No, this isn't about the federal government shuffling statistics to make things look better - although that would not be surprising. This is about a report in USAToday about the District of Columbia Public Schools having some very questionable results on standardized tests. Now, if a district can help students improve their scores, that's great. The problem is that some of these "gains" are looking very suspect now.
Maybe one of the first red flags should have been when one school went from 10% of its students scoring at the "proficient" or "advanced" levels in math on standardized tests to 58% in only two years. It would be nice to think the students could improve this much this fast, but realistically it is unlikely to happen. But then, when district scores dropped by an average of 4% the scores in this one school dropped over 20% in the same period. The school showed what the article calls a "roller coaster" ride from 2006 to 2010.
The biggest red flag, however, is a report from the testing company that many of the DC schools have much higher than expected numbers of erasures on tests - as many as 80% of classrooms. And these were not just erasures, they were what is called "wrong-to-right" erasures where an incorrect answer is changed to correct. It makes you wonder just what might have been going on. And this was not the only district school that showed alarmingly high erasure rates.
To top it all off, the chancellor of the district gave big bonuses to teachers and the principal at the school for their "success." As the article points out, when you tie big bonuses in to test scores, you increase the chances of cheating. And how is the district handling all this controversy? It's DC, so you figure that one out.
I just read an interesting post on another blog, and I wanted to share it with anyone out there. The post is by leadership trainer Kevin Eikenberry and it discusses personal responsibility - a topic I plan to have some things to say on as well. Take a look and see what you think.
Previously I compared public education and Communism. The comparison was not good for either system, but there is good news - at least for public education. We have seen that in general the only way to "improve" Communism is to get rid of it - or hide the flaws as is sometimes done. On the other hand, there are ways to improve public education, and they don't require the ridiculous outlay of money for so-called "experts" with their generally tepid results. The not so good news is that it will require common sense and a backbone - both of which often seem sorely lacking in education.
One of the first steps would be to get rid of the "poor little kids" attitude that seems to pervade much of the system. In the past students were not coddled and provided with multitudinous excuses for why they didn't succeed. They were expected to get the job done - plain and simple. Yes, there are troubled homes, broken families, and other situations now, but these existed in the past. The problem, as I see it, is that the education system has turned these from challenges kids had to work through to excuses to do nothing. And the more excuses the system provides, the more kids will grab on to them in order to get by without working. Yes, there are those self-motivated kids who don't care what the challenges/excuses are, they are going to succeed. And there are those kids who are going to struggle no matter what, but those are frequently kids who have physical and/or mental challenges to deal with.
The kids I'm talking about are the ones whose parents either have no time to support them (although many kids in those situations still do quite well), or have consciously or unconsciously (subconsciously?) raised them to believe that the world owes them everything and they don't need to work for it. Believe me when I say that I have had more than enough of these kids in my classrooms in the past. And before you say it's just because I was not a good teacher, try asking any teacher about these kids. I can pretty much guarantee you that every public school teacher you talk to has had them. Some have more in their class, some have fewer, but they all have them.
Okay, so for now I'll let you digest this little diatribe before I toss another plateful your way. I have a bit more to say on this subject before I go on to another suggestion.
Last we saw the Recovering Teacher, he had just compared Public Education with Communism. Since he wasn't sent to Siberia (or East LA), let's see what he has to say this time...
I want to follow up on my Communism comparison with some specifics today. From what I have seen, both Communism and many of the "theories" in today's public schools are based on faulty assumptions. And in both cases, it has to do with self-motivation versus taking the "easy way out."
In Communism one underlying belief was that if people were all equal, they would work together for mutual benefit. The problem is that people will never be "equal" and some will always take advantage of others. So you end up with a situation where a few "more than equal" leaders make the rules and end up with a majority of benefits Then you have a group of self-motivated individuals who provide much of the actual work because that's the way they are naturally Finally there is an often sizable group of self-professed slackers who know the amount of effort they put in has no affect on the returns they receive. It's the attitude of "If I can get something for nothing, why should I put any effort in?"
Now let's look at how this works with student achievement in public schools - or at least ones I have worked in (we can leave the extrapolation to others). First of all, kids are smart - just not always the way we want them to be. In the last district I taught in the policy was that students could be held back in third, seventh, or ninth grades, but only one time. So how long do you think it took for kids to figure out if they were held back in third grade they didn't have to put in any more effort? While your self-motivated students are busting their butts to get good grades, the unmotivated kids are goofing off, disrupting class, and basically skating through school. I even had students admit to just this little "scam." And just as the lack of motivation to produce affected the economy in Communist countries, the lack of motivation to learn affects the classroom.
So, now that I have tossed this little bomb out, where do I go next? How about some suggestions to improve education. And I won't even charge hundreds (thousands?) of dollars for my ideas.
Last time I said that I was going to ruffle a few feathers. Well, I’m not sure if I have yet, but I’m going to try again to get things stirred up. After all, isn’t healthy debate what it’s all about? And I think that for far too long we have been without healthy debate on what really works in schools.
I entitled this posting “The Problem,” but actually there are many problems. There is no argument that we have a major problem with student failure (yes, I’m using the “f-word” here). People don’t want to use the word “failure” with children – something about it hurting their precious self-esteem. Well guess what, folks – a lot of these kids have no self-esteem to begin with. They’re smart enough to know that we’re just playing word games. They have already figured out that most adults don’t expect anything out of them. Oh, we say we do, but then what happens? We coddle them, we tell them that it’s not their fault they can’t read – that some other bad teacher or system, or whatever, did it to them. They are victims of their environment, of the system, of “the man” – whoever that is. And then what do we do – we pass them on to the next level where they are even farther behind. “You couldn’t handle seventh grade, so we’re going to promote you to eighth grade where you can really bomb.” I ask you, does that sound like a good program to you?
Let’s put things in perspective. If you had a job and you couldn’t cut it, would your boss promote you? Okay, let’s say you’re not in a government job – would the boss promote you? More than likely, the boss is going to tell you to get up to speed or you’re gone. This is the “real world” that we’re supposed to be preparing kids for. And then we wonder why so many young people seem to have an “entitlement” mentality. Hello! Does anyone see a problem developing here? It’s a similar situation to the problem that communist societies faced – if I can get the same thing doing nothing as I can doing something, why should I do something?
That should make some people happy – I’ve just compared our educational system with communism. But I’m just getting going. Wait until you see where I’m going next.
First, I know I’m going to upset some people with this (if anyone actually reads this, that is), but I’m going to write it anyway. After all, isn’t that part of the reason for a blog – to get your opinions out even if some people don’t want to hear them? And anyway, this is based on my personal experience and reading/study, not anyone else’s – or is that true? Because what I’m about to do is take my own crack at the plethora of “experts” who are creating our educational “systems” – you know, the ones that are supposed to make all students achieve at grade level and beyond? Okay, so off we go.
We’ll start with my background. I was a teacher for 14+ years full time in both public and private schools, plus some time at the community college level. I spent a lot of time going to all the required workshops and in-services, trying my best to implement all the gobbledy-gook and mumbo-jumbo, and never seeing any real improvement. It never seemed to fail that the students who needed the help least were the ones who took full advantage of everything, and vice-versa. It slowly began to dawn on me that we have been taking the wrong approach to helping struggling students to succeed.
This is where the “bill of goods” comes in. There are people out there who are making a ton of money pushing the latest “wonder program” to make all kids successful. So of course, the last thing they want is someone saying their stuff is crap. Well, I’m going to say it – it’s crap! So much of it is just recycled from the past anyway. Ask any teacher with some years of experience, and they will tell you that this stuff just keeps coming back under different names. And so many of these “experts” are long on theory but extremely short on practical experience. I don’t know how many of them I’ve heard talk, but very few of them had ever really spent much time in a real classroom. And when they did their “sample lessons” in a classroom, it was always with a small group of students while another teacher kept control of the rest of the class.
I can see I’m going to be going on with this for a while, so I’m going to stop here and pick up again next time. And I promise, the next time will not be so long a wait. This is only the beginning.
It's been a while since I blogged here, but that doesn't mean I haven't been busy. In fact, I've been quite busy since I last posted here. For the past couple years I have been writing a community blog about the city of Santee, CA, called Scouting Santee, and have been involved with the Santee Chamber of Commerce. I also have been doing a bit of writing and editing for the Kamatoy Media Group, including working on several client projects.
Now that I'm back I plan to get back into writing about topics that interest me, including education, personal development, writing, and photography. Two years ago I was working on some posts responding to a series of articles written by Robert Ringer about what he called "The Cho Factor." I may not get back to that right away, but at some point I will.
So I hope a few of you will join me as I return to my journey here in blogland.
In his fourth installment of “The Cho Factor,” Robert Ringer takes a look at a series of shootings over the past decade, to show a pattern of taunting and bullying.And it is true, that all of the examples he gives of students who shot multiple victims, the shooters had been bullied and harassed before – sometimes for years.He indicates this exercise in comparing shooters is to show how perhaps it was not that Cho was evil, only his actions.But it also seems to be a way of setting up his later “big point” – of preparing his readers to think his way.
Let’s look at this idea – of getting people to think your way.I’m not knocking it – after all, don’t we all try to persuade people about different things?Maybe we want to go to a certain movie or restaurant, or we want to paint the bathroom a certain color?And politicians and advertisers are always trying to persuade us to their view.“Buy this car!”“Vote for me!”So there is nothing intrinsically wrong with trying to persuade people.My argument will be later with what he is trying to persuade us on.
One other point that Ringer brings up about several of the shooters is their attitude that they were “made” to do what they did – that they were “forced…into a corner” (Cho), or that it was their “only option” (Robert Hawkins, who killed 8 shoppers in an Omaha mall before killing himself).Why is it that these young people feel they have been forced into their actions?Ringer asks this question as well, but he has a different core reason than I do.But on one thing we both can agree – whatever the core reason (or reasons), we need to try to get a handle on what is happening to our young people.
In his third installment of “The Cho Factor,” Robert Ringer discusses the topic of “evil.”He was inspired to this topic by a broadcast of “CNN Heroes: An All-Star Tribute” that he saw.He talks about how he tuned in just in time to see the presentation of an award to a young man who helped barricade a door to a classroom at Virginia Tech during the Cho shooting spree.In the presentation a comment was made about how this student had “confronted evil and won” – and this got Ringer to wondering about evil versus human action.
This is a very interesting subject to talk about.So often we tend to talk about abstract “evil” rather than the person who does the evil act.As Ringer points out, it’s easier to talk about an abstract than about a real human with inner motivations – motivations that might make it harder for the rest of us to simply dismiss the entire action as being something “evil” that we had to face but can now go past.
Even now, as I write this, the news programs are showing coverage of a new shooting – the fourth this week – at Northwest Illinois University where a friend of mine is enrolled.No doubt we will be hearing of how these students also had to “face evil” in the shape of an apparent former graduate student.
So, we have Cho, this new shooter, and a litany of other names of young people who made the decision to take multiple lives, including their own.If we take Ringer’s definition of evil – “a purposeful intent or act…to do harm to others” – then these have all been evil actions.But, as Ringer points out, what about the people themselves?Is it, to paraphrase Shakespeare (as Ringer hints at), a case of “Some are born evil, some achieve evil, and some have evil thrust upon ’em”?