kitchen table math, the sequel: Spitting in the eye of mainstream education

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Spitting in the eye of mainstream education

Here's a refreshing break from the normal PC drenched solutions to getting change in public education.

Reporting from Oakland -- Not many schools in California recruit teachers with language like this: "We are looking for hard working people who believe in free market capitalism. . . . Multicultural specialists, ultra liberal zealots and college-tainted oppression liberators need not apply."

This is just the beginning of the story about how American Indian Charter School(s) are breaking from orthodoxy and getting spectacular results in Oakland with inner city kids. Here's another taste...

Unions are embraced with the same warmth accorded "self-esteem experts, panhandlers, drug dealers and those snapping turtles who refuse to put forth their best effort," to quote the school's website.
They don't shrink from high expectations and they don't take prisoners when it comes to discipline. But, they are not without enemies either...

Not surprisingly, many Bay Area liberals have a hard time embracing an educational philosophy that proudly proclaims that it "does not preach or subscribe to the demagoguery of tolerance."

Here's the money quote...

The Academic Performance Index, the central measuring tool for California schools, rates schools on a scale from zero to 1,000, based on standardized test scores. The state target is an API of 800. The statewide average for middle and high schools is below 750. For schools with mostly low-income students, it is around 650.

The oldest of the American Indian schools, the middle school known simply as American Indian Public Charter School, has an API of 967. Its two siblings -- American Indian Public Charter School II (also a middle school) and American Indian Public High School -- are not far behind.

Among the thousands of public schools in California, only four middle schools and three high schools score higher. None of them serves mostly underprivileged children.

Reading this makes me think of the famous line from A Few Good Men, "You can't handle the truth." I'm wondering aloud how many people in my district could handle this truth. Not many, I suspect.


SteveH said...

"You can't handle the truth."

I was just thinking about easy things schools could do to find out the truth, but they don't do them. The first one is to ask parents exactly what they do at home. Ask them to keep a log. For larger schools, they could offer both an Everyday Math and a Singapore Math track and let parents decide.

I think schools know that their best students don't get what they need, but I don't think they know how well the rest of their students could do. Schools don't want to teach to the test, but they can't seem to get good results using their indirect methods. Instead of dealing with the truth of how simple the test questions are, they decide that some other sort of evaluation is more "authentic".

There is a lot of truth avoiding when it comes to their basic assumptions. They stick with relative improvements. Our state transforms raw test data (% correct) into a Proficiency Index which is scaled to give a very high percent, but it's based only on how well a school is doing in getting all kids over a minimum cut-off. The truth (raw percent correct) is lost. Nobody looks at the actual test questions and the raw percent correct scores.

The truth has to do with questioning their fundamental assumptions.

Independent George said...

Why seek truth when there are such pretty lies to believe? Once again, the reporter can't bring himself to write an education story without reviving the "teaching to the test" trope, even though it's readily apparent from the story that they do no such thing, and he is told explicitly why it's not what they do.

"I don't see it as teaching to the test," said Carey Blakely, a former teacher at the school who is writing a book about it. "I see it as, there are certain skills and knowledge that you're supposed to impart to your students, and the test measures whether your students have acquired those skills and that knowledge."

Anonymous said...

Maryland has state proficiency tests, which are offered for the first time in 8th grade. For the kids in the honors track, there's no teaching to the test beyond the reminder to make sure you are filling in the right blank for each question. There's no stress, either; just yawns that they have to waste time taking the tests. They know they will pass because the tests are so basic.

Schools demonize "teaching to the test" while ignoring the fact that kids who have been TAUGHT a properly-sequenced, content-rich curriculum (i.e. well-educated kids) will have no trouble passing such tests.

momof4 said...

Schools don't want to know what parents do at home or what outside tutoring they hire because that would destroy the fiction that the schools are teaching the kids. In a very highly-rated, affluent suburban district it's been known (by parents) for decades that most of the most successful kids are products of families who make sure the kids get what they need to get on the honors/AP track when they hit high school. There was a lot of parent teaching and outside tutoring and my experience with it was back when there was limited mainstreaming and there were two levels of each subject in both ES and MS, and three levels in HS. There's probably more heterogeneous grouping now and probably much more outside teaching.