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Biggie Smalls

Like saying Biggie Smalls’ name three times into a mirror, I worry that even this small citation will give too much power to Sarah Puglisi’s anti-NCLB rant. Once again, it doesn’t matter to me (or the cross-section of eager, hardworking young teachers I claim to represent) what you believe on NCLB (whether to scrap it or keep it), rather why you believe it and how you go about believing it. (Todd Seal, ladies and gentlemen, on getting the difference.)

Drag your mouse over any random swath of Puglisi’s polemic and the selection fails on both measures. Here’s one:

… [NCLB] wrestled the ART of teaching reading away from the instructor. Hooked onto Phonics and playing the phonics scripted tape, even if you read at the 6th grade level and sit in a 1st grade room. We are doing LONG A today kids. No one is special, you are all robots and I know what you need. Open up that worksheet.

Puglisi wants to throw out NCLB (not an unjustifiable stance in my mind) because, “It makes differentiated instruction impossible,” a justification which anyone who has managed to differentiate instruction under NCLB will find distinctly unjustifiable. She supports that distortion with ad hominem attacks, gross characterizations, and a strident, rabid tone.

Which makes her gasoline. Which feels great if you’re already on fire, but for those of us not yet aflame, those of us looking for measured responses to an obviously complicated issue, these angry Valkyrie cries, all the more shrill for their heavy reliance on anecdotal “evidence,” just turn us off.

I read Puglisi. I read Wegner, who endorsed Puglisi’s screed. And then I wanted to lock my door, dump half the RSS feeds from my reader, and work harder at my job.

Can we elevate the rhetoric around here, or is this how it’s going to be?

[via Wegner, which, thanks, brah.]

Update: The All Stars of education reform are mixing it up in the comments. Chris Lehmann, Eastern Conference MVP opens with:

What NCLB has done is create a deficit model with what I believe to be very faulty metrics where it’s very hard for hard working teachers to feel good about anything they do. It’s increased the amount distrust the public has in education, and it’s set up a series of punishments that would do little (at best) to improve education for the students in “failing” schools. In other words, the beatings will continue until morale improves.

TMAO, Western Conference champ and reluctant icon, plays back with:

… the legislation put labels on a pre-existing situation and did so in a way that is (arguably) rigid and binary, but nonetheless accurate. You mention deficit models, but the only one worth discussing is the deficit in instruction that poor kids, Black, Latino, SE Asian receive. That’s a deficit that exists independent of NCLB.

Both comments are well worth reading in their entirety.

Update II:

Blog-retiree Lori Jablonski and TMAO exchange words on low-income school conditions pre- and post-NCLB in the comments (both speaking from experience) and the mgmt. hastens to remind both contributors that the level of insight and articulation from outside parties must never exceed that of the mgmt.

Both Lori and Chris Lehmann drop activism primers that are supremely useful for this excited blogger who’s (already) tired of just blogging.

21 Responses to “Biggie Smalls”

  1. on 25 Jan 2007 at 7:06 pmGraham Wegner

    Hey, it’s all about point of view. You read a rabid polemic where I hear passion and frustration. Granted, I’m a fair bit removed from your reality of NCLB (like, half a world away) but I’m worried about politicians’ simple answers to complex issues in education, regardless of country. Sarah herself admitted that it was a rant, but it struck a chord with me when I read Marg O’Connell’s within the same 5 minute time frame. It’s not my style (usually), it’s probably not yours but it is Sarah’s. I just liked it – you’re within your rights to object to it.

  2. on 25 Jan 2007 at 8:24 pmChris Lehmann

    Dan,

    I think you’re a little harsh on Sarah here. There’s a lot of frustration today from teachers both young and old. Here in Philadelphia where Grade 3-8 students are given city-wide benchmark multiple choice exams in English, Math and Science every six weeks and high school students get those tests four times a year all in the name of aligning instruction to prepare for the PSSAs, there’s a lot of frustration over the amount of time we spend on testing, and there’s a louder and louder chorus asking “What have we lost?”

    There’s a lot of questioning about the validity of the tests… the fiscal costs of all this outside assessment… and what companies are benefiting from all this this assessment. And those questions need to be asked.

    All of this is done because NCLB is a test-based system, and the tests are what is measured, and what is measured is what is taught. And yes, I am more cynical than you, and I would urge you to question the creeping influence of the corporations in public education. I think if Eisenhower were alive today, he might just caution us to “beware the education-industrial complex.” (And I’m finding that reading “Education and the Cult of Efficiency” is a brilliant read on this topic, it was written in 1962 and it details the period between 1900-1930, looking at how Taylor’s ideas of Scientific Management moved from business to education and the effect that had on our schools.)

    I’m 35 years old, and I’ve only been in education for 11 years, and there have been plenty of times when those older than I am have suggested that my youth meant that I didn’t know what I was talking about, and certainly, I’ve railed against those folks too. But I also have learned to listen to the folks who have been in the game long enough to realize that I still have to listen.

    This job gets easier in some ways, and it gets harder. When I was 25, I could pull 70 and 80 hour weeks, and I didn’t mind getting in at 6:30 am and leaving at 6:30 pm. And I could go to the coffee shops and grade for hours on the weekends. Then I found that I didn’t have the stamina I used to have. Then I had kids, and I found that 60-65 hours a week was about all I really could spend working, and that I had to find a way for that to be enough. And I read your words, and I think about the teacher I was and how impatient I was toward any teacher who didn’t view the job as a calling the way I did (and still do.)

    Saying that teachers are underpaid and overworked is a cliche, but it’s important to say in this context — we don’t have enough people in this country who are willing to view this job as a calling — so there has to be some ability to feel good about what we do. Those of us in urban classrooms face every shortage and frustration out there, you know them as well as I do. What keeps many good — even great — teachers coming back is the ability to feel good about their jobs, themselves, their kids. What NCLB has done is create a deficit model with what I believe to be very faulty metrics where it’s very hard for hard working teachers to feel good about anything they do. It’s increased the amount distrust the public has in education, and it’s set up a series of punishments that would do little (at best) to improve education for the students in “failing” schools. In other words, the beatings will continue until morale improves.

    I believe we need to reform education — as I hope you know from everything I write. And I have no tolerance for teachers who believe that this is a 10 month a year, 40 hour a week job. And I’ve seen some teachers who need to leave the profession now. And I am as mad as you at any organization that would protect bad teachers.

    But I’ve also seen teachers who did everything they could in near impossible situations only to be told that their kids couldn’t pass the test. And I’ve known brilliant kids who were powerful readers and writers score a 62 on a NY State Regents test, and be told they weren’t “proficient” enough to graduate, despite four years of hard evidence to the contrary.

    Sometimes, you need to rage a bit. I’ve done often enough. Sometimes, that’s what gives you the strength and energy to go back in the next day.

  3. on 26 Jan 2007 at 1:03 amdan

    I don’t begrudge anybody their rage or frustration at what is, at times, an outrageous and frustrating job. I begrudge Sarah (who, to be fair, is only a proxy punching bag for a larger group of teachers) her destructive, vitriolic, and uninspiring expression of that outrage. Sarah is punching holes in walls, rallying a pitchfork mafia around herself, and alienating the rest of us.

    But shifting focus more generally:

    I’ve spent the last month reading educators and the ones that frustrate me far beyond any others aren’t those who mumble and slur angry epithets about disenfranchisement or their powerlessness under NCLB. It makes for tedious reading, but I’m all for the occasional self-administered blog-o-therapy.

    What just grates on me are teachers who suggest that they are above accountability. Most cite their dubious status as “artists” as reason for their employers to keep their noses out of their classrooms. (Sarah did in the paragraph I cited above.)

    And help me here, Chris, because lately I can’t help but get furious about such a presumption. This job is art, somehow. I recognize that. But we are not that freelance artist who can produce great work when the muses are generous and then release them to great public acclaim, our benefactors then glad they didn’t interfere with our artistic process.

    We are that contracted screenwriter who owes a script by next Friday, which had better be both great and on time.

    We are the basketball player who elevates skill to art by way of long, long nights of practice, and, when sportscasters harangue us for a terrible game, we can’t hide behind some self-nominated status as an “artist.”

    Stats matter, I guess is what I’m trying to say. Evaluation and assessment matter. I just don’t see what makes us so special and exempt as teachers, and that quote there is from the cocky new kid.

    So after this month of reading, reflecting, and writing, I’ve got a line in the sand I can draw: as a teacher, do you reject assessment measures for teachers outright?

    If the answer is no, then do you endorse assessment measures for teachers?

    And if the answer is yes, then do you endorse assessment measures, just not those of NCLB?

    If we’re all still together by that last question, then I’m a really happy teacher.

    Because there, even I can agree that NCLB needs a lot of help. In your last several paragraphs, you raise some really shameful, even common, I’ll allow, incidences of standardized testing run crazy. But to my eye, they are arguments for assessment reform not assessment extinction.

    Even if I haven’t experienced the same injustices that you have, even if I don’t agree with all of what you believe on assessment, Chris, I’m really grateful for and appreciative of writers like you and Chris Sessums and Todd Seal who go about what they believe with insight, generosity, earnestness, deference to the complexities of this particular issue, and proofreading.

    I’m in such a weird spot right now. It’s been five days since TMAO last posted so it feels like I’m holding down this particular fort on my lonesome. It’s easy for me to overcompensate and become really short with gals like Sarah. It’s good to have you three writers out there to look to and reassure myself that even if we aren’t all on the same path, we’ve all got a similar destination in mind.

  4. on 26 Jan 2007 at 8:55 amChris Lehmann

    I agree that we, as educators, have to be held accountable for the work we do. At SLA, we have a standard rubric, and we examine those benchmark project rubrics *and* our grades *and* our units all the time. I think the days of the close the door to your classroom and shut out the world need to end, and not because of NCLB, but because I believe deeply in collaboration.

    I am commenting to you right now while I’m in a principal’s staff meeting, and Kaplan is presenting to us about how to use “Understanding by Design” to teach kids essential understandings of test taking strategies. It’s a bastardization of UbD if I’ve ever heard one. And Kaplan — KAPLAN — is presenting to us about NCLB and how we are to deal with the political reality we live in. Offended? Yep, you bet I am. And because I brought my laptop, and I’m able to write to you, it means I’ve only raised my hand to challenge this speaker four times instead of forty-seven.

    I want authentic assessment. I want students — and schools — to be judged by the work of their own head and heart and hands. I’m fine with some very basic state testing to insure inter-rater reliability. I just don’t think we should make these tests the end all and be all. Look at Nebraska, look at Vermont, look at Maine — there are states that are using NCLB in good ways.

    In the end, teaching is part art, craft and (eek) even a little science. And every teacher can keep getting better, keep learning, keep listening. And yes, we need to keep working hard for our kids, but we also need to learn how to listen to ourselves, to our colleagues, to our kids… and not assume that a test tells us *more* than what we can see over time, in our classrooms every day.

  5. on 26 Jan 2007 at 11:41 amdan

    You’ve probably long since escaped that principals’ meeting, Chris, but if you get a second to reply, I need to know how I — me — can improve test validity, ensure fiscal responsibility, and make standardized testing more meaningful.

    I guess that I’m asking — for the first time in my life, I think — how to be an activist.

    The alternative — trawling, hooking, and flaying bloggers — has been yielding diminishing returns over time. Where do I start?

  6. on 26 Jan 2007 at 1:58 pmTMAO

    Chris wrote: “What NCLB has done is create a deficit model with what I believe to be very faulty metrics where it’s very hard for hard working teachers to feel good about anything they do. It’s increased the amount distrust the public has in education, and it’s set up a series of punishments that would do little (at best) to improve education for the students in “failing” schools. In other words, the beatings will continue until morale improves. ”

    Chris, I struggle with statements such as these. I do so because shit was very, very bad before NCLB, and that piece of legislature did not create those conditions of perpetual, generational, near-permanent not-learning. Rather, the legislation put labels on a pre-existing situation and did so in a way that is (arguably) rigid and binary, but nonetheless accurate. You mention deficit models, but the only one worth discussing is the deficit in instruction that poor kids, Black, Latino, SE Asian receive. That’s a deficit that exists independent of NCLB.

    All of the negative by products that are laid on the doorstep of this bill are not the results of provisions therein, but rather actions taken by schools and districts to improve student achievement (or performance, if you think the test are invalid). Any aspersions we choose to cast at schools taking away electives, lengthening the school day, including test prep, and so forth, must be cast at the actual individuals making those choices; they are not the only choices to be made.

    There’s much to be said, but I’ll limit it to this: If I were a parent of kids attending one those oft-discussed under-performing, under-resourced schools I’d be down on my knees thanking God this piece of law exists. Because of it, people actually give a shit whether my kid learns and how much of that learning he acquires. People are aware of him, and he will not remain an ignored data point. There is a light shown into those schools, and even if it is occasionally harsh and unyielding, we should always choose the light.

  7. on 27 Jan 2007 at 3:41 pmLori Jablonski

    Tmao wrote: “…shit was very, very bad before NCLB, and that piece of legislature did not create those conditions of perpetual, generational, near-permanent not-learning. Rather, the legislation put labels on a pre-existing situation and did so in a way that is (arguably) rigid and binary, but nonetheless accurate.”

    Of course things were bad for poor kids and poor schools pre-NCLB, Chris certainly was making no claims otherwise about that point. I’ve read no real evidence that things are substantively better since NCLB — Ms. Spellings and the President’s recent claims about 4th grade reading scores included. There are numerous factors—many within the purview of public schools and many more existing well outside the schoolhouse door– that have created and sustained “those conditions of perpetual, generational, near-permanent not-learning.” NCLB’s “rigid and binary” labels reflect and encourage reductive thinking that ultimately succeeds only in fostering a deeper disconnect between what happens in our classrooms, current political and social conditions and our role as citizens who should be demanding accountability from our political leaders—not merely half-listening and nodding along as they demand greater accountability from middle school English teachers.

    “All of the negative by products that are laid on the doorstep of this bill are not the results of provisions therein, but rather actions taken by schools and districts to improve student achievement (or performance, if you think the test are invalid). Any aspersions we choose to cast at schools taking away electives, lengthening the school day, including test prep, and so forth, must be cast at the actual individuals making those choices; they are not the only choices to be made.”

    I just read last month’s “Vanity Fair” piece by David Rose, in which the neocon architects of the Iraq invasion try mightily to distance themselves from the debacle now before us by disclaiming the Bush Administration’s implementation of the war, not the idea itself—that Iraq was a “doable do.” Rose writes that “if not for the administration’s incompetence, they say, Saddam’s tyranny could have been replaced with something not only better, but also more secure.” And from neocon Kenneth Adelman: “The policy can be absolutely right, and noble, beneficial, but if you can’t execute, it’s useless, just useless.”

    Adelman and his neocon buddies are correct on one hand, and horrifyingly and self-servingly wrong on the other. Policy alone is nothing without the capacity to implement. But sometimes, the policy itself is fundamentally flawed AND grossly mismanaged at the top AND poorly implemented down the line (thanks in large measure to signals from the incompetents at the top).

    Let me make clear, I’m in no way equating NCLB with the devastation of Iraq (God knows how we steer ourselves out of the hell we created in Iraq.) But rather suggesting that in both cases it is not merely the implementation, but the plan itself. Actually, to be quite honest, in the case of NCLB, I’m willing to debate that point. That’s why it’s so painful to read quotes such as the one below:

    “If I were a parent of kids attending one those oft-discussed under-performing, under-resourced schools I’d be down on my knees thanking God this piece of law exists. Because of it, people actually give a shit whether my kid learns and how much of that learning he acquires.”

    Please. You can’t mean that pre-NCLB teachers, parent councils, principals, school boards, etc. really didn’t care whether poor kids learned. You certainly didn’t mean to demean all teachers and staff who worked in poor schools pre-NCLB. Did you? Did you mean politicians? Activists? Because I can think of many who spent/have spent a good part of their careers sweating over these issues and shining the light into all kinds of dark, scary corners, long before our president said something about “the soft bigotry of low expectations.” (The same president seemed to have no expectations of his own administration when New Orleans was drowning before our eyes.) This is precisely the type of hyperbole—and reductive thinking—that drives me crazy about the current state of political discussion in this country generally (those who “question the president’s Iraq strategy embolden the enemy”). It’s manipulative language that is effective only in quashing debate. Whether intended or not, it suggests that those who have serious issues with NCLB just don’t “give a shit” about poor kids in poor schools. (Ohhhh, that’s not me—I do give a shit, I do!— ohhhh, maybe I should just be quiet. I really do care. I do! I’m just going to shut up now.) Poppycock!

    And this brings me to Dan’s questions to Chris. Sorry for pouncing. I know you didn’t ask me, but…

    Just like anything else in the public realm, if you want to affect testing, fiscal responsibility, etc., in other words ed policy, you get involved. It is time consuming and frustrating and only sometimes effective. But you must. Start with your school site council, union, school board. Read stuff. Network. Testify. Write letters. Talk to other teachers, even older ones (you might even discover that many are actually good at their jobs and care as much as you do). Dare to talk to those who are not teachers about what you do and what would make it better. Work to get smart, decent people elected to office at all levels of government. There are no shortcuts. Be a citizen.

  8. on 27 Jan 2007 at 5:02 pmTMAO

    Hi Lori,

    Do I mean to imply that pre-NCLB folks didn’t care, and that post- they do? No. I think the ones who didn’t care still don’t; it’s just harder for them to hide it.

    Caring, of course, is a troublesome word, one I’ve written about on my own site quite a lot. When I use it I mean, taking the time/ initiative to determine what needs to happen for kids to learn, and making it happen. Many profess to care, with much hand-wringing and heart-bleeding, and maybe that level of caring is superior to mine, but I’m not sure it helps kids learn to read. My experiences working with a group of educators who care along these lines, taking the worst middle school in our chunk of California and transforming it into a model of how middle schools with ELLs should function confirms that while this is by no means easy, it is also nowhere near as impossible as the disastrous trends of, let’s be honest, failure would seem to suggest.

    And things are very often rigid and binary. Whether my students have the level of English fluency to test into classes colleges accept for credit is binary. Whether these kids can fill out job applications, pass exit exams, and stay out of jail is binary. Are schools the only factor affecting these outcomes? Of course not, and we’ve discussed where the lines should be drawn before. What I struggled with in Chris’s statments is the idea that absent NCLB rhetoric these conditions, these deficits would somehow be less, or not as damaging, or prevalent. I think we can agree that is false, and it makes me go back to the type of teacher rhetoric that turns my stomach, the kind about how hard it is to hear that the kids didn’t perform well, that your school is failing or in need of improvement, that your efforts were insufficient. As hard as it is to hear that, how much harder, how completely and debilitatingly harder is it be a kid with no skills?

    Are there additional nuances and levels to these issues? No doubt, and we should never shrink from exploring them in all necessary depth. We should likewise not lose sight of the fact one can perform a reduction that is likewise valid.

    I never try to demean anyone Lori, but I likewise struggle to accept the culture of abdication that exists among my peers. Take, for example, my masters class from today, where groups were asked to list three reasons for the achievement gap. I heard 17 reasons that were under the control of teachers/ schools/ districts. I heard 47 that were about money/ poverty/ ELL/ NCLB. NCLB responsible for the achivement gap? My God, Lori, my God.

    These are the people who will lead the schools in my community for the next 25 years.

  9. on 28 Jan 2007 at 1:48 amdan

    c/o Chris Lehmann who angered the comment gods.

    Dan — Gawd, how to be an activist? I’d argue you are already. The work you’re doing in your class to make sure that it’s not the state test that measures your work, but the hard work you and your kids do every day, is what is valued. Moreover, you’ve taught them that process, that the day to day work is what is
    important.

    And you’ve taken the next step, you’re teaching your colleagues (and now colleagues don’t just mean the ones in your schools.) But the next step is really a mind set… don’t ever believe people when they say, “Well, that’s just the reality we live in.” or “NCLB is here to stay” or “it’s always been that way…” Defy them. Tell them that you believe change is possible, and then work like hell for change.

    I don’t know if I know how to be an activist, really. I just stay active. And I follow the money. In September 2003, the NYC DoE agreed to pay $3,300,000 to Princeton Review to implement a city-wide reading and math standardized test.

    And for whatever reasons, documents like this one: make me question the motivations of the testing companies. We’ve created a huge market for them with all this new testing data.

    And TMAO — I agree that we’ve got huge problems in our cities, teaching the kids that need it most, but as the former state ed commissioner of NY, Tom Sobol, has said, “You don’t fatten the pig by weighing it.” (For the speech that contained that remark, read this.

    Maybe NCLB has made the rest of the country look at our cities, but sadly, I think a lot of what it has done is create a “blame the teacher” model. *IF* NCLB created situations where we addressed the parental meritocracy that is American education (that is — if your parents are wealthy, you go to schools that are well-funded), I’d be the first person to stand in line and cheer. NCLB points out what folks in our cities know, our city schools need help. Among my many issues with NCLB is this: It doesn’t provide it.

    I’d argue that child you speak of is still an ignored data point. Worse, he’s now taught to the test, and taught in ways that raise a score while keeping very much in question whether or not it does anything more than that.

    If NCLB has done anything, it has raised the issue of American education to the forefront of our consciousness. And I’ll even admit that that is a good thing, but it has done so in a way that denigrates the profession of teaching. It has done so in a way that we now say teachers “deliver instruction” rather than
    “teach.” It has made Princeton Review, Kaplan and ETS our masters rather than Dewey and Friere and hooks and Noddings and Sergiovanni.

    Let’s keep the debate going, let’s keep demanding better schools, but let’s find ways for the conversation to be richer, deeper and more productive than the conversations that NCLB provides.

  10. […] So I’ve been reading Dan Meyer’s blog. I suggest you do the same. Start with these two posts, then come back here. […]

  11. on 28 Jan 2007 at 7:40 amEric Hoefler

    Is it lame to just say “I agree” in a blog comment? If so, then I’m lame. I agree completely with Chris Lehmann’s last comment and can’t think of a way to say it better.

  12. on 28 Jan 2007 at 10:48 amTodd

    Me, too. Chris’s comment was right on. Oh, and I guess I’m lame.

  13. on 28 Jan 2007 at 11:43 amLori Jablonski

    Chris is so good.

    NCLB has done nothing to help elevate the teaching profession. Agree. “Delivering instruction” (what a wonderful observation) has become a common term in our district, especially at evaluation time. Certainly good teachers should be able to ignore this stuff, but how we talk about what we do is important. However, I’m not sure NCLB has really pushed education or the conditions of children in American cities to the forefront of the American consciousness. If anything, public education policy has been further marginalized as it has branded and packaged with the same slick slogans (“No Child Left Behind” – a bit Orwellian, really) that have reduced so many other important issues into subliminal assurances that things are handled (‘Mission Accomplished,” “Plan for Victory,” “Energy Security”). The State of the Union speech had one innocuous throwaway paragraph on education. NBC confused Transportation Secretary Peters with Education Secretary Spellings – and we’re to think education reform is a real priority in the Beltway? Poll after poll shows little public understanding of the law. Few in the teaching profession have any real knowledge of it, either, something Dan our sponsor here is quite right to highlight. But that’s a fundamental problem with both the law itself and the implementation at all levels. As education policy and funding is become federalized, schools and teaching and public involvement are still very localized endeavors. For much of our history our local schools have been where public life begins in this nation. As the feds assume more and more control, we must try to understand and confront the implications of this shift. If not, we create a huge void into which the privateers will swoop: when it becomes mostly about influence peddling at the top and distancing the public from how and where decisions are made, the corporate types will always prevail.

    TMAO, you know I’m a huge fan—your writing is perceptive and important to me and my teaching. The successes your school has achieved are due in large measure to what has always worked both pre-NCLB and today: competent, committed, focused leaders who work hand-in-hand with their staff to establish a sense of mission and purpose for the entire school; talented teachers and support staff who work well together and are recognized, supported and appreciated by their leadership; creativity and people willing to take risks; teachers who really love to teach and who believe that what they do is transformative. Your school as it is operating today would be successful with or without the looming cudgel of API/AYP, although indeed those might be things that work to motivate and focus. Schools that operate like yours does now have always been successful, even with large numbers of ELL and poor kids. They have also been all too rare. NCLB has done nothing to change that–they are still all too rare, even in your own district.

    That said, I’m a standards-kind-of-gal. Standards keep my teaching focused. They give me something to measure my teaching against. They have never sapped my creativity. I also love tests and assessment. I give them quite often…all kinds of tests: multiple-choice, free write, project-based, holistic. Assessment and accountability for what I do in my classroom doesn’t scare me in the least, in fact, I agree with Dan it is essential component of my professional competency.

    But let’s also look at the reality of what happens in schools all over California as they prepare for the state standards tests and the exit exam. With the requirement that 95% of enrolled students be tested, charters start dumping kids for any number of reasons and don’t really have to tell anyone why. Publics dump kids who have been gone for 45 days. Extrapolating from what happens in my district, these are not small numbers of kids, but in a state that in ten years of trying still hasn’t figured out how to track students as they move from school to school, district to district, or drop-out altogether, we have no real idea how many kids are being left behind.

    This is why I’m not as alarmed as you, TMAO, by the number of folks in your master’s class who cited poverty as a reason for the achievement gap (NCLB is another matter). They’re not wrong. But what we do from there is the rub. Effective school and district leaders, in my estimation, need to recognize what poverty means in terms of the services and programs schools need to offer, the funding decisions schools and districts need to make and the type of teachers and staff they need to hire. They also need to be willing to lobby at higher levels to help frame the political discussion and really begin to affect public discourse. The students at my school who disappear are almost all in very dire straits—my best teaching and the best teaching of my very good colleagues (I know only a few teachers who have embraced a culture of abdication) are sometimes still not enough to keep them coming to school on a consistent basis.

    I’ll end this too long comment with Chris’ quote: “Let’s keep the debate going, let’s keep demanding better schools, but let’s find ways for the conversation to be richer, deeper and more productive than the conversations that NCLB provides.”

    Wow Dan great blog. Thanks so much.

  14. on 29 Jan 2007 at 9:38 amTMAO

    Hi Lori,

    I don’t really disagree with anything here, except to say that it is not poverty that causes low achievement. It is our response to the conditions found within poverty that do so. This is not symantics of nit-picking or Iraq-style reality evasion. It’s everything. Every last bit of everything we do resides in our responses to the challenges and obstacles that are erected. Folks who list poverty first, and not the insufficient response, are refusing to get in the game and blaming the shape of the field.

    Hi Chris,

    You seem to want NCLB to be more than it is or was intended to be (either under its Clinton or Bush incarnation). NCLB says test. Test everybody. Report what happened. If you under-taught, expect people to point it out. You will have many years to improve. Do so.

    Do you want federal laws that provide the roadmap for doing better?

    As for teaching to the test, with all of this going on, you’d really think we’d be doing better on those darn tests. But we aren’t. We’re still getting our butts handed to us on a yearly basis. If we can’t even teach to the test right, how can we demand the freedom and autonomy to teach whatever we want?

  15. on 29 Jan 2007 at 11:13 amJeff

    Hey, TMAO,

    If we can’t even teach to the test right, how can we demand the freedom and autonomy to teach whatever we want?

    I don’t know about you, but when I give an assessment and a huge number of my students fail, I tend to try and figure out what went wrong with the assessment. My first instinct is that I somehow tested the students on something that they weren’t prepared to answer based on my teaching, and I base my teaching on my assessment of my students’ needs. So it becomes a question of Did I assess crucial knowledge in a way that makes sense with the ways in which that knowledge was imparted/arrived at?

    If, on the other hand, I give an assessment at which most of my students succeed (and success can be interpreted in many ways), I feel as though I have given a real assessment of what they know. And I now know what they know, what they still need to learn or discover, and how quickly we can move on.

    If “teaching to the test” isn’t helping more students pass the test, and thus show that more teachers and schools are doing their jobs, and if so many teachers are really trying to teach to the test, I wonder if that means these tests can’t be taught to.

  16. on 29 Jan 2007 at 12:50 pmTMAO

    Hi Jeff,

    So…

    Student success = true assessment measure

    Student failure = flawed assessment measure

    That’s not a dichotomy I can accept.

  17. on 29 Jan 2007 at 6:33 pmLori Jablonski

    Hi TMAO,

    Yes, we do agree. Poverty is the mountain. There are others too, of course, but poverty is probably the most profound. Can we get across that mountain? Of course. But we have to at least acknowledge quite forthrightly that it’s there. We are in quite a state of denial about this at this time in our history …and there are many deniers who have fashioned themselves as prominent ed policy experts.

    That’s why I do think it probably is nitpicking for you to bemoan the fact that your colleagues want to “list poverty first, but not the insufficient response.” (I’m having a hard time understanding where you’ve encountered the culture of abdication you talk about. It certainly can’t be prevalent at your school. Have you taught elsewhere and found it so? If that’s the case, you were wise to get out. Your masters class? I’m asking not be a smart ass, but because I really don’t find this to be a prevalent trait among the teachers I’ve encountered in my still rather young career.)

    Do folks really want to avoid discussing insufficent responses? Maybe they just don’t know how to have this discussion. Are you simply assuming abdication on their part because you don’t like their responses to what might be a rather lame assignment in your masters class (and what is almost always the lame and shallow way we discuss public policy in this nation at this point in our history). Why not ask this: Yes, poverty is a major obstacle. Now, how can we as teachers and aspiring administrators best respond to the circumstances? Don’t bemoan. Speak plainly and steer the discussion. We so very rarely ask each other questions like this–whether it’s about education or energy or much else. Folks working in schools that don’t resemble yours probably don’t get much of a chance Most of our leaders certainly don’t challenge us. As a result, we all probably need a little practice and sense of good faith.

  18. on 30 Jan 2007 at 5:00 amEric Hoefler

    Jeff, I’m also worried about “norming” a test to student success, though the other side of the argument is troublesome, too. And that’s the problem with most cases like this: the issue is complex and nuanced, and requires a complex and nuanced approach. It cannot be solved by bouncing back and forth between the extremes, nor by easily-digested political sound bites. In general, though, the public doesn’t want to be bothered by nuance and complexity (as Lori is suggesting).

    In response to TMAO’s quote: “NCLB says test. Test everybody. Report what happened. If you under-taught, expect people to point it out. You will have many years to improve. Do so.”

    The issue is the validity of the test, not whether or not we are testing. (I think that’s what Jeff is wrestling with.) The “one test fits all” approach is infuriatingly simple-minded. I agree with “assess; assess everybody; report; improve,” as long as the MULTIPLE modes of assessment are valid in terms of what’s being assessed.

    The larger issue behind this, which probably requires a different conversation, is our (national) definition of the purpose of education. I think I see it shifting (or at least a need for a shift), but the current system as it’s generally enacted is not shifting. What do we think education is about? What are its goals? What should it be preparing students to do? Only after we have a clear, united answer can we even begin to decide on the best way to evaluate those goals.

  19. on 03 Feb 2007 at 10:01 amBorderland » On Blogging Good

    […] Meanwhile, I drafted Biggie Smalls (a title which embarrasses me more the more grossly it’s misinterpreted), with each revision attempting to excise the florid, incendiery prose that made Sarah’s rant such a disappointment to read. Your reading of my post indicates that I want to “silence opposing points of view,” a reading which is selective at best. […]

  20. on 05 Feb 2007 at 12:28 amMarco Polo

    Two quick comments: I thought Dan’s comments on Sarah’s blog entry were perhaps a little rude, but his questions were valid and deserved an answer. Yet, as Dan has reiterated his questions several times over several blog entries and again in comments, it seems he has yet to receive a satisfactory response.

    In terms of ideology or teaching philosophy, I think I’m in the opposing camp, rather than Dan’s, but what concerns me is that the two camps seem to have so much trouble talking to each other. It’s like ships passing in the night.

    On the other hand, I think Dan is a little naive, and needs a little perspective. There are such things as schemes that are intended to SOUND like they are solving the problems, while actually being designed to EXACERBATE them. I suspect that many who are sceptical of NCLB are those who have been around a while and seen things like this (yet another “back to basics” campaign) come and go so often that they can see the political machinations behind them.

    I wouldn’t assume that everyone (or anyone) who has reservations about testing is a lazy bum who doesn’t care about their students and doesn’t want to be held accountable. They may just know something that you don’t. The whole debate may be about more issues than you think it is. Keep an open mind, be cool, and don’t be an asshole.

  21. […] Not everyone appreciates his style and he can rub some readers up the wrong way – I think he laid some sarcasm on me way back but as I’m half a generation older and a half globe away from his particular brand […]