefining failure as success is most certainly not the way to go, as Ed Trust’s Daria Hall points out.

It’s this whole set of decisions that are being made in the interest of adults and not kids. It’s to make schools look better than they are, rather than confronting the fact that far too few students are doing reading or math or science at the level they should be.

No More “Guide on the Side”

by Robert Pondiscio
July 1st, 2008

Seattle Post IntelligencerRe-establish the traditional teacher-centered classroom, and soon we won’t need state tests to demonstrate progress. Thus spake Fred Strine, a 36 year veteran public school teacher who pens a guest op-ed in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. It will be easy to dismiss Strine as a greybeard, but what he has to say will strike a chord with anyone who has dared wonder why what used to be called teaching is now dismissed as “chalk and talk.” We are all “facilitators” now, and Strine has isssues with that.

Education requires discipline, both intellectual and behavioral, and discipline must be imposed before it becomes engrained….To inculcate discipline in others, a leader must model excellence and self-discipline. Traditional teacher-centered classrooms had such leaders. By contrast, student-centered learning allows the inexperienced and the undisciplined to become the standard. Who then is the model for students when today’s teachers merely facilitate as “guides on the side,” leaving students to discover on their own?

Our schools are not producing enough real self-esteem based on genuine achievement measured by a respected, educated adult. Instead, the facilitator system generates phony, Hollywood self-esteem — a cocky, anti-intellectual sense of entitlement that shouts, “Facts and information be damned. My opinion is as valuable as any facilitator’s.”

Strine is just getting warmed up.

Ignorance is intellectual inertia. Most real learning requires real work. No one ever became an expert by being lazy. Since ignorance is the natural condition of uneducated humans, it needs to be overcome by some outside force. Sometimes curiosity and enthusiasm will suffice. Often necessity is the catalyst. Most of the time, however, intellectual inertia needs a genuine push toward knowledge. Facilitators are too wimpy, too passive to push anything or anyone.

“Every person who has ever played sports knows at least one coach who pushed his athletes to accomplish more than they ever thought possible,” Strine concludes. “The process is necessarily confrontational. So is life, and therein lies the lesson. Every literate person ought to be able to point to a teacher, a brain coach, who had the same effect. It shouldn’t be a major leap to understand what works for the body also works for the brain.”

Who Is National Certification Worthy?

by Robert Pondiscio
July 1st, 2008

The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards should consider student-learning gains when deciding which teachers deserve national certification, a team of researchers says in an interesting study reported in Education Week.

Students who are taught by teachers certified by the board outperform students whose teachers lack such certification on standardized tests, according to a study released last month.  Now, researchers from Harvard, Dartmouth and the Los Angeles Unified School District “make a case for combining the current measures with newer, ‘value added’ calculations that take into account the test-score gains that students make in applicants’ classes, or at least lending more weight in the assessment process to the individual tests that link most closely to improved student achievement,” says EdWeek.

For some reason, the teacher-effectiveness debate is broken into two camps, says Thomas J. Kane, a study author and a professor of education and economics at Harvard’s graduate school of education. One side focuses on students’ achievement, and then there’s another side that focuses primarily on measures of teacher practice. We think the reasonable approach is not either, but both.

To its credit, the research was one of 22 research efforts commissioned by NBPTS to gauge the effectiveness of its process. The results are apparently non-binding on NBPTS; they’re not obligated to adopt the value-added recommendation.  But one wonders if the fact that the report is being discussed in EdWeek before it’s release isn’t tantamount to a trial balloon of sorts.