kitchen table math, the sequel: Independent George boils it down

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Independent George boils it down

Is it me, or can the entire philosophy of K-6 education be summarized as:

1. It's not our fault.
2. It's not our problem.
3. We're underfunded.

I'm thinking we should make this our default kitchen table math post on days when everyone's too busy to write something new.

Then there's this:

If kids don't learn math, it's because they're not capable of learning it. And if they enter high school five years behind grade level, then it's up to the parents and the high schools to catch them up. Either way, they need more money so that they can facilitate kids learning on their own.


Mr. AB said...

Catherine - How do you deal with blogs that you recognize in your blogroll, like Dy/Dan and Teaching in the 408 (may it RIP), that specifically and powerfully argue against this idea? Do you think it aids those educators engaged in tackling the excuse-making attitudes of some of our colleagues when you apply this label so generally? Do you think it inspires our nation's talented youth to look to or stay in the classroom for their career when this is the public perception they meet?

The more you blame educators, whether positioned in the classroom or district office, for the failing education system, the more you must recognize that we are the solution. Only a corps of great teachers, inspired to offer their best, can provide the U.S. with the sort of public education system you all dream of on this blog. Instead of a default to untempered criticism, add an ounce of contribution. What are you doing to make that happen?

Here's my "entire philosophy for K-6 education."

1. Fault is for the politicians and academics. I worry and wonder about 5th graders who can't read.

2. It's our problem, whether or not we're equipped, prepared or intended to solve it. The best of us accept that and get to work.

3. We're undermanned, but thus underfunded because it takes money to get people. If you know how to get us experts and professionals on the cheap, make *that* your default post.

Catherine Johnson said...

Hi AB --

I'm thinking you may just have found ktm?

ktm is a parent-teacher blog.

The teachers I know are even more fed up with clueless administrators than parents.

SteveH said...

"Only a corps of great teachers, inspired to offer their best, can provide the U.S. with the sort of public education system you all dream of on this blog."

"Only"? Sigh.

I suppose it's not easy to jump into the middle of a blog that's been going on for years and filled with parents and teachers who do more than talk, and who think that there are many more problems than "only".

"3. We're undermanned,..."



To bad it's union rules that are preventing our town from hiring these magically wonderful teachers. Are these the ones who know how to get group discovery and differentiated instruction to work?

Mr. AB said...

I've read this blog for at least a year, probably closer to two. I think there's a lot of hyperbole, but also fantastic insight into the challenges facing other educational communities today.

I'm ringing in today, I guess, in the manner of Jon Stewart on Crossfire. I'm just here to say: "Stop, you're hurting education."

We just don't need more bashing of our teachers, students, parents or whatever edu-trend is in or out. It's counter-productive and wastes the time you could be spending on constructive contributions.

I stand by the idea of "only educators" solving this problem. The other options are, as you all have noticed, parents remediating teacher deficiencies, which is a waste of your time and money, or A Magic Method and Curriculum which, as you also have noticed, does not exist.

Great teachers know that no single method works across all topics and students. They use DI, Inquiry, and Groupwork on what and with whom they are appropriate. They pull from a dozen different textbooks where each is strong. They partner with parents to make sure that both the teacher's technique and the student's progress is understood. I don't know how union rules can interfere with any of that.

palisadesk said...

"Mr AB" said:
Fault is for the politicians and academics. I worry and wonder about 5th graders who can't read.

Well, Mr. AB, while you "worry and wonder" about the fifth graders who can't read, I teach them to read. I get them to improve their reading skills by 2-4 years, on average, in one school year. I only know how to do this because people outside the school system taught me what to do.

I don't bother with worrying and wondering.

Good luck with your Lake Wobegon Solution -- getting the entire administrative and teaching workforce in the USA to be populated by "great" teachers/administrators.

Your "only educators can solve the problem" notion is an extremely elitist one. Now you are certainly entitled to be an elitist, but we KTM hoi polloi don't have to agree with you.

I find it especially interesting that -- unlike Catherine -- you want to silence opposing points of view ("Stop! You're hurting education!"), while she links to them. Hmmmm.

SteveH said...

"Stop, you're hurting education."

With this one comment, or with everything we do?

If you've been reading this blog for a year, why haven't you joined in on the other very specific discussions we have had rather than jump on this bit of hyperbole?

"I stand by the idea of 'only educators' solving this problem."

I see. You want us to just go away and let the experts solve the problem? When and how will this happen? Do parents get any input at all?

"The other options are, as you all have noticed,"

Have we?

"...parents remediating teacher deficiencies, which is a waste of your time and money, ..."

Waste in what way, that educators always ignore parents, or that somehow educators will do it themselves? Actually, KTM is all about parents remediating teacher and school deficiencies at home.

"... or A Magic Method and Curriculum which, as you also have noticed, does not exist."

Actually, some methods and curricula would help quite a bit. They won't solve all problems, but you can't list these things and then say that we "all have noticed."

Also, if you've been reading this for a year, you will have noticed a strong support for parental choice. Can I mark you as a "no" on that one?

"... wastes the time you could be spending on constructive contributions."

Specifically, what are these contributions? My contribution has been to require large school systems to offer a choice of curriculum.

"Great teachers know that no single method works across all topics and students."

This comment is straw man; "across all topics"?

"They use DI, Inquiry, and Groupwork on what and with whom they are appropriate. They pull from a dozen different textbooks where each is strong."

How can anyone disagree with this vagueness? Argue with generalities to get people to go away so that the experts can have free reign over the details?

And where are these "great teachers"? What if school administrations dictate to teachers that they can't use direct instruction and teach to mastery?

"They partner with parents to make sure that both the teacher's technique and the student's progress is understood."

"Understood"? We parents just luv math open houses where the school helps us content experts understand.

"I don't know how union rules can interfere with any of that."

OK, where can I begin? How about bumping? How about seniority rules that make it more difficult to hire some of these "good teachers"? I generally stay away from union issues and pay scales. When I buy products at the store, I look at quality versus price rather than how the company works. Unfortunately, I don't get that choice with education, and apparently, if I'm not part of your solution, I'm part of the problem.

Catherine Johnson said...

oh heck - I'm leaving town; can't respond

Disagree with this proposition, however:

It's counter-productive and wastes the time you could be spending on constructive contributions.

Ed has filled me in on the history of revolutions, which is what public education requires, in my view.

Revolutions always have writers who criticize the status quo -- harshly criticize.

History teaches us that what we parents & teachers do here is an essential function.

In short, what we do is constructive.

Paul B said...

Assigning fault is so so easy. It's easy because it exists everywhere, and I mean everywhere.

If a school system has bone headed policies you can easily fault the district voters that put them in a position to make those policies.

If you're unhappy with the lack of choice in the system you can easily fault the national voters who elect politicians resistant to parental choice.

If you're unhappy with teacher quality you can blame the unions who protect low quality.

If you're unhappy with teachers who dare not buck the system that is forcing them to do stupid things you can blame them for a lack of courage.

My point is that each of us, in our own micro-universe, is in fact responsible at some level for the environment we find ourselves in, and not just with schools. Every single thing in your life is your responsibility. If you don't like those things then work to change them.

Every time you cede responsibility to others, you reduce your own say in the outcomes. My fear is that too many of us have forgotten this essential truth. My heroes are the home schoolers who are the ones who seem to recognize this and take the bull by the horns to regain control.

When you buy into public education, you buy into public funding. When these are your touchstones, you've ceded control. Instead of railing at the outcome I would suggest a little creative disruption to get control back. Anything less is tilting at windmills.

Barry Garelick said...

The point that Independent George made a while back (I think it was Ind George)on the order of If kids don't learn math, it's because they're not capable of learning it is worth looking at.

On the one hand, the school boards and administrations tell parents "We want to use ________(fill in the blank with an atrocious math program like Investigations or Everyday Math or CMP, or IMP, or Core Plus, or Math Trailblazers, etc). "

"We all know that traditional math hasn't worked and has failed large numbers of students." (Please provide numbers and test scores please; I'll give you some of my own that show the opposite, but let's move on)

"And parents want traditional math because it's what they grew up with. " (Let's ignore the contradiction here that if it failed large numbers of people, why do parents seem to know math fairly well, and why do they want traditional math for their kids?)

"So let's use this ___________(fill in the blank with "research based", "inquiry based", "standards based", "brain based" or all of these--just don't say "vendor-based") program that keys in to the innate abilities of students to construct their own knowledge.

Now you can argue all you want about "blended approaches" of DI and collaborative learning and the "small groups" that are touted in ed school, but the teachers are saddled with a program and in more than a few cases are discliplined if they try to use their own better judgment.

If despite these wonderful advances in math programs a student or students does poorly in math, the mantra from the school administration is one of the following or both: "The teacher didn't implement it properly" or "The student obviously is not good at math; not all of us are, ya know."

With respect to the latter, let's ignore the original premise that traditional math failed large number of students since by the above logic, maybe those students just weren't good at math.

As for parents remediating teachers, I think it's that we are remediating bad math programs forced upon both teachers and students.

VickyS said...

In my district we don't hear that the kids "aren't capable of learning math." It is nonetheless apparent to all that they are not learning math. There is much handwringing, and the education sector does seem to believe that it is their problem, but this, you have to understand, is also their meal ticket.

In the warped economics of the public sector, failure leads to an ever increasing demand for more money. The more you fail, the more money you can justifiably ask for to fix the problem. Teacher education, supplemental materials, instructional coaches, you name it.

And if the money doesn't come, instead of cutting the pork (payments to vendors, professional ed, non-classroom coaches, central admin) you cut bussing, athletics, and music, and you increase classroom size to 35-40 kids, thereby reliably producing the expected outcry and getting that levy to pass. Kudos to Catherine for shining a bright light on the budget process in her district and not letting them get away with this, but 99% of the others operate without such scrutiny.

What a racket. A racket that persists even after NCLB tried to turn the tables and choke off schools that didn't perform. Not that NCLB was necessarily the right way to fix the problem, but it is interesting that it has *not* fixed the problem. The problem is simply not at the building level.

For some reason writing this has brought to mind what I consider to be one of the hallmarks of professionalism--a person's (or institution's) willingness to take action or render advice even when doing so works against his/her self interest. I would love to see education professionalized.

Mr. AB said...

All -

Why haven’t I posted before… gosh, after this reception, I’m mystified.

Let me try again:

Go ahead and bash your top-heavy district, your least favorite textbook, and whatever styles of teaching don’t fit your fancy. But when you bash the whole system, especially the “entirety” of teachers, you discourage the very instructors you want in the classroom. What person of achievement and ability wants to be part of such a scorned occupation?

Great teachers could also be great in business, law, medicine or politics. We choose to teach. But we leave in droves, more than a little because of attitudes like the one Catherine expressed and you all seem to dearly hold on to on this blog. When intelligent, informed parents tell us how much we suck, and convince our friends and neighbors of the same, we good teachers listen, we care and then eventually, we get tired of it and quit.

Parents especially should understand that this is a problem.

For your child, K-6 education is not about per-pupil spending, district administration or even textbooks. It is about seven teachers. Seven people that work with your child for seven hours a day, a hundred and eighty days a year, through the most essential years of their childhood. Seven people whose “mood makes the weather” for your kid.

What kind of people do you want your child’s teachers to be? How do you want them to feel about your child, their job? You criticize the notion of teachers as experts, elites or even professionals? So who do you want in the classroom?

Education does need a revolution; it needs a few, in fact. Go ahead, Catherine, get it started. Steve, I’m fine with school choice, as long as every family has equitable choices. I’m fine with merit-pay, done well, and eliminating tenure, I know that both would substantially improve my quality of life. I’m especially fine with wiping out the ed schools and replacing them with… well, almost anything or even nothing at all.

I’m not fine with people loudly proclaiming that all educators are money-grubbing, duty-shirking or child-blaming. The bad teachers don’t care and the good ones just get pissed off.

You want something to do, aside from criticize? Thank a young teacher who is doing more than they must or should. Take a minute to recognize good work on this blog, for a change.

concernedCTparent said...

I'm sorry you're feeling unwelcome. That's unfortunate. I've found KTM to be very open to debate. That's just it though, you have to be *open* to debate. Which means, of course, that we're not always going to agree with you or each other. Vigorous debate is essential to democracy and without it we wouldn't be able to progress and improve. But, I know you know that.

I also have to point out that KTM absolutely recognizes good teachers and effective teaching practices. I absolutely want to share what works and I have every interest to see good teaching practices available to all children. As a case in point, here's just one example:

You have no way of knowing this, but most of us are involved in some way in making our schools a better place. We don't just sit around posting to KTM. We support our children's teachers, we donate time and talent to our schools when they are open to it, we write letters to the local, regional, and national powers that be. In short, we're invested in supporting schools reach their potential.

We do this because we haven't given up. It would be much easier to remain quiet, tutor, remediate, supplement, or homewchool our own children (which we do as a first matter of business), and then call it a day. However, we know that our responsibility doesn't stop at our own front door. This challenge before is greater than any one of us.

I may criticize the way my government approaches a certain situation or a decision that my President may make, but that makes me no less patriotic. Similarly, I may criticize the schools' approach to teaching or the merits of programs they obligate teachers to utilize, but that doesn't make me anti-teacher.

I believe most teachers want to be the best they can at doing their job, afterall, they're entrusted with imparting knowledge to children. However, improving teaching means taking an honest look at what's not working and what could be working better without considering it a personal attack. It's not personal, it's about being professional.

Mr. AB said...

CTParent -

Thank you for the thoughtful and articulate reply.

I recognize that you're a group of hard-working and education-valuing parents. That's why I read the blog. Yet the post in question says, in no uncertain terms, that mindless teacher bashing should be the "default post" and among the "greatest hits."

You can't have it both ways.

Perhaps it was just a bad post?

But also, don't many of these comments, help you see the dramatic and negative consequences of such hyperbole?

VickyS said...

My kids have had a number of those great teachers. The elementary teacher who closed the door and prayed that word wouldn't get out that she wasn't teaching Everyday Math. The science teacher whose contract wasn't renewed because she taught too much from the front of the room and didn't have enough hands on projects (never mind that my usually turned-off 6th grade son could solve a Mendelian genetics problem involving dominant and recessive alleles, or was inspired to create an animated version of the human digestive system on his own time at home, just for fun). The Spanish teacher who spends evenings and weekends carefully answering the deluge of parent email.

Like my blogmates I have personally have supported these teachers many ways that we don't usually talk about here. Classroom volunteering. Donation of supplies. Writing a letter of recommendation for the teacher whose contract was not renewed.

And, many great teachers are frequent posters to this blog.

I'd say this rabble-rousing blog, by its very nature, is in support of great teachers everywhere! Nothing would make me happier than for these teachers to be truly free to practice their craft.

VickyS said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Cranberry said...

In my opinion, this blog is anti-administration and ed school fads. I don't perceive it as anti-teacher.

The terrible thing is, even if teachers don't agree with ineffective teaching methods, they're required to use them. Even if they know where the weak spots are in a district, they can't speak up about them.

There are wonderful teachers in many schools. There are also some people who should not teach, or who are fed up with teaching in certain districts. At present, the tenure system protects teachers who aren't teaching well, and discourages teachers from changing districts. Administrators know how much control they have over teachers. Dissent can be, and is, squelched.

There are laws regulating employers' references. You and I know that means, in practice, nothing appears in writing. A great deal is passed on through back channels.

Doctors and lawyers police their own. Professional associations can take away a doctor's license to practice, or disbar a lawyer. They don't do it frequently, but they will do it for gross malpractice. Something similar should be possible with teachers. A bad doctor or lawyer taints other members of the profession. The same thing is true of teachers.

Paul B said...

A bit off topic but maybe not...

I'm enjoying this thread because, just coincidentally, I'm reading Willingham's 'Why Don't Students Like School' and the comments here reflect one of his themes. He contends, and I whole heartedly agree, that writers necessarily leave out significant detail whenever they write. If they don't the writing becomes overly tedious. This means that readers are constantly being asked to fill the gaps with their own relevant knowledge and if by chance they don't have any (which can happen often in a learning setting) then the writer is exposing himself to being misinterpreted and the reader (without extraordinary effort) is free to fill those gaps with misconceptions.

The internet in general, and a blog in particular make it very easy to just write stuff without considering the audience that's consuming it. Someone can say, "Educators suck!" and get a whole panoply of 'readings' from their statement. A teacher may read this as an affront when the writer intended to criticize the people in ed schools. One of those ed school people may read the very same statement and agree completely, taking it as commentary on his or her last class of students. Conversely, maybe the writer actually intended to imply that everyone who has anything to do with education sucks. In that case, readers of all different stripes can asssume they're off the hook by rationalizing through the very same ambiguity.

Speaking for myself, I welcome anybody that comes here no matter their proclivities. I've been guilty of quite enough of my own inflamed rhetoric to know how easy it is to do as well as how easy it is to write poorly and be justifiably misunderstood.

Having said that, think for a moment how hard it is for this, obviously smart group of contributors, to successfully make a point and then imagine the challenge of communicating with a group of antagonistic, fidgety, hormonally infested, 13 year olds that have a 6 or 7 year spread in the associative knowledge they bring to a discussion. KTM is nothing if not a very intense learning experience and every time you write here you are teaching.

Perhaps it is most prudent, when you thing you've been jabbed, to pop another cold one while letting the discourse flesh itself out. Likewise, if your the jabber, target your jabbees precisely or at the very least use the preview button to see a post from lots of angles.

Oh, and read the book. It's excellent.

SteveH said...

"... help you see the dramatic and negative consequences of such hyperbole?"


How about the dramatic and negative consequences of blaming kids for failing math tests for which they were never properly prepared?

How about the dramatic and negative consequences of pointing to society or poverty as an excuse for not offering more for those students who are willing and able?

What about the dramatic and negative consequences that come from schools looking to money, rather than self-evaluation, for solutions?

What about the dramatic negative consequences that come from attitudes like this:

"I stand by the idea of 'only educators' solving this problem."

Many of us do all sorts of things to help our kids and our schools, but the biggest issue is the last one. Turf.

Anonymous said...

Hey Paul,

I'm reading the Willingham book, too. Hey, you just applied the knowledge you gained from him to this very post, something all teachers want to accomplish! (That should tell you how far I am into the book.)

I was actually planning to write something like you, although not so eloquently. My first thought was "context is everything."

Those of us who know Catherine know that she is not an indiscriminate teacher basher. I would think the number of teachers who comment regularly on this blog would dispel that notion.

However, when someone comes in guns-a-blazin', I'm not sure why they're surprised when someone takes offense.

I don't sit around expecting teachers to be phenomenal because in the end, we're human. I mean, I'm thrilled when they are, but not surprised or thrown off when they aren't.

I am, however, disturbed by a kind of ceeping arrogance adopted by certain teachers who turn out to know the least about the subject being discussed.

I realize that ed schools are probably to blame for this, but I must admit to still being shocked that grade schools can dictate to middle and high schools exactly what the curriculum is going to look like based on their ideas (ideology, really), and not vice versa.


Paul B said...

I don't know if this is common but in my district there is the 'High School' and there is 'everything else'. Mine is a failing district and as such we are deluged with consultants who come to fix us with the latest silver bullets. When they went to the high schools they found the doors 'locked', not literally of course, but certainly figuratively.

As a result these folks were all over elementary and middle schools and largely missing from high schools. I don't know why it is but the high schools seem to be less influenced by the latest fad, more self contained, more monolithic, and independent from the district at large. The middle schools are constantly being reorganized and manipulated while the high schools just seem to chug along above it all.

Lately though, they've started some very strong push back on what is being delivered to them. For the first time, in my experience at least, they are making themselves felt in the middle schools. For the first time in years I'm hearing the beginnings of discussions about putting our CMP/Investigations programs out to pasture and this is largely driven by the high schools pushing on the system.

For the first time we are hearing from the high schools that the kids accustomed to three 100 minute blocks per day of academics are poorly adapted to the high intensity, 45 minute blocks of high school.

Are other districts similarly organized into two 'worlds'? I'd like to know. I'd like to know how we got this way.

Here, we have fad world from K-8 and a distinctively more conservative 9-12.

SteveH said...

"Here, we have fad world from K-8 and a distinctively more conservative 9-12."

I've commented on this before. There seems to be a curriculum and philosophy wall between our K-8 schools and high school. Our middle school finally (!) got rid of CMP because some of the high school teachers (and parents) complained that there was an obvious curriculum gap. Kids were expected to go from CMP in 8th grade to Geometry in 9th grade. The gap was obvious, but it took them years to do something about it. It seemed like those at the high school had trouble with coming right out and asking the middle school to make a change. My son's middle school is finally using the same non-fuzzy algebra text as the high school. I view K-8 and high schools as two separate worlds. Standards are very rarely driven down from high school.

But now, the problem is shifted to 6th grade. Somewhere along the line, the school (or parents) have to make up for a philosophy that all kids are equal and that differentiated instruction (enrichment) is all that is needed. Our big filter is the 6th grade math placement test. However, this is timed perfectly with the big push to have all kids take more responsibilty for their own learning.

Last year, I taught an after-school SSAT class for 7th and 8th graders. I could especially see the strain in the 7th graders. After 6 years of swimming around in the shallow end academically, they were thrown into the deep end.

I have also asked whether this great K-8/high school philosophy divide is common. I have heard about cases where fuzzy education fads are making their way into the high school world. Our high school now requires the development of a four-year portfolio of work as opposed to setting higher academic standards. But I see few standards going the other way. Getting rid of CMP might be one example, but our K-6 schools are extremely resistant to any sort of philosophical change.

I think that high schools are driven more by reality and tend to be more educationally conservative philosophy-wise. Teachers also have to have qualifications in the area they teach, and that now includes 7th and 8th grades in our state. Maybe that's why we finally got rid of CPM.

I think that K-6 teachers consider themselves to be nurturers and hate to set high expectations. They see education as some sort of natural, egalitarian process that can't be forced. Our K-8 schools do care about how kids do in high school, but they talk about proper placement (such as in math), rather than achieving higher standards. They point to the kids who do well, but they never ask the parents for their side of the story.

My sister-in-law has taught high school English in CT for the last 35 years and tells me that CT specifically drives educational standards into the lower grades. Is this true? Then she goes on to say that she has given up on assigning a lot of homework because so many kids don't do the work. This is a non-urban town. She requires more group class work. This may be the best solution in her situation, but it seems like the low expectations are being driven upwards through the grades.

I've also mentioned that there is a natural tendency to see the problems of education as what walks into the classroom. When kids come into a class not prepared, with big chips on their shoulders, and not willing to do homework, it's easy to blame them rather than look at how they got there.

K-8 schools can follow all of the fads they want because they never have to deal with the results. They just push the kids along.

Even after all of my years studying these problems, I was still startled to read Paul's description of their retention process on the other thread.

"Case in point. We just had to turn in our 'recommendations' for retentions. They are 'recommendations' you see, because there is no retention policy. Our recommendations are subsequently chewed on by our principal who will, no doubt, retain something as near to zero as possible."

I can't even begin to understand this philosophy.

SteveH said...

"I can't even begin to understand this philosophy."

Actually, can anyone explain how and why this change happened? This seems to be the biggest change since I was growing up. The worst thing in the world was to be held back in school. The next worse thing was to have to go to summer school. It may not be the best motivation, but it kept everyone honest; both kids and schools.

Why did this change? I blame it on a fundamental drive to full inclusion, which is incompatible with retention. Therefore, the goals of education have to change and facts and skills become "mere". Is this putting the cart before the horse, or does all of this just fit nicely with ed school thinking?

To me, all of this screams low expectations, but then I'm told by the schools that this kind of education is better. Better, that is, until you cross the big divide to high school.

I can't imagine that schools (principals) really think that a no retention policy is a good one. Do they really think that differentiated instruction can work in fifth grade? I specifically told my son's fifth grade Everyday Math teacher that he is ready for more in math. She wanted to hekp, but she had to focus on the kids who were still struggling with adding 7 + 8.

The reaction I get from schools is that they just have to learn how to do differentiated instruction better. I can't believe they still believe that. My son's fifth grade teacher wasn't sitting around thinking that she really should be doing a better job. She was probably pissed off that these perfectly normal, bright kids didn't know the material already. There is no mechanism in full inclusion that tries to figure this out. But there is no downside for the schools. By the time that kids or parents figure out there is a problem, it's too easy to put the blame on the students, and they will believe it. Just look at the kids who are doing well.

When I was in school, my parents didn't help me one bit with homework. They made sure that I did something, but there was no help. The schools still managed to help me get on the calculus track in high school. I can't imagine that my very math-inclined son would ever get to that track without my direct help.

How long will it take for schools to deal honestly with their assumptions and what is going on in K-6?

Paul B said...

So many stories. So little time...

In my district, summer school is dispensed for excessive absences and sometimes for academic reasons. Mostly it's for excessive absences as this has an objective measure so it's easy to justify.

The best part is, it's highly sought after. No lie. Kid's go just four shortened days and they do neat projects. The fourth day is a field trip. Field trips are for things like ball games, amusement parks, etc. It's the best summer day care program in town.

As for retention, I'm actually not in favor of it as it's constituted here. Since we do nothing to remediate retainees it's just punishment. The only way it makes sense to me is if it is done in the very early grades, say 1 or 2 max, and then only as a way to accomodate a recognizable maturity issue.

If you don't remediate you are consigning the child to repeat the same courses with the same teachers while expecting a different result. Classic insanity!

SteveH said...

"Since we do nothing to remediate retainees it's just punishment."

The question is whether the student needs remediation or just a swift kick in the rear. If it's just remediation, then the real goal is to get it right the first time. If it's the swift kick variety, then the threat of retention should do the trick. If not, at least they aren't causing problems for the students who do move on. If they cause problems when they stay back, then the school has to form a separate track.

If it does turn out that kids need remediation, the solution is not to push them along and hope that the teacher in the next grade can somehow diagnose and deal with the specific needs of each student. Any remediation should be done in the summer or in a different venue than the regular class.

Also, remediation could relate to gaps in understanding, or it could relate to the fact that they need to go at a slower pace. Gaps could be made up in the summer, and the slower pace could be dealt with using extra help sessions during the regular school hours.

Than again, this might be too much to expect for a district where summer school is really a free summer camp.

VickyS said...

Our district used to have a nifty system of "half" grades. E.g., if you weren't ready to go on to 6th grade (even after intense summer remediation) you went to grade 5-1/2. That's the best solution I've ever heard of for the retention issue. Gone now, of course.

Mr. AB said...

In re. retention, remediation, differentiation, leveling and The Cure, with parenthetical nods to where this all began -

It's worth noting that any half-decent kindergarten teacher will tell you that kids arrive at their first day of school in very different places. Some kids are behind and some are ahead from Day 1 of Year 1. Hence a little hesitation to shake big sticks. ("It's not our fault," try "The problem begins before we ever get the kids.")

Further, the research is pretty clear that retention is a dice roll that gives the kid terrible odds. Don't take my word for it:

I suspect that summer school and halfway courses are only marginally less damaging.

Steve is right that the only answer elementary schools have to their students' ever diversifying achievement levels is differentiation. Yet, meeting six levels of math needs spread unevenly across thirty-six students in an hour-long block is just not reality for almost all teachers. I would argue it never will be. Since we can't reduce classes (Anywhere we have 36:1, we are underfunded.) or enlarge the time for math, we try to work on reducing the levels per class. Consequently, elementary schools always flirt with leveling, putting kids in homogeneous classes as is done in high school, making it easier to teach with DI and a textbook, but there is no way to rid the process of the bitter stench of "smart class"/"dumb class" and the kids always know who's who. Further, we, educators, are notorious for doing a bad job placing kids into the proper class. Again, don't take my word for it:

The only solution I've found (I've explored many, because it is my problem.) is curriculum that allows the homeroom teacher to yank kids up two or three grade levels at a time. When I needed it, I had to write it myself, because otherwise, it doesn't exist. After working on a textbook adoption last year, I can say this with expertise and certainty.

I don't know why, the market is huge.

This year, I moved from teaching dirt poor kids to teaching the wealthiest of the wealthy, an international school for kids from all over the world. (Because all that not caring had left me angry, exhausted and desperate for a break.) Even here, we need curriculum to support diverse classrooms. Even here, I know 5th graders who can't fluently subtract and are being expected to master operations with fractions. Yet even here, we're stabbing at the problem with just what's in the text and exhausted-teacher efforts to reinvent the wheel.

Paul B said...

Unfortunately, we don't get to kick students :>} so this method is out. As far as the fear of retention having a motivational impact, not so much. On a scale of 1-10 of things they have to fear, retention would be in negative territory. For some, I'm afraid retention may even be perceived as an enhancement to their cred.

If a child is a disruption then moving them up or down accomplishes nothing since they'll interfere with classmates in either case.

In my own experience, disruption has always been a symptom and not a goal of the disruptor. Disruption is a way of telling your peers, "I'm not having any trouble with this learning thing. I'm just way to cool to let this stupid teacher corner me." It should be taken as a sign that the individual is not ready for the material in front of them. Time and again, if I can get a student, at any level, to stay after school I can reach them. The problem is that the vast majority of disruptors would rather crawl home on broken glass than stay after school. Sadly, there is no other mechanism to get to them.

Differentiating these issues in a busy classroom is a pernicious joke. It can only be done if you're willing to throw the rest of the class under the bus while you cater to the disruptor.

My school has a mission statement that states (I'm paraphrasing) that every child will be taught in their zone of proximal development in order to maximize their potential. My school has an infrastructure that translates to; every child will be placed in a room based on their hat size and be provided with a curriculum that is designed for the median child in the U.S.

That customized ZPD thing? Well that gets done by the individual teachers as they walk to school on water and drink wine made from their dripping boots.

If you read this entire thread with an open mind and expand your thinking to a universe of schools that don't all get $25,000 per head, or students who don't stick around for more than a few months, where the kids are refugees from gang wars, with parents in jail, and siblings pregnant at 13, I think you would have to agree that the situation is a lot more complicated than a simplistic notion that there is an educational cabal in the land that is out to advance themselves at the expense of the children they're charged with.

SteveH said...

"As far as the fear of retention having a motivational impact, not so much."

Perhaps in your neck of the woods, but all education is not defined by the lowest common denominator.

"If you read this entire thread with an open mind ..."

Actually, the thread is NOT talking about your world. You seem cynical about it, but perhaps you wish to discuss possible solutions. My view is that schools have to separate those who can or will from those who can't or won't. Is there not an educational cabal that strives to prevent this?

"...lot more complicated than a simplistic notion that there is an educational cabal in the land that is out to advance themselves at the expense of the children they're charged with."

This is a strawman. We're not talking about sincerity. We're talking about philosophies and pedagogies that have been well documented. The original 3 statements were a satirical reflection of very real issues that have been described in detail on KTM. Throwing around your ghetto teacher cred to say that these issues are meaningless in comparison to those you face is missing the point.

If you want to talk about issues at your school, then state them directly. I'm sure that everyone at KTM would respond differently than with the issues raised by this thread.

Anonymous said...

Mr. AB says:
"but there is no way to rid the process of the bitter stench of "smart class"/"dumb class" and the kids always know who's who. "

But they already know that, whether their grouped by ability or not. My understanding is that homogenous groups improve achievement, but I haven't looked at the research for awhile, so maybe I'm misremembering.

Anonymous said...

They're, not their. I knew that.

Anonymous said...

I attended a small-town school which had one class per grade and no kindergarten (no private kindergarten or preschool, either). The first-grade teacher changed the names of the three reading groups every year and the names were not hierarchical (robins, bluebirds, wrens; etc), but we all knew what the hierarchy was within the first couple of weeks. Kids today are no different and pretending otherwise is just sticking heads in the sand.

Anonymous said...

That's so funny. I clearly remember the three reading groups in my first grade because I was annoyed when I was initially put in with the Busy Bees. I mean, we all knew within a week that the top group was the Golden Angels. (I have no idea what the poor bottom group was called--probably the Hairy Toads).

About two weeks into school I was moved to the Golden Angels, probably due to my magnificent rendition of Dick and Jane.

It's amazing what the grade school brain remembers.


CassyT said...

SusanS - In kindergarten, I had to sit with the teacher and READ (horrors!) while the other kids got to play with blocks or in the house. So different from K today.

I could never remember how to say "eight" from Eight Apples on Top.

Anonymous said...



I could never remember how to say "eight" from Eight Apples on Top.I think I have memories of eight being a problem, too.

I remember one day having to stand up to read aloud. I was whipping along until I came to this word that I had never seen. I was completely horrified. I just stood there while every little Golden Angel looked at me. I frantically searched my little 5-year old brain, but could come up with nothing.

Finally, the teacher, who was around 300 years old, quietly said, "Out."

In a panic, I immediately seared the three letters in my brain for all eternity.

I used the "seared word" reading strategy that day, I guess. Probably a common one in the 50's and 60's.


Allison said...

--It's worth noting that any half-decent kindergarten teacher will tell you that kids arrive at their first day of school in very different places. Some kids are behind and some are ahead from Day 1 of Year 1. Hence a little hesitation to shake big sticks. ("It's not our fault," try "The problem begins before we ever get the kids.")'''

What PROBLEM is it?

You allude to it. But you don't say. What, precisely, is the problem?

Because the above phrasing is lazy. It's a kind of convenient shorthand thought for some deeper ideas you can't be bothered to articulate.

Try articulating them, and then admit to yourself what it is you really mean.

That is, you're a TEACHER. What "problem" exists that prevents you from teaching a kid to read?

Is "the problem" that despite your claim to be a teacher, you really can only teacher if you've got X,Y and Z as prerequisite characteristics of the child? Because, heck, *I* can teach a kid who has those prereqs, and I'm not a teacher. So what then constitutes a "good teacher" if you can't work with whatever you get for inputs?

Is "the problem" as you put it that you can't teach to a group as diverse as you get? Then stop advocating inclusive classrooms and move to ability grouping. That is, as a TEACHER, START advocating in your school, in your district, in your writing, in your professional career for ability grouping, and support parents when they ask for it.

Or is your claim that you can't make a reader out of someone who doesn't come to school knowing enough vocabulary?

Why not use Direct Instruction materials then to help them? Why not use Core Knowledge curricula to teach content so they can? Then you'd be teaching content and accelerating those who need to catch up.

It looks like abdication that you can't turn these kids into readers. Do you really think this, yes, or no?

If no, then what is your "the problem is before us" statement about? What PROBLEM is there?

If yes, then is it your own racism/classism? Distrust/dislike/disrespect for parents? A fundamental belief that teaching can't work unless X,Y, and Z are already in place? If so, what business do you have being a teacher?

Parents want to support their kids teachers. Perhaps it's time for you to examine your own preconceptions about teaching before lecturing parents about what we see as consistently blaming the victim.

Mr. AB said...

Allison - You were right to call my phrasing lazy. I assumed that people would read the entire sequence and understand that the "problem" I was referring to is the "fault" Catherine mentioned in the initial post. Vague and undefined from the beginning.

After that, you rhetorically fall off a cliff into a desire to pin upon me the faults of every teacher that seems to have slighted you or your children.

Racism? Classism? Fundamental distrust of parents? Blaming the victim? Are you going to mis-infer from this statement that I beat the children too? You know nothing about me so leave off with the personal attacks. You crossed well over from productive debate and to starting a rant.

The "problem" is varying achievement levels, the infamous "gap" between (and within) SES and racial groups. It begins before public education gets the kids and then public education makes it much worse.

In regards to early reading, the divide has most specifically been isolated as a "vocabulary gap," created by inconsistent exposure to high-level conversation, texts, and other forms of language modeling.

The does not prevent children from learning to read. Few teachers contend that. It only results in children learning to read at different rates.

As you increase the class size, the number of different rates you are dealing with also increases. As you move these rates across years, and then increase the class size even more, the problem trees out to become the defining struggle in 4th to 6th grade teaching, especially in diverse communities.

Most of our curriculum, especially when taught under pure Direct Instruction, is predicated upon the notion that every child in the classroom learns at the same rate.
This leads to the question of achievement grouping. (Not ability grouping, which would have us administering IQ tests and which is quasi-illegal.)

Achievement grouping is one of those great in theory but terrible in practice situations. It makes DI much easier, certainly. But research shows that time and again educators, our fault entirely on this one, place kids with terrible classist and racist biases.
Further, it shows that we, still our fault, step up and over-teach the top kids, while slowing down and under-teaching the low kids. This is a pathetic testament to the sorry dedication of many in our teaching corps and I make no defense for it, except to say that I have worked with exceptional teachers who have volunteered to take the "low group" and still struggled. We also tend to place our best teachers not with our low groups, which need them most, but with our high groups, because only the principals know their parents expect that or, in the higher grades, because only the top teachers can challenge them. This is a pathetic testament to the instructional and academic level of some of our teachers, for which I likewise make no excuses. On top of all this, few systems of achievement grouping really allow for any upwards mobility, between the uneven pace and the self-fulfillment of low expectations. My experience has been that eccentricities of the test are often the only reason kids move groups, only to be moved back at the next test. Compounded with the early ages people (across the community) want to start the grouping, 5 to 8, then it starts to sound like we're administering tests to 6 and 7 year-olds that will effectively determine whether or not they're in the top track classes for the rest of their educational lives.

Holy moly! Folks, are we really okay with that?

When achievement grouping is done well, it is based on a variety of high-quality measures that assure less bias, it is temporary across the day and does not define the classroom community, it *decelerates* top kids (who finally have time to explore concepts at a truly higher level) and *accelerates* low kids (who need to be moving at twice the pace), and it is temporary across the year or years, where the different paces intersect to allow students to switch groups.

I already advocate for this, but always under the statement, "Let's only do this if we're going to do it right."

Otherwise, it becomes a racist, classist, child-blaming, parent-ignoring system that no one who claims to be a TEACHER should participate in.

Cranberry said...

"Most of our curriculum, especially when taught under pure Direct Instruction, is predicated upon the notion that every child in the classroom learns at the same rate."

Mr. AB, have you read Siegfried Engelman's reports on his work? It wasn't my impression that he advocates using entire classrooms as learning groups. The description he gave, I seem to remember, was the use of much smaller, flexible groupings, which were adjusted as needed.

If those running the program don't readjust the grouping at intervals, what you call "pure Direct Instruction" is no different than an old-fashioned classroom, without the modern fiction of differentiation.

On Zigsite, in his Low Achievers' Manual, Engelman writes of working with children in small groups--four or five children, not an entire class!

Cranberry said...

"When achievement grouping is done well, it is based on a variety of high-quality measures that assure less bias, it is temporary across the day and does not define the classroom community, it *decelerates* top kids (who finally have time to explore concepts at a truly higher level) and *accelerates* low kids (who need to be moving at twice the pace), and it is temporary across the year or years, where the different paces intersect to allow students to switch groups."

I believe our children are in a public school which tries to practice this. What happens? Well, the groups are always made up of a fast-learning kid, a slowly learning kid, and two kids in the middle. Progressive approach, of course, so the teacher is a "guide on the side," i.e., checks in occasionally. The "accelerated" low kid falls farther behind, because the lesson, or group work, is set at the level of the middle kids. The middle kids might do the work, if they arrive in the classroom with a good work ethic, but as they get older, many learn to let the fast-learning kid do all the work. Until, of course, the parents of the "decelerated" fast-learning kid get tired of the low level of instruction on offer, and move house, or put the kid into a private school.

Mr. AB said...

"smaller, flexible groupings"

These are undoubtedly essential to teaching a diverse group of students. However, the determination of these groupings and truly keeping them flexible, whether within or across classes, is the challenge I was writing of. I find that, for math, within class groupings, where each group is formed by achievement and then taught in mini-DI lessons, then rotating out to do practice/assessment, is highly effective, if the numbers and classroom management make it possible. (For most teachers: 20, yes, 28, maybe, 36, not so much)

This technique isn't as grand for reading because mini-DI on specific reading skills (past grade 3) isn't as potent as it is in math. Really understanding an idea in literary analysis just simply takes time, repetition and discussion.

"What happens? Well, the groups are always made up of a fast-learning kid, a slowly learning kid, and two kids in the middle. "

That's not achievement grouping, which is homogeneous by achievement level, that's mixed grouping, which is heterogeneous by achievement level. I'm not a fan of mixed grouping for much aside from teaching kids to get along or learn a second language. (Which is not the same as learning to read)

Allison said...

I'm sorry if you took me to be ranting. I wasn't. I am sorry that I spoke poorly enough that you heard personal attacks. I did not intend that, and am not intending that. I asked you to stop being lazy because I was attacking your argument, because fundamentally the EXCUSE that there's an achievement gap is NOT AN ARGUMENT at all. It's a NON SEQUITUR.

And therein is the crux of the problem. You think you've said something important when you point out the obvious. I think you've said something irrelevant.

The achievement gap is neither here nor there to whether or not you take ownership of the learning of the children in your charge 6 hours a day, 180 days a year. You either move each individual to where they know more than they did, and know more than their own parents could have taught them, or you didn't.

The achievement gap is a non sequitur if as you say most teachers believe every one can be taught to read. Then TEACH THEM.

You don't need different models. You don't need "the best teachers". You need to follow a darn script.

The rest of your argument were straw men. The claim that we over teach the high kids is not backed up by data anywhere. The claim that our best teachers teach the high group is not backed up either. Your comments about DI claiming every child learns at the same rate don't match with anything Englemann says at all. Your comments about achievement grouping go back to "bias" but without data to back that up.

And then you go to test eccentricities. etc. All straw men.

Oh, and the bottom line was wrong too: decelerating the top kids is wrong.

To the main issue that there's an achievement gap:
when a problem doesn't have a solution it isn't a problem; it's a FACT.

The achievement gap is a FACT. Get over it. It's not a problem to be fixed. It's a fact.

Either you teach kids to read or you don't. Some will learn more and better. GOOD FOR THEM. Bring the rest up to a reasonable level. Use instruction that works. You will never make all kids have the same rates of learning, or the same starting ground. Stop using that as a darn excuse. And just teach them to read.

VickyS said...

The achievement gap is about race and poverty.

Let's imagine some bell curves for achievement. Whites have a certain bell curve. Blacks have a certain (different) bell curve. Low income, different. Asian, different. And so on.

Eliminating the achievement gap, in my mind, means we ultimately get all the bell curves superimposed. And not just that--it's getting them superimposed onto the one farthest to the right (probably the white, Asian or high income one). There is no excuse for holding down (decelerating) high performers in order to help low performers catch up.

But even assuming we succeed, and I sure hope we do, people (educators, the public) need to understand that the bell curve will still be there.

A lot of people (few on this blog, however) make the mistake of thinking that eliminating the achievement gap means attaining equal outcomes for every child. This will never happen. Whether through effort or talent or a combination of both, some kids will learn more and faster. As Mr. AB says, this "trees out" as the kids get older, and the differences become larger and larger. The fast learners stay fast, and put increasingly large amounts of ground between themselves and others. The slow learners may fall increasingly behind. We need to do our best to teach them all, and that means we shouldn't try to equalize them. No one should get "decelerated" or "accelerated"; ideally everyone will be taught close to their ZPD, with the result that the amount of additional achievement per unit time, which is a function of their individual natural learning rates at that point in time, will differ.

Mr. AB said...

Allison -

Actually, "the research" completely validates my assertions. Just as it validates yours too, I'm sure. The problem is that "the research," in any field, is rarely monolithic. As a professional, I read a variety of research and base my conclusions on that variety of research. I cited just one, albeit old, example of a meta-study in a prior that supports my thoughts on achievement grouping.

"You don't need different models. You don't need "the best teachers". You need to follow a darn script."

It's informative to hear you say that. It helps to realize just how far from reality some people are about the challenges of teaching. Do you truly, honestly, believe teachers should be reading from a script? That students would listen and learn that way? Do you parent while reading from a script?

"The achievement gap is a FACT. Get over it. It's not a problem to be fixed. It's a fact."

Wow. It's really exciting to hear someone say that too. Let me guess which side of the gap your kids are on, if you seem to have no interest in it being closed.

Maybe you misunderstand what we're calling "the gap." The gap when students enter school will not close for generations, but it will close. For now though, that gap is a fact, a given until more parents are more educated. The factuality of it is why I'm uninterested in assigning "fault" to our problems.

It's the exit gap I am interested in, which I wrongly assumed that would be obvious. I seem to give you too much credit and you give me too little. An effective education system should close the gap not enlarge it. That gap is not a fact.

You also seem to totally misunderstand me and my work. The achievement gap, on either side of education, doesn't serve as an excuse for me, it serves as a motivation. It's what makes me work eleven-hour days, sacrifice weekends and vacation weeks, and take total ownership over my students' learning. I've closed the gap for over 200 students already and I am just getting started.

VickyS said...

In the microenvironment of the individual classroom, on the other hand, the achievement gap is, indeed, a fact that just simply must be dealt with. Whatever each child brings to the table, that's what you have to work with.

This is why states should consider using growth models (longitudinal assessments) that show individual student achievement rather than population based grade level assessments. Finally, the Dept of Ed is more open to permitting these under NCLB.

In a growth model, teachers and schools are held accountable for continuing improvements in each individual child (even the top students).

Mr. AB said...

Vicky -

For the record, I agree with everything you say.

I understand the difference between equity and equality, opportunity and outcome.

A growth model for accountability and longitudinal assessment would be fantastic, but it must be paired with more fine-tuned tests. Often, students who are moving the most can't demonstrate their growth because the exams have so far surpassed their understanding. Moving from 1st to 4th grade in math or reading, for instance, won't generally show up on our 6th grade tests.

Allison said...

--it's the exit gap I am interested in, which I wrongly assumed that would be obvious. I seem to give you too much credit and you give me too little. An effective education system should close the gap not enlarge it. That gap is not a fact.

You can call it that. But on this point, I fundamentally disagree. An effective education system should increase the gap but provide a floor.

You say yu can't actually do anything with the gap for "Generations".---but in generations, the gap will be larger. This is still a non sequitur. Either you can teach the kids or you can't. If you can, then the gap does not matter to the actual teaching. It's an excuse that hides that your models for teaching are profoundly broken.

Pick any subset of kids you want out of your district. Can you or can't you teach them all to reach a given floor on exit? If yes, then you should be pushing to create ways to do exactly that with that subset, and then move on to the next subset. Our system doesn't, whether you exhaust yourself on 11 hour days or not.

Cranberry said...

The trouble is, systems look for one floor for all. Our system now cites its performance on the state graduation tests as proof of its excellence.

Kids do enter the school system with different degrees of preparation. Even affluent districts will have a few children who have not had a nurturing childhood, particularly on the parenting front. (As an aside, may I say that au pairs can't intended to function as Supernannies? it's unfair to them, and to their charges, to expect that.)

On the other hand, I am not certain that intensive early childhood programs can close that gap. I was worried for a time that my youngest would fall behind his peers, as all their mothers were "working with them" at the ages of 18 months and up. Workbook sheets, educational videos, etc. I felt like the veriest hippy, letting my child play with blocks and playdough, occasionally reading a book to him, and limiting tv time. He did have a very good spoken vocabulary for his age, which probably means that he was picking up on conversation.

He's now in first grade, and he's reading very well for his age. I don't notice a difference in reading between him and his peers, although last year he was behind them on sounding out simple words. [We did use a reading program at home from, when he was falling behind in kindergarten, and getting discouraged.] So I suppose I'd say that intensive early efforts may seem to help, but by, say, 3rd grade, could you pick out those kids? Maybe not. So, expensive efforts to remediate in preschool might make a difference in kindergarten, but is it the best use of the money, if the difference washes out by 2nd or 3rd grade? Would it not be better to provide targeted support at a defined problem?

One thing I find heartbreaking at our school is the lack of support for kids with diagnosed reading disabilities. Unlike many problems, there are programs and approaches which do work well with dyslexic kids. Our school doesn't pull out kids with reading issues for targeted work, although it could. It isn't a lack of resources, but a misapplication of said resources. I do think that E.D. Hirsch's work strikes me as common sense, and that the Matthew effect is a really powerful mechanism. Rather than trying to spare the children's feelings (really the parents' feelings, and their propensity to sue) by teaching children in large heterogeneous groups, target instruction to those kids who need it, when they need it. The feeling of failure reinforces itself.

Amy P said...

"Do you parent while reading from a script?"

Mr. AB,

Have you ever noticed that many of the popular parenting books (How To Talk So Kids Will Listen And Listen So Kids Will Talk and others of that ilk) do offer a lot of scripts for parents?

VickyS said...

An effective education system should increase the gap but provide a floor.I think there's confusion about terminology here. Are Allison and Mr. AB talking about the same thing when they use the term "gap"? I don't think so. I'd welcome clarification from each of them!

Allison maintains that effective education should "increase the gap"? Increase the gap between races? Between income levels? I don't think that's what is meant (or is it?) When I talk about the gap (and I think I am using the mainstream concept), I am talking about the difference in achievement between racially or economically defined subgroups. I think that's what Mr. AB is talking about too.

Maybe Allison means (and I would agree) we should not hesitate to increase the "spread" of the bell curve. The education we provide to the top kids should help them to achieve everything they can--no limit--so that the tail on the right side extends further and further. As she stated earlier, some kids learn more and better. Good for them.

As for the floor, the kids on the bottom can and should be taught so as to achieve at least a defined minimal level of proficiency. I.e., we eliminate the tail on the left side of the curve. It's just chopped off, a discontinuity. There is a minimum set of expectations we should have concerning the education of each child. This is not a target. You don't necessarily stop there. It may actually be well below the grade level expectations set by NCLB, which clearly operate as de facto targets. Setting a true minimum does not equate with low expectations, and it does not mean that no effort is put into helping capable children achieve well above the minimum. It just means that there is, in fact, a minimum. It is inevitable that some kids will reach the minimum and progress no further. But that is exactly why it is the minimum, yes?

And, to take what I think is Allison's argument a bit further, as a society we should be content if we can achieve both these objectives: no upper limit, combined with a serious floor. We stop trying to eliminate the gaps in achievement that produce the overall bell curve when each child is educated to his/her potential, as defined by his/her effort and/or talent.

Allison, is that what you are driving at? If it is, it's not at all inconsistent with efforts to eliminate the "other" gap between subgroups...i.e., to get those bell curves to superimpose.

Mr. AB said...

"I am talking about the difference in achievement between racially or economically defined subgroups. I think that's what Mr. AB is talking about too."

Yes. Though the confusion was about the gap when students enter school and the gap when they leave. Most educators I know are really only interested in the “exit gap.” That's the one we made.

"Maybe Allison means (and I would agree) we should not hesitate to increase the "spread" of the bell curve."

So long as it increases among all sub-groups within the school’s population, I’m fine with this too. Having worked substantially with gifted students, I well understand their unusual and tremendous abilities.

"There is a minimum set of expectations we should have concerning the education of each child."

I’m very much in favor of this and have worked on it before. We refer to it as “essentializing” standards or benchmarks. It should indeed be lower than grade level standards/NCLB requirements, but that makes it rather unsavory for administrators, whose feet are being held to the fire solely over “NCLB proficiency.” They don’t want our eyes off the ball. I suspect it would become very common practice within a growth model.

"Have you ever noticed that many of the popular parenting books (How To Talk So Kids Will Listen And Listen So Kids Will Talk and others of that ilk) do offer a lot of scripts for parents?"

“A script” or “a lot of scripts?” There’s a big difference. I don’t know a single teacher who, in the living nightmare of their first year, wouldn’t have given half their pay for a box of scripts. A script to use when a student is being bullied, a script to use when a student throws up and you need to get your class back to work, a script to use when a parent is yelling at you for asking their child to complete their homework, the list could go on for miles.

The problem is textbooks try to supply one script for a lesson, no part of which imagines the kids will do anything other than listen and answer expectably. One script, to meet the varied needs of 36 students, varied again across every distinct classroom in the school, varied again across every school in the state, not to mention the myriad possibilities of what can happen in each hour of the day.

There’s a lot of merit to unifying the vocabulary of instruction, don’t get me wrong. Let’s teach children in common terms, let’s specify the language of learning. But that’s not a script you can read. I’m a big believer in the power of explicitly taught key terms and cognitive tools. I’m a big fan of finding and teaching “Tier II” vocabulary, the sight words for late elementary students.

Now, after a few years of practice and refinement, I use the same “verbal routines” for a lot of my instruction and classroom management. I compose new ones and drop old ones as they lose resonance with the kids. They are tremendously powerful but they are also myriad. So I have and need a lot of scripts. But that’s not the same as “following a script.” A single script pretends that all students are the same, every day is routine, and reading at students will mean they learn. That’s a fiction.

SteveH said...

Miss a day or two and I really can't catch up.

I would say that I'm not sure what people mean by gap or exit gap. I assume that this is tied to specific numbers. What are those numbers? Is it defined by something like the numbers from NAEP? What is the formula? What do those numbers really mean? What does a gap mean if the tests are simple? Are you really defining a relative gap? I don't want to talk about a gap if the magnitude of the numbers stink. What if you can improve the absolute performance of all students, but the gap widens?

I also don't want to discuss gaps when we're talking about just learning to read or knowing the times table by the end of third grade, unless this a gap between competence and incompetence. Could it be a gap between good assumptions and bad assumptions? Does eliminating a gap require that you don't separate those who can or will from those who can't or won't? Could it also be a gap between what some parents do at home versus what other parents do at home to make up for the deficiencies of the school or curriculum?

I'm confused about exactly what the problem(s) is or are. Problems are usually tied to numbers. I need to know what those numbers are, and they have to be applied to some absolute, external scale.