Posts

Comments

Get Posts by E-mail

Wrongheaded Presuppositions

Dean Shareski:

Stop the assumption that reading and writing and math are the most important things everyone needs to learn. Anyone who suggests reading is more important than art scares me.

Comments like these, pitched along the Ken Robinson wavelength, do nothing to rid me of (what I’m positive is) my wrongheaded presupposition that the ed-tech evangelists, writ large in the blogosphere, have a very loose grip on the challenges facing low-achieving populations and their teachers, though that prevents none of them from adopting an authoritative stance. My bias, which I have never explicitly disclosed in two years blogging but which I suspect has been evident from the start, is that none of them has any idea how difficult it is to do what I do. I’m certain this bias is false, unmitigated self-absorption, but the comments section at Ideas and Thoughts does little to disabuse me.

44 Responses to “Wrongheaded Presuppositions”

  1. on 02 Dec 2008 at 8:47 amDean Shareski

    I’ll get of the way here quickly but I would like to be clear on a couple of points.

    First, me writing this initially was borne out of several recent visits to our poorest schools filled with students with high needs. So it’s not about privileged kids but I think all kids.

    Second, I have a hard time attributed these perspectives to “ed-tech evangelists”. To me, the discussion has very little to do with technology. I’ve had many similar discussion with people who are far removed from technology. I don’t see that connection.

    Third, I have no doubt what you do is great way. Why else would I spend time here? It’s not as much about teachers to me but attitudes that presume everyone should learn the same things at the same time and then be measured according to those narrow parameters using questionable methods and then telling teachers and schools to “shape up and stop focusing on creativity”.

    That scares me.

    As I said, I’ll get out the way now.

  2. on 02 Dec 2008 at 8:51 amCarl Anderson

    It would be interesting to see what professional backgrounds the edtech evangelists in the blogosphere have. I for one am fairly new to this scene and have been out of the classroom for only a little bit over a year now but before becoming a technology integration specialist I was an art teacher for 8 years, most of which were spent serving low income diverse populations including two years in an alternative high school where I taught pretty much all subjects including math and reading at times. I don’t think anyone in Dean Shareski’s comment stream was trying to diminish the need for or value of math or reading or try to belittle how difficult it is to teach at-risk students. What is at the heart of this comment stream is motivation. Schools are constantly trimming the “fat” in an attempt to deal with diminishing budgets and rising costs. Too often this “fat” that gets cut is what provides students with more natural intrinsic reasons to learn or even to come to school.

  3. on 02 Dec 2008 at 11:18 amPepper

    “I mean teachers that have time, expertise and passion to help them function as human beings, never mind reading.”

    This is the one I can’t get past. How exactly do you function in a literate world if you can’t read? I submit from my point of view (my classroom) that many of my student’s problems in 8th grade stem from the fact that they can barely read at a 3rd grade level. Reading is not optional but fundamental. I am all for art appreciation and self-expression, but those do not happen without literacy.

  4. on 02 Dec 2008 at 11:29 amCarl Anderson

    I am all for literacy but it doesn’t happen without the arts.

  5. on 02 Dec 2008 at 12:06 pmdan

    You’ll have to elaborate, Carl. You pitched this one over at Dean’s and it makes just as little sense to me here. Such a statement, absent elaboration, seems romantic but of little functional use to literacy education. It seems blithely unaware of all the ways people employ literacy that have nothing to do with art.

    Dean, please find me an administrator or a politican or even a blogger anywhere who has told a school to “shape up and stop focusing on creativity.”

  6. on 02 Dec 2008 at 12:21 pmJeff

    Seems to me that we need to actually figure out what “literacy,” “accountability,” and “learning” actually mean before we can have this conversation be anything more than just attacks on straw men.

    If reading/literacy instruction–and I write this as an English teacher who teaches some extraordinarily at-risk (for reasons you probably haven’t thought of) kids–is just about teaching kids how to read for information, like how to follow instructions or read a memo, then those are the kinds of texts we need to be giving kids. But if literacy is meant to be a toolkit for interpreting works of art–books, poems, essays, films, photographs, etc–then Michelle Rhee’s statement:

    “I’m like, ‘You know what? I don’t give a crap.’ Don’t get me wrong. Creativity is good and whatever. But if the children don’t know how to read, I don’t care how creative you are. You’re not doing your job.”

    is highly troubling.

  7. on 02 Dec 2008 at 12:23 pmJeff

    And also, you know what? The fact that these issues are even being discussed on a math teacher’s blog suggests that creativity, the arts, literacy, math, and what-have-you are far more tightly connected than I, and probably you, previously thought.

  8. on 02 Dec 2008 at 12:25 pmTom Hoffman

    Once we find ourselves in an “arts vs. reading” argument, you know the discourse is just way off course. It is like arguing meat vs potatoes.

  9. on 02 Dec 2008 at 12:33 pmCarl Anderson

    Dan, your request for elaboration opens a whole new can of worms and fodder for an even larger debate. It really depends on how you define art. I use that term broadly and can encompass many things. Of course there are the generally assumed definition of the term such as paintings, drawings, sculptures, film, photography, music, etc. but art is not simply a category. To be taken broadly art is really something that touches on all aspects of human thought. It informs possibly more of our everyday decisions than does the written word alone. Art really is about human interpretation and manipulation of the world around us including both the real such as mentioned above and abstract such as thought itself. On a more concrete level creative writing and literature are both considered part of the arts and are easily seen as promoting literacy but the high stakes testing environment places more emphasis on grammar and mechanics than content. While great teachers know that teaching to the test is counter productive not all teachers are great. The result is the average teacher and the average school teaching to the test which means more time on grammar and mechanics and less time on the aspects of reading that provide motivation for students to learn. The arts provide this motivation whether it is in literature, creative writing, drawing and painting, music, or computer programming (which many programmers do consider an art form). To become literate you have to know how to read and how to write. To learn how to read you have to have something you find worthwhile to write about and to learn to write you have to have something personally meaningful to write about. Art provides this. List some forms of writing that don’t rely on art in some sense either for it’s production or its consumption. I am sure I can either find some way that form of writing relies on art or I debunk it as being either ineffective or inappropriate for motivating students to learn how to read.

    This aside, doesn’t eve take into account the calls from business and industry for a creative class of workers as famously described by Daniel Pink.

  10. on 02 Dec 2008 at 2:14 pmMichael

    I am no expert in this area. But what I do know that what makes me successful as a Math Teacher is that 1) I can read and write in a variety of areas 2) I can find/lookup information about different topics, evaluate their relevance and factual nature 3) I can use this new knowlege by applying it into my life/career.

    From an wholisitc perspective of Education, it this not its ultimate goal? A person who not only has a diverse base of fundamental knowledge, but can find the knowledge they need in order to exend that base of knowlege. I think that is what each discipline in school tries, or should try to do.

    This brings us to the appropriate use of technology in the classroom . . .

  11. on 02 Dec 2008 at 3:20 pmJason Dyer

    Dan, I believe Dean was simply paraphrasing Rhee when he wrote “shape up and stop focusing on creativity”.

    The main presumption that bothers me about all these discussions is the assumption teaching is a zero-sum game. (I don’t know if Rhee assumes this, her comment could be read either way.) Lifting the standards in one area does not automatically reduce the standards in another. Creativity and rigor augment each other.

    If all your students did in geometry all year was fold origami, then you are doing something wrong.

    If all you did during the year was drill to the test, then you are doing something wrong.

    Neither teacher should be praised nor accepted.

    I don’t think “greatness” is required to get past either condition, just professionalism.

    (I incidentally also agree reading tests are a distortion of what should go on in an English class; with Math I don’t have as much a problem. I believe this is a problem with the tests rather than the very notion of assessment, however.)

  12. on 02 Dec 2008 at 3:43 pmrdsc

    It’s not either or, is it? Read, “or” appreciate Art – do Math “or” learn Dates – run Faster “or” Speak in Foreign Tongues. We rank our specialisms because we’re enthusiasts but we shouldn’t believe there’s verity in it. Not sure it’s got anything much to do with ed-tech – seems to have been going on since well before Plato.

  13. on 02 Dec 2008 at 6:38 pmwmchamberlain

    Boy, we opened up a can a worms with arts vs. literacty thing.

    On another note, it would be lovely to have a debate such as this on the purpose of education. See, I am a broken record!

  14. on 02 Dec 2008 at 7:34 pmGuy Fandango

    I guess one of the things that troubles me about those that criticize schools with an intense focus on reading and math is that I believe they are assuming that nothing about that school’s focus will change once students are reading at grade level and are proficient in basic computational strategies. I can’t say that all schools will change to always challenge students, but it’s also wrong to assume that strong school leaders and teachers that are aware of student needs won’t broaden the curriculum once the fundamentals are soundly shored up.

  15. on 02 Dec 2008 at 7:37 pmBrian

    Debating the merits of “arts” vs. “literacy” assumes that arts and literacy are on the same level, so to speak. This – not the statement that literacy is more important, or that art is more important – is what irks me.

    The danger of Rhee’s position is that it values literacy and numeracy as an end for education. That’s all we do. Read, write, arithmetic. That’s our goal, and that’s what we’ll measure.

    But they aren’t goals in their own right. Literacy is valuable insofar as it is applied to a further goal – for example the arts. It could also be applied to business, to politics, to publishing, to sports. It’s a skill that provides a means to an end.

    Without this purpose, why learn to read and write? Is there some intrinsic value in being able to put pen to paper? Should I spend my formative years in school so that I can sit alone and add numbers in my head?

    I don’t think so.

    There’s no sense, then, in teaching and testing the skill isolated from its purpose. Assess a student based on how he can apply those skills in an authentic way. Portfolio assessments could be much more rigorous and meaningful than a standardized test.

    There should be no direct competition between arts and literacy. The competition should be between arts, sciences, politics, what have you. The competition should be between the ends – the goals towards which the students are working.

  16. on 02 Dec 2008 at 7:47 pmTom Hoffman

    Is this better? http://www.publicschoolinsights.org/node/2274

  17. on 02 Dec 2008 at 8:14 pmChrisR

    Carl Anderson says:
    December 2nd, 2008 at 8:24 am
    If it were not for the arts what would we read or write about

    How about science- the marriage and application of reading, writing, AND math?

  18. on 02 Dec 2008 at 9:48 pmCarl Anderson

    @ChrisR
    Isn’t science an art? Tho art of science? Just listen to any of the TED talks done by today’s top scientists and it is apparent that science is indeed an art or at least the scientific method is an art form. I have trouble separating the two. When I was an art teacher I often found myself approaching the subject from a scientific perspective. Exploring chemistry principles to ceramic glaze making or photo development, exploring geometry in linear perspective or tessellations, exploring anatomy in figure drawing.

    @rdsc

    “It’s not either or, is it? Read, “or” appreciate Art – do Math “or” learn Dates – run Faster “or” Speak in Foreign Tongues.” Really? Let me ask you these questions: When a school has to funnel resources to math or reading due to performance on high stakes testing, where are those cuts made? Why then are there not standardized tests for art, foreign language, or running faster if they are all equal in this environment? In the past 10 years I have built three model art programs almost from scratch at three different schools only to see each one on the chopping block because of low math or reading scores. I saw enrollment in those schools dramatically decline after the loss of mine and other programs that focus on authentic application of learning from other subjects forcing subsequent cuts to be made in other departments as well in those schools. Who is left to make the decisions in those schools? The burned out math and reading teachers who don’t care about the test scores because they have long since attained tenure and their positions are ones that schools will never cut. What does edtech have to do with this? Well, generally not much but for me personally I would rather be teaching art right now than be a tech coordinator but there are no art teaching jobs to be found. Those programs are disappearing fast.

    @wmchamberlain
    I agree, lets have a conversation about the purpose of education. I can start us off, I posted about this Nov 21st in regard to David Warlick’s call for bloggers to write about his “Big Ideas for Education” project.

  19. on 03 Dec 2008 at 1:56 amKate

    The Time article about Michelle Rhee didn’t say to me “oh she hates art and wants us to drill math facts all day”. I much more took away the impression that – argue all you like about the nature of the assessments – but she’s going to decide whether or not her teachers are getting the job done. And if the kids can’t read, that definitely means they are not. I thought she was talking about the value of “creativity and love of learning” as qualities of teachers, not students.

    (I don’t happen to agree with her solution – “fire em all and let God sort em out”, or something along those lines, and replace them with some *hand waving* maaaaagical pool of more effective teachers. The Time article actually used the phrase “scorched earth”. I think that’s a cop out for the hard and necessary work that needs to be done fixing the horrific state of inservice professional development.)

  20. on 03 Dec 2008 at 8:01 amdan
    Isn’t science an art? Tho art of science? [..] When I was an art teacher I often found myself approaching the subject from a scientific perspective.

    No, and just because an artist occasionally employs science does not mean that one encapsulates the other, or that they are equivalent.

    We can very easily pull this debate out of the esoteric heights to which it is climbing with this “is art everywhere?” distraction by recognizing that art, as it is defined by our schools, is not a wide-reaching multi-disciplinary study. It is, for example, an hour of organized band practice daily, which makes it very easy for a school to determine the return on its investment. If its resources are better deployed teaching literacy to an illiterate student body, then fine. (Again, the usual caveat of engaging, rich literacy instruction applies. Let’s not re-ignite that straw man.)

  21. on 03 Dec 2008 at 9:56 amCarl Anderson

    @Dan
    “[A]rt, as it is defined by our schools, is not a wide-reaching multi-disciplinary study.”
    Huh? By far the most widely employed type of art program in our schools is Harry Broady’s “Discipline Based Art Education (DBAE).” DBAE by definition is interdisciplinary. Your statement, “It is, for example, an hour of organized band practice daily, which makes it very easy for a school to determine the return on its investment,” is troublesome to me because it does not reflect the philosophy put forth by the National Association of Art Educators nor employed in most of our nation’s schools. Your description sounds more like what is done in art class is the teacher simply giving the kids paper and crayons and saying “have at it.” This view is why so many arts programs are constantly cut from our schools. This view also directly addresses what Michelle Rhee means when she links creativity and “touchy-feely” in such a disdainful way. I see no straw man here. No one here is disputing the importance of literacy. On that point I think we all agree. It is the value of arts programs in our schools that is at issue here. When I say that literacy and the arts are interdependent and therefore equally important it does not dispute the importance of literacy. To illustrate my point another way, when I was in school the reason I woke up every morning and went was I looked forward to going to art, band, and creative writing classes. These classes added value to my life and provided me with motivation to learn in other subjects as well. Had they not existed I probably would have dropped out. Sure I would have been physically present due to parental influence but I would be physically present but absent. When we cut from our schools that which adds value to our student’s lives we see more and more students present but absent and it shows in our test scores. So yes, art is just as important as reading.

  22. on 03 Dec 2008 at 1:47 pmTom Hoffman

    Actually, this is the best response to Rhee: http://gothamschools.org/2008/11/18/geoff-canada-fixation-on-outcomes-will-hurt-poor-communities/

    “Canada said funders often ask him questions like, “You’ve got that chess program — how are the kids’ grades?” He said he thinks, “That’s what we pay the chess instructor for. When I send my kid to play soccer I don’t expect his reading scores to go up!”

    “And funders often ask for evidence of success that is difficult or impossible to generate, Canada said — evidence that he pointed out isn’t required in other fields.

    ““We’re giving huge amounts of money to people who admit that not only have they failed … but they almost destroyed the whole economic system of the world,” Canada said, his voice rising as he referred to the Wall Street bailout that is costing taxpayers more than $700 billion. “Then somebody asks me if kids should take violin and do I have evidence?!””

  23. on 03 Dec 2008 at 5:16 pmJYB

    I’m a science teacher in East San Jose. Our state rank and similar schools rank was a 3 out of 10 I believe. So yes, low achieving school.

    But I am one of those Ken Robinson types who also believes that we’ve wrongly created a hierarchy of subjects. As posters have said, the problem comes when you think of math as multiplication, art as crayons and paper, or PE as running around throwing balls.

  24. on 03 Dec 2008 at 6:17 pmdan

    Tom, I’m a little sick actually, that Canada uses the collapse of our financial markets to justify unaccountability in our schools. Since they got away with it, we should too, is that it? We should just bury the fact that (eg.) only 11% of California’s black students were proficient in Algebra 1 last year under Wall Street’s preferred bookkeeping? Or, per Carl, the trick to ensuring our students will be able to read anything longer than a text message in college or hold down any sort of job in a science or math-based field is to ensure equitable access to art classes to students who are illiterate and innumerate.

    I’m lost here.

  25. on 03 Dec 2008 at 7:05 pmTom

    Can we just read about art and call it a day?

  26. on 03 Dec 2008 at 7:13 pmShannon

    @dan
    I find it somewhat ironic that you use the arts so intensively to motivate your students but back off from validating that they should be educated in, at least, the visual and technical visual (keynote, imovie, video and media manipulation) arts. So many of your creative lessons and posts are based on provocative visual images, which, as you have seen, can be interpreted by great teachers in many ways for their disciplines. And you yourself have spent a lot of time discussing the most effective ways of presenting information visually…

    I think that for those students struggling with basic literacy in either reading or math that the use and study of “the arts” can become a real motivator – anything from basic issues of resolution of digital pictures to making video to analyzing how the media is manipulating you with statistics….

  27. on 03 Dec 2008 at 7:34 pmChris Lehmann

    Dan — What if the tests don’t measure what we think they do? There’s starting to be more and more data that suggests that these tests are not measuring competency the way people think they are. Daniel Koretz’s work and Richard Rothstein’s work both suggest that our current methodology of standardized testing isn’t measuring learning. I don’t care that Canada is blaming business, but what I do care is that Canada’s test scores have plateaued, but he’s still doing amazing work for kids, and he’s starting to have more and more trouble justifying it. Even you… why were the test scores your kids got on the state test a better judge of how well the students learned Geometry than what you saw, day in and day out, with your own eyes?

    One of my biggest issues with Michelle Rhee and Katy Haycock is that they seem so convinced that they are right that there is no space for debate or discussion. What if they are wrong? What if we learn that standardized test scores don’t tell us what we think? What if we are doing damage? Or what if testing measures / prioritizes one kind of intelligence or education over another? I worry all the time… I question all the time… where is the notion that education answers aren’t easy, aren’t cut and dried? Where is the humility that we just might not have all the answers?

  28. on 03 Dec 2008 at 7:46 pmMrTeach

    @Chris,
    I’ll be the first to admit we probably don’t have all the answers. If we did, conversations like this wouldn’t be taking place.

    The reason tests are a better judge of how well our students are learning than our own eyes is because they do not know the students. The test did not invest hours in the students. We (the teachers) have invested in the students, therefore judging with our own eyes seems to be a clear conflict of interest. Does it not?

  29. on 03 Dec 2008 at 10:22 pmDean Shareski

    @MrTeach

    A conflict of interest? The work of Willam and Black, Stiggins, et al clearly and I mean clearly, states that classroom assessment, not standardized testing is the most powerful impact on student learning.

    Teachers who do this well know exactly where there kids are at using a variety of assessment methods, providing feedback loops and opportunities to learn.

    I’m not suggesting that some teachers in our current system might show bias, but if the powers that be really knew the research they’d be working towards supporting teachers to be effective assessors of student work.

    I think most good teachers would be insulted to think some test written by some outsider will do a better job of measuring student learning than they would. That’s how I would feel.

  30. on 04 Dec 2008 at 8:11 amTom Hoffman

    tbh the Canada quote is a little off topic since he’s talking about donations to his non-profit stuff not schools per se.

  31. on 04 Dec 2008 at 8:51 amKilian

    Dean,

    The standardized tests are not designed to “impact learning.” They are designed to measure the extent of it. Of course classroom assessments have a more powerful and direct role in driving future instruction.

    Chris,

    What if the tests don’t…? But they do. And the Rothsteins of the world tell us to improve teaching and learning, but only after we give every kid glasses, only after we make sure every kid from a single parent family has a mentor, only after we create sustainable community-based nutrition centers in every centrally located urban school, only after we’ve mediated the disastrous effects of cronyism-capitalism, only after, only after, only after. I’m unwilling to wait. And I’m unwilling, too, to shy away from the fact that the single greatest lever we have to remedy the debilitating effects of poverty that Rothstein wrings his hands over is, simply, a better education for those most impacted by poverty.

    Carl,

    Your model of arts across content areas is admirable, just, and ideal. I don’t know which schools you referred to when you said “our schools,” but to claim that the DABE model is how art is done, systematically, in schools, rather than the 45-minutes of bassoon model that Dan outlined is patently absurd. Especially in the low-income urban schools Dan orginally focused this post on.

    The argument isn’t about whether or not kids should be exposed to the arts in all their forms — they should. The argument isn’t about whether there should be pre-existing hierarchies of knowledge — there shouldn’t, so long as we acknowledge the absurdity of putting lipstick on an illiterate pig. This is about what do we do with limited resources, limited time, and kids who don’t read well or do math well. I don’t think they should be building canoes, at least not until well after 3 o’clock, and the creeping paternalism that suggests we should offer them different content, rather than offer content differently frankly turns my stomach.

  32. on 04 Dec 2008 at 11:39 amTom Hoffman

    Killian,

    If you’ve got a substantive critique of Daniel Koretz’s book, I’d like to hear it. If you can show me Richard Rothstein saying what you attribute to him, I’d like to see it.

    Also, I’d like to see the evidence that cutting art classes increases reading and math achievement.

  33. on 04 Dec 2008 at 11:47 amKilian

    Hi Tom,

    I haven’t read Koretz, so I have no critique. I have read “Class and Schools” and every single page, not to mention the folks who carry its water, is essentially what I attributed to Rothstein above. Rothstein claims we cannot close the racial achievement gap solely by improving the functioning of districts and schools, a silly argument I fundamentally reject, and one that is disproven by countless schools and teachers across the country.

    I taught at a school that quadrupled proficiency rates in both ELA and Math during a three-year time period where there were no art classes.

  34. on 04 Dec 2008 at 1:51 pmChris Lehmann

    Killian,

    Our kids just took the PSATs and got our scores back. My advisory just spent 40 minutes going over some of the questions on the math section. The questions my kids got wrong had more do to with not understanding the way to take these tests than they did having anything to do with understanding the math behind them.

    As a school, less than half the kids got this answer right:

    Jerry chose a four-digit number to be the personal identification number of his bank-account. The first digit is prime, the greatest common factor of the middle two digits is 2, and the last digit is a divisor of 30. Which of the following numbers could be his personal identification number?

    A) 2468
    B) 3456
    C) 3863
    D) 5469
    E) 9216

    Now… I understand the concepts that this is testing, but if you have never seen a question such as this — and really, why should have you unless you’ve done test prep — figuring out what this question is asking is harder than the math.

    I had a bunch of kids just not understand the question. When we broke it down, every kid in the room knew what the prime digits were. Every kid could figure out that the middle two had to be 2, 4 or 6. And every kid could figure out that the last number had to be 3, 5 or 6. And then, if you know enough to know that you can’t really “solve” this problem without looking at the answers and doing a process of elimination (which is a test-taking skill, not a math skill), you can get the answer right. (And this was a “medium” question, by the way…)

    So I can agree that getting that answer right does mean you understand the math, but here’s the problem — getting the answer wrong could have nothing to do with understanding the math and everything to do with understanding the question, and that means that anyone making any summative judgment on a student’s understanding of mathematics based on that question could make a serious error.

    Now I’m spending the next few months of my advisory classes going over test-prep and test-taking skills because many of my kids don’t have the money for the test prep classes that the kids they are competing against take. That’s time I’m not doing any number of other things in Advisory that I value from an educational standpoint because I think the kids need to learn to play the game simply because it’s the coin of the realm.

    So again, what if the tests don’t measure what we think they do, because going over the PSATs question by question does little to convince me that these tests are a better measure of learning and knowledge than the work I see them do every day.

  35. on 04 Dec 2008 at 4:04 pmTom Hoffman

    Rothstein DOES NOT say “only after…” should we improve schools, he argues that schools alone will not on the whole close the achievement gap. That is not an argument against school reform.

  36. on 04 Dec 2008 at 4:56 pmTired

    Separating the ‘why’ from the ‘how’ is never a viable solution. This has always been one of the biggest problems of ‘schooling.’ Rhee and those of her ilk think we can simply beat the hell out of ‘how’ while ignoring the ‘why,’ and the ‘how’ will improve.

    And Tom’s distinction about Rothstein’s argument above is key. To ignore it (or Rothstein’s argument) is stubbornly unhelpful and will ultimately lead to harming more students than you help.

  37. on 04 Dec 2008 at 5:20 pmJsb16

    The SATs and PSATs measure test-taking ability almost exclusively. Their roots as tests designed to prove the superiority of well-off WASP males still show fairly often. But hopefully the state tests that measure proficiency for NCLB purposes do not show those biases.

    I certainly don’t think it’s impossible to design standardized tests that measure the reasoning and basic skills we want all of our students to have before they go out and attempt to get a job and not get scammed too often. I definitely don’t think that finding out that your students got a question wrong because they didn’t know that “upstream” meant “against the current” (as my honors students recently did) means we ought to toss out the tests and suggest that schools can be doing their jobs when students leave middle school unable to read or multiply single digit numbers.

    That said, why is teaching your students to break down a problem into smaller steps and then use the results to pick an answer from choices such a horrible thing? If they freeze when they see a complex problem, how are they going to handle simple physics problems much less politics?

  38. on 05 Dec 2008 at 12:00 amJB

    I guess I’m just not entirely convinced that reading/writing/math are as absolutely necessary for life success as we educators make it out to be. Academic success, yes. Life success, not convinced.

    My mind keeps coming back to the fact that dyslexics are overrepresented in prisons, but also as self-made millionaries and small business owners.

    One of my problems with the elevation of math/reading/writing is that we tell the kids there’s something wrong with them, take them out of the classes they care about (like art, or drama, or shop or in my area, you take 3 periods of language arts, 2 periods of math, and 1 period of PE) when clearly they can still be successful in life.

    This is just a long way of saying that our schools are built around a narrow range of intelligence, but life isn’t.

  39. on 05 Dec 2008 at 11:43 amdan

    @Chris re: your comment #27 above, which I’m only now getting to — apologies — it would thrill me if the predominate rhetoric around here concerned better assessment and more accurate accountability, rather than these urgent calls to abandon any assessment with wider jurisdiction than a single classroom or any assessment that dares ask a student to fill in a bubble corresponding to the correct answer to a difficult problem.

    What you have, here, are ed-technologists whose learning modality comprises a rabbit’s warren of links, which they follow one-to-the-next, cataloging them in Delicious, blogging them, tweeting them, Skyping them among colleagues, with an electric charge building all the while. This is fantastic, and addicting, and I know this personally, but I can see clearly the high-level literacy this kind of learning requires and the particular disciplines to which this kind learning lends itself best.

    Tools and modalities which thrill the bloggers I read are a difficult fit in illiterate classrooms.

    Then these same people fail to account for their own biases and demonize classes where that high-level electric charge transfers more subtly, where students and teacher achieve meaningful, challenging, rigorous goals toward conceptual and procedural fluency, where rich media drives challenging practice sets. Dare to measure those goals at a statewide level, dare push a test with bubbles in front of these kids, and these bloggers concoct stories of children vomiting on tear-stained scantrons, coining all sorts of frustrating, counterproductive maxims and catchphrases, and, yeah, even though Rhee’s unilateral governance turns me off, I get where she’s coming from when she talks about “touchy-feely” educators not really getting it.

    The rhetoric needs to accommodate many more gray values, yes, but it needs to get more pragmatic, and less romantic, also.

    Shannon, I may seem like I’m contradicting myself here but while I recognize how important it is that my math instruction comprise media and art, I recognize that the priority of my limited time has to be the math.

  40. on 05 Dec 2008 at 12:17 pmCarl Anderson

    Dan, talk about a straw man. While a lot of us commenting here are edtechnologists nothing in this comment stream has to do with “Tools and modalities which thrill the bloggers…” What this discussion is about is motivation and authentic assessment. Neither necessarily have to do with tech and both can be effectively applied at all levels of student skill and development. I would rather see a classroom where the teacher makes effective use of authentic assessment and constructivist methods with no technology than a technology rich learning environment employing 19th century pedagogies.

    The problem with Rhee’s description of “Touchy Feely” teachers is she links “touchy feely” with creativity and thus undervalues it’s importance. When that happens in our schools, programs that add value and support the work you do are cut. When those programs are cut students leave. When the students leave who depend on Rhee’s “touchy feely” courses for motivation your test scores will go up because you are left with those students who find intrinsic motivation in Math and Reading without the arts. Typically those students already have academic advantages (no disabilities, strong parental support, enough food eat, etc.). Then Rhee can claim she rose test scores but how many children did she leave behind in the process. Perhaps a better prop than the broom on the cover of Time would have been a flute.

    Now, there are many things about Rhee I applaud. I strongly admire her focus first on the students. I agree with her that the tenure system is a major hindrance to school reform and progress. I agree that teachers should be paid according to their performance. I agree that ineffective teachers should be let go. I agree that charter schools and school choice are good for our profession. I agree that school boards by nature prevent swift reform. I agree that teachers and administrators need to be held accountable. I see no acceptable system for measuring accountability though. I also strongly disagree with her categorization of creativity.

  41. on 12 Dec 2008 at 3:02 amTracy W

    Stop the assumption that reading and writing and math are the most important things everyone needs to learn. Anyone who suggests reading is more important than art scares me.

    This I think depends on what institution we are thinking about. Many forms of art, like dance, music, painting, sculpture, can be accessed and enjoyed by anyone with a working brain and the relevant sensory organs. Perhaps we enjoy them more greatly if properly taught, but we can appreciate them, and it is quite possible to acquire an informal education of considerable scope in these areas. But literature and mathematics are forms of art that require, for most of us, some formal teaching to be able to appreciate. So from a school’s point of view, where they can really make the difference is in teaching reading and mathematics. And of course those skills are valuable in a practical sense too.

    There isn’t an education system on the planet that teaches dance every day to children the way we teach them mathematics. Why? Why not?

    Several reasons come to mind:
    – children learn to dance outside the classroom far more often than they learn to do mathematics. Therefore if a child isn’t exposed to mathematics in the classroom you are far more likely to be limiting their future appreciation of the arts.
    – mathematics is a skill that opens doorways to a great many subjects. I have had friends who have had to drop out of their desired courses at university because they didn’t have the necessary mathematical background. Children often change their minds about what they want to do as an adult, it is the role of schools to open as many doors for their students as possible.
    – mathematics is useful if you expect your children, as adults, will have something to do with money.

    I don’t deny the value of teaching children dance. But I think it is secondary in importance to teaching mathematics for those reasons.

    These are teacher that in addition to experts in pedagogy and content, understand how to design customized learning and have the resources to find out who is best able to help every student. Fire those that can’t or won’t figure this out.

    I don’t like this, this is very harsh. Why not get your good teachers to provide the resources necessary for the not-so-good teachers? Can we really find enough teachers who are experts in pedagogy and content and understand how to design customised learning to fill every single classroom in the country? I have my doubts – the number of people who have those range of skills is limited, and some of them are likely to be just uninterested in teaching.

  42. on 12 Dec 2008 at 3:19 amTracy W

    Sorry about my previous comment, I had two windows open and wrote a comment on this site I planned to leave on the one Dan refers to.

    Carl:

    When the students leave who depend on Rhee’s “touchy feely” courses for motivation your test scores will go up because you are left with those students who find intrinsic motivation in Math and Reading without the arts.

    I thought schooling was compulsory in the USA up to high school level? So she has somehow got around the compulsary attendance rules?

    As for Rhee’s description of creativity, from my reading, it sounds like not that she devalues creativity entirely, but that she doesn’t believe that creativity should be acceptable as an excuse for bad test scores in reading and maths.

    By the way, why do you separate reading and maths from the arts?

  43. on 18 Dec 2008 at 12:35 pmCarl Anderson

    Yes, schooling is compulsory but where that schooling occurs is not limited to our public schools. Families have choices. Charter schools, online schools, other public schools through open enrollment, and homeschooling are all options available to most families.

    As for separating reading and math from the arts, I do believe that all of these subjects are tightly linked and interdependent but our school system has erected concrete boundaries around these subjects through devices such as scheduling and teacher licensing. To a certain degree you have to work with the environment and conditions you are presented with. If this is the game we are playing I will continue to fight for the arts.

  44. [...] Carl Anderson, a week after the Michelle-Rhee-hates-creativity thread shut down: I do believe that all of these subjects are tightly linked and interdependent but our school system has erected concrete boundaries around these subjects through devices such as scheduling and teacher licensing. To a certain degree you have to work with the environment and conditions you are presented with. If this is the game we are playing I will continue to fight for the arts. [emphasis mine] [...]