This is getting the full-service post on several accounts: a) it’s too large to toss into a comment; b) I skipped lesson planning in favor of writing this response to Eric’s response so, in my arrogance, I feel like it deserves an audience, c) the moments where you, Internet reader, call me out on my logical fallacies and naivetÃ© have been invaluable lately; d) it’s a blog; we let quality control go in the first round of layoffs.
An Open Letter
Eric, thanks for opening this up a little more.
First, let me make my opinion absolutely clear that there are many teachers now protesting NCLB whose teaching I respect. Nowhere in the post do I make the blanket assertion that “any teacher who protests NCLB is a mediocre teacher,” though I admit that’s the vibe of the piece.
There is even a paragraph early on — a paragraph I added between drafts — that itemizes some of the legitimate critiques of NCLB I found around the Internet. I’ll say now what I said then, that those of you who have legitimate grievances with NCLB need to rebuke those teachers and bloggers whose complaints are self-serving, whose grievances are merely smoke to cover their lousy practices. You need to be even more frothingly rabid than I am. Because every teacher who makes an easily disproven assertion like (e.g.) “It’s impossible to differentiate instruction under NCLB,” is another teacher clouding the pond, sapping strength from your legitimate concerns with NCLB.
Compressing liberally (and hoping I don’t conflate any of your arguments too bad) it seems like you’re trying to grind two axes here, one of which pertains to NCLB, one of which is much wider in scope.
The Decoy Axe
The most emblematic paragraph of your first axe:
Any test is only a valid assessment of itself. A student who can successfully complete a test indicates that he/she can successfully complete that kind of test—nothing more.
This befuddled me for some time. I mean, if true, that first sentence really denigrates the results of any assessment I’ve ever given. This is a level of cynicism I cannot share, one which I think flies in the face of reality. Certainly my experience of reality.
Another quotation relevant to your low esteem of current assessment models:
[All] you know [is that] my students can, to varying degrees of success or failure, regurgitate facts and identify simple answers.
Which, again, makes me wonder which test you’ve got in front of you.
The overwhelming majority of the released Geometry CST questions demand complex thought, require conjectural knowledge, synthesis, and application. The test punishes surface-level, factual knowledge ruthlessly, in fact.
If a student earns an “Advanced” designation on the Geometry STAR test, I know she knows the Geometry standards. I can tell her parents, my colleagues, and my administrators, that she knows the Geometry standards.
You claim that the best I can say of her “Advanced” designation is that she is an advanced test-taker — really really good at filling in all them li’l bubbles there. (Several passages of your post indicate you think that multiple-choice tests are, by definition, simple-minded assessments. I hope I’m just reading too fast.)
Even if things were as facile as you claim, the natural conclusion would seem to be for better NCLB assessment rather than your implicit call for no NCLB assessment.
The Real-Deal Axe
Then I got it. The axe you’re predominantly grinding here has less to do with the assessment itself than with what the assessment is assessing. Which is to say, all that booklearnin’: facts, figures, dates, the state capitals, the quadratic formula.
What you wish the assessments assessed (all taken from your post):
- finding happiness in art,
- becoming a successful performer,
- developing critical thinking,
- developing the ability to:
- approach things from multiple perspectives,
- find resources and information.
These are all great. I wish every teacher had these as heavily in mind as you do. But then you take that enthusiasm to a place where I cannot follow:
NCLB can not assess these things in its current form, and so schools are not concerned with them.
The first part is true, but not the fault of NCLB. Your fight there is less a beef with NCLB than with the school system as is. And beefin’ with NCLB for assessing the status quo is like calling Goodfellas a terrible romantic comedy.
But that second clause is deeply troublng. Schools aren’t concerned with all these wonderful elements of a capital-E Education (questioning, discovery, exploration, etc.) and you’re laying that blame on NCLB?
Schools and teachers aren’t concerned with questioning, discovery, exploration, but that blame lies exclusively on the shoulders of the schools and their teachers.
The grievance, “NCLB won’t let me teach my kids questioning, discovery, and exploration,” holds only a little more water than, “NCLB won’t let me differentiate instruction.”
You’ve suddenly set up a dichotomy in my own classroom between a) teaching kids questioning, discovery, exploration, and b) teaching them skills assessed by NCLB (to “recite the quadratic equation,” for example) — a dichotomy that is demonstrably false.
That’s because my teaching, which is far from the best out there, manages both. We practice connection, elaboration, application, and extension all while ( or “in spite of,” from your perspective, I suppose) promoting booklearnin’.
It’s a long road to the quadratic formula, per your example, which deals with higher order equations. We start with lower order graphs — simple lines — and talk through some examples — the relationship between a) cell phone minutes used and b) the cost of the cell phone bill, for instance. We talk about what it means to solve for zero in these circumstances and we notice how it really isn’t terribly difficult with these simple equations. Just a two-step process.
Then we move to higher order graphs — parabolas, quadratics — and we talk about where we’ve seen these. The path of a baseball through the air, for example. We talk then about what zero means here — that the ball has hit the ground — and we notice how and why our old tricks don’t work. How we need a stronger operation. A stronger formula. A quadratic formula, if you will. And yeah, by the end of all all that, my students will recall the quadratic formula as well as they can Black Parade lyrics, but we aren’t regurgitating anything. They’ll have questioned, discovered, and explored, and a worthy portion of them will do me proud on the STAR test.
See, I feel like you and the read/write web enthusiasts you represent oftentimes have a simplistic, occasionally downright prejudicial view of education’s status quo. Since NCLB doesn’t assess a student’s ability to appreciate, articulate, and blog about the beauty of Starry Night, then Mr. Meyer’s students must be spending their period droning The Quadratic Equation Song, putting numbers into formulas, staring blankly at their calculators, all while waiting for a low-frequency chime to send them shuffling (like “automatons,” you say) to their next regurgitation experience.
Am I representing you and yours unfairly, Eric?
Your post is exactly the elevation of rhetoric I asked for in my post, Biggie Smalls, but we can do better. We can elevate this discussion to an even higher plane by doing away with easy clichÃ©s like “automaton” and “regurgitation.” We need to fight over the best examples of both opposing POVs and then, once we settle on some excellent hybrid of the two, fight like hell to elevate our colleagues to that level.
You argue that questioning, discovery, and exploration are the ideals of modern education. I say, great. I’m really concerned about the first-gen Latino kid who can’t read or write or use entry-level proportions, whose read/write teachers just want him to post to the class blog, but that’s a separate debate. This is the system. You can make a valid argument that the system should be changed. To my mind, however, you’ve made an argument that NCLB doesn’t assess the current system well when, the truth is, it just doesn’t assess your fantasy system well.
The Bonus Axe
You bring your post back around to teacher quality, a fine place to begin and end.
However, you’re not going to get these kinds of teachers [the creative, innovative kind] if you don’t treat them as professionals, reward them as professionals, allow them room for innovation, or rely on research in a variety of fields to inform education. NCLB does none of these things.
To your last sentence, I disagree in all but one case.
NCLB asks me for results. It asks me to quantifiably prove I’m taking my employer’s time, money, and resources, and using them well. If it’s anything, that’s professionalism. A common anti-NCLB alternative — demanding a paycheck, trust, and freedom from accountability, is the opposite of a professional. That’s a grad student.
The ever-lucid TMAO has a great post running right now that transfers the usual anti-NCLB grievances to a couple other professions to calamitous results.
‘Dr. Galen, why did the patient die?’ A procedure for tumor removal I found creatively stifling, a lack of patient involvement during the first hour of surgery, and hospital regulations requiring I to file reports on patient progress toward health.
And along those lines, innovation isn’t doing whatever I want, whenever I want, free from oversight. Innovation takes places under constraints. The real innovation isn’t crafting satisfying learning experiences restrained by nothing whatsoever; it’s crafting them knowing there will be a reckoning later.
You are right on this one, however: NCLB doesn’t reward me financially like a professional. But then, it doesn’t cook up a very good quesadilla either. And it did a shitty job painting my apartment. But teaching failed us there long before NCLB came along.
Eric, I hope you don’t find me too abrasive to continue this dialogue. This has been an invaluable waste of my lesson planning time.
Thanks, in any case,