kitchen table math, the sequel: Mythologies

Tuesday, December 14, 2010


One way to win a debate is to make sure you're in on developing the question, for it is the nature of the question that frames the debate. The question is the fence around the playing field and when the question is, for example, "What should our standards be?", or "How will we measure success?", you can't discuss, "What are our standards for?", or "How will we act on our measurements?".

In public education much of the debate has been co-opted by this time tested debating technique. While people argue about curriculum, pedagogy, and standards, two mythologies, central to the field are left outside the fence. One myth is that all children have the same abilities (child as widget) and its partner is that public education can be designed as a singular (widget factory) assembly line, replicated across towns, states, and country. Much of the flailing in evidence today is about how to come up with this mythical process for our mythical widgets.

First, child as widget. I don't buy it. Without addressing why or how children arrive at their various capabilities, it is demonstrably true that any age based cross section of kids will produce a vast range of abilities. These can be athletic, academic, maturity, or any other measure you can think of. Kids exhibit huge differences in any category you can think of.

Unfortunately, many (most?) of the education establishment does buy into the child as widget meme. It's understandable since this is both politically and emotionally correct. Who wants to admit an inconvenient truth after all? If you buy the myth while being charged with developing widget factories, then your first task as a designer is to come up with a device that supports your mythological fantasies.

This is the root of subjective standards. With subjective standards one can disguise differences. It allows for the substitution of exposure for mastery. It facilitates social promotion. It pretends that there are no dependent stages to building an educated widget. It eliminates the need for expectations. Subjective standards remove the scoreboard from the game.

The second myth, the widget factory, is only made possible by instituting the first. It would be absurd to design a singular assembly line if your raw materials were not being delivered to the line meeting some minimum level of specification. Fuzzy specifications clear this problem. Subjective standards that support the 'child as widget' myth are a precondition for the widget factory. Fuzzy subjective standards create the necessary illusion that permits the universal solution.

So if you find yourself arguing text books, teachers, pedagogy, and expectations, lift your head out of the weeds to see if there is greener grass over the hill. You might be surprised at what you see.


Allison said...

Paul! Glad you're not dead!

I disagree completely, from beginning to end. I've now visited more than a dozen schools trying to find an elementary school for my son, met over 20 teachers through my math workshops, and reviewed nearly a dozen grade school math textbooks.

The myth that is animating nearly every single classroom, teacher, principal, and textbook I've seen is that every child has unique learning needs, and every classroom teacher should meet every child where they are at and support their individual learning journeys.

There aren't any widget factories anymore. Widget factories would teach skills. Skills are beneath most classrooms to teach.

This myth is obviously not comporting to reality. No classroom teacher can possibly meet each student where they are and move them all up to the same place or better in a year's time. But even more insane is the claim that because a child is unique, a child has unique learning needs. No, most children have very similar learning needs, and efficiency in instruction would save many from the fate of not being able to read and not being able to compute.

The second myth that comes from the first is that standards are mean, cruel, and otherwise inappropriate, because they support widgets, and unique children can't possibly all be expected to meet the same standards. This is what I see in nearly every classroom regardless of what the principal or dean says about standards. The teachers are only going to move a child epsilon from where they are now--no more, because asking more might hurt their feelings.

The flailing I see is 100% in line with the belief that the widget factory is immoral. Direct instruction with scripts? For widgets by widgets--therefore morally bad. Drills and worksheets for the whole class? For widgets by widgets--morally bad. Children should develop their own processes for computing arithmetic, and spend time explaining in words their thoughts. Skills like handwriting, grammar, spelling? More widget factory. They should be learned "across disciplines" while doing "authentic reading and writing"--where each child can bring their unique spelling errors and grammatical errors to light, because their errors ARE MORE AUTHENTIC! Instead, they should spend time on higher order thinking, even though they know nothing about which to think.

Our children aren't taught any skills that could possibly be widgetized, and as a result, they have no fluency of skills on which to build content knowledge.

SteveH said...

".. every child has unique learning needs, and every classroom teacher should meet every child where they are at and support their individual learning journeys."

I see this too. Of course, it's driven by a philosophy (in K-8) that treats education in very vague terms. It's interesting how it all fits together neatly, except for the fact that it doesn't work, even based on their own standards. They are only saved by the fact that some kids manage to do well. They really don't want to know those details.

For standards (state tests), most teachers seem to be on-board. Some in the later grades may not like the gaps and spread in ability, but this is the hole they've dug for themselves. Our state tests are created and calibrated by teachers. They are fuzzy and "balanced" (and simple), so it would be tough to complain.

They avoid the "mean" problem by assuming that all kids will progress at their own rate. This means that they have no way to determine if kids are developmentally slow or if they are doing a poor job teaching. How convenient. However, my son's fifth grade teacher knew perfectly well that the kids who didn't know their times table were capable.

They have everything they want. Nobody is forcing tests on them that they don't want. They believe in balance. They have full inclusion. They have differentiated instruction. They have discovery and thematic learning. They have "trust the spiral". It all seems to work (almost) around here because the standards are low and the parents make up the difference. They will continue to keep tweaking and keep seeing the minimal state cutoff levels as their maximum goal.

They might give lip service to the more able kids, but there is no system or program in place other than in-class differentiation, and all of the examples I've seen have been incredibly stupid; to the point where you can't politely say anything without questioning their sanity. They are left with the need to claim that less is somehow more; that they teach understanding, critical thinking, and 21st century skills. It's all a cover.

Knowledge Based Science said...

I agree with Steve and Allison that the romantic notion of each child being a unique snowflake is in full swing right now. (That this results in thousands of locally controlled schools that are clones of each other is a matter for another post.)

Steve, I've seen vast differences between K-8 teachers and high school teachers. (Even many 6-8 teachers fall into the latter group.) The latter are a lot less romantic. They get stuck with teaching underprepared students. They would rather see a few drills and worksheets in the lower grades.

Also, what you have to understand is that a lot of the bad instructional ideas don't come from teachers directly. They are pushed on teachers by administrators, superintendents, assistant superintendents, etc.. These people tend to have been teachers of non-science/math subjects or special ed. They espouse philosophies that are popular in education circles. They don't listen to actual teachers or even care what teachers think. It's a closed circle.

- Hainish

momof4 said...

As long as schools are placing mixed lots of students, from severely handicapped through gifted, in the same class, I consider them to be using the widget model regardless of how much they talk about unique snowflakes. Until they actually provide a learning environment suitable for each level of kids, it's all smoke and mirrors, and the emperor has no clothes.

Lsquared said...

It's interesting how educators--especially those making big decisions--can simultaneously believe that all children can learn and should be taught the same things in the same classes, and also believe that each child is unique and you have to teach each child in their own way. The myths combine to give a rationale for doing what looks good. Allowed discussions are just not allowed to challenge those assumptions in any significant way.

SteveH said...

"I've seen vast differences between K-8 teachers and high school teachers."

Yes, it's mostly a problem in K-6. Now that our state requires specialization for all 7th and 8th grade teachers, it was interesting to see the mixed signals coming from my son's middle school. CMP was driven out of 7th and 8th grades, but Everyday Math is firmly cemented in K-6. Instead of pushing the lower grades to teach more skills, the message in 7th and 8th is that the kids have to take responsibility for their own learning and work harder. It's the ultimate blame-the-student tool.

"it's all smoke and mirrors"

Perhaps, but the arguing position is different. I can't go to our K-6 schools and claim that they are really treating kids as widgets. I could claim that differentiated instruction is a miserable failure, but what standard can I use, the state test?

When my son was in first grade, we went to the teacher and got her to give him chapter books to read and we had him write book reports. The teacher couldn't refuse because this was a key tenet of differentiated instruction. In the end, it didn't add up to much because we did all of the work and she barely looked at his write-ups.

When I talked to the principal about the issue of the kids at the top end, I never got any flack. They know that some kids are not being challenged. However, little happens in the classroom for these kids, or even for many kids in the middle. These are the kids who might do well in math, but they are ruined by 7th grade. Then they are told to work harder.

Differentiated instruction turned out not to be something that the teacher did, but something the student did. Our school actually called it differentiated learning one time. The class presentation is typically the same for all kids, but the more able kids are told to do more work; the assignment handout might have extra questions for these kids or they might hand out different assignment sheets for different kids.

By 7th and 8th grades, differentiated instruction turned into nonlinear rubric expectations. The rubric scale was 1 - 5, with 3 being "meeting expectations" and a 4 was something like an 'A' and a 5 was equivalent to an "A+", or even higher! The rubric goal for a 5 was often an exercise in the unachievable or reading the teacher's mind. My son had the continual feeling that everything he did was not good enough. Some teachers even liked to use low grades as motivation.

Now that he is in high school, it's quite different. It seems that the culture is more academically-oriented than at other high schools in our area. We don't have people pushing things like IMP or Core-Plus.

Anonymous said...

I saw a huge difference when our 7-8 JHS went to a 6-7-8 MS, over high parent opposition. The academic focus almost disappeared and the k-5 artsy-crafty, touchy-feely stuff predominated. My younger kids and their peer groups hated it and so did I. The same mindset existed at the 6-7-8-9 MS (in another state) my youngest attended for 9th, only it was worse because honors 9th kids had much more limited choices than did 9th graders in a 9-12 HS. Our experience with the MS model was pretty miserable; starting HS was almost like being let out of jail.

Crimson Wife said...

I prefer the athletic training metaphor. Schools have a responsibility to provide high-quality training with an emphasis on mastering the basic skills but there shouldn't be an expectation that all students will progress at the same rate or ultimately be able to reach the same level. Those with special talents deserve the chance to train with their peers (akin to what selective travel teams do).

Anonymous said...

Yes, in sports and I'm sure also in the fine/performing arts, once you get to elite levels there's not much pretense that all are equally talented or hard-working. Even kids barely of school age are doing tryouts and dealing with the fact that sometimes they don't make the team. Many, including my own, simply worked harder and made the cut the next time.

Schools, however, may not run that way, even at HS varsity levels. One principal - fortunately a one-year wonder - insisted that even the varsity make no cuts. Talk about problems! A local district recently turned down requests for 7-8th graders to try out for the HS golf team, since there wasn't a MS team; it was felt to be too damaging to juniors and seniors to be passed over for a kid that young! It's the entitlement mentality. Back in my dinosaur era, I never heard any teacher express any interest in self-esteem, but self-control and hard work were of primary importance.

Anonymous said...

"Yes, in sports and I'm sure also in the fine/performing arts, once you get to elite levels there's not much pretense that all are equally talented or hard-working."

This happens *MUCH* earlier than the kids playing on elite/travel teams.

My son plays little league baseball. There are no cuts -- everyone gets assigned to a team -- and the rules ensure that everyone plays (NOTE: I like this a lot). At his level the coaches tend to try to even out the playing time, too, and not just play the less talented kids for the league required minimum.

It is still PAINFULLY clear that the kids are not all equally talented and/or hard working.

You either get on base when it is your turn to bat, or you don't.

*IF* you are good enough to pitch in a game, you either throw strikes or you don't.

If/when the ball is hit to you, you catch it and/or throw it back in correctly/accurately. Or you don't.

Some of this is age/experience. Some is willingness to work/practice. And some of this is just raw talent.

But *Everyone* knows, roughly, what the talent stacking is for a given team. You just can't hide it.

-Mark Roulo

Paul B said...

It's true that you can find examples of classrooms that haven't bought into the myth. I would submit though, that most of these are swimming against powerful currents at higher organizational levels.

If a school is placing kids based on age, it's a widget factory. If teachers are paid based on union scale not performance, it's a widget factory. National standards, subjective measures, phony grades, all are driven by the mythical kids mythology. How about Textbooks selected (mostly) by Texas?

Most of all, ask if your district uses standardized testing to measure school performance. If it does then it's most likely not using test results to fix the widgets. It's allowing demonstrably broken widgets to pass through the factory, unrepaired. All these things speak to a system that, at the highest organizational levels, buys into the mythologies. It is very difficult to cater to snowflakes in this cookie cutter clutter.

Paul B said...

By the way, any rumors of my early demise are just wishful thinking. I did however, retire before my time was up.

I spent my last teaching year fighting this very battle against a system that thoroughly embraces these mythologies. So while your mileage may vary, for me it was real. It sapped my strength and stole my desire.

Allison said...

--It is very difficult to cater to snowflakes in this cookie cutter clutter.

I think the causality is the other way around.

It's impossible to cater to the snowflakes. And now that everyone is special, special ed can't really exist, gifted ed can't really exist--because these kids are just on their own individual learning path, too, and there's isn't any better/worse/more defined than the other 25 kids in the room.

So given the impossibility of arranging kids *by skill or ability* because you refuse to acknowledge that such skills are valuable, or can be taught, or that teaching is good--you've got everyone going nowhere--no one is going to have any needs met. THIS is where it begins to look like a widget factory, but it came out of a myth that skills were bad, teaching was bad, and learning was the only authentic behavior, and could not be directed or pushed.

I've had several principals tell me that they use their standardized testing results to differentiate instruction in the classroom on a per child basis. When I asked the teachers, the answer was far more realistic--of course they couldn't.

But in the classrooms, I saw all sorts of ineffective differentiated instruction. Individual children left to read for long stretches of time--and not reading anything of value. Kids working on different math assignments, different problems, yet all of the cut-n-paste variety. No one was learning anything, but everyone got to feel good about themselves for differentiating instruction.

And then the results? Terrible. So the top level district just throws up its hands and demands "fidelity to the textbook". If anyone is actually being treated like widgets, it's the teachers. But again, it's from a different base myth, a myth that teaching in the first place was to be done away with as inauthentic to the learning process. The irony is that as ed schools pushed "the guide on the side", teachers lost what prestige and respect they had. Now no one thinks they matter much, so no one thinks they need to be treated as more than widgets.

But the underlying myth is an unconstrained vision of humanity and education, not a constrained one. Following Rousseau, if children were just left to their noble savagery, they would all become deeply curious life long learners who taught themselves to read and noticed the truth of the pythagorean theorem, all at their own pace, sooner or later.

Paul B said...

Causality of these beliefs is certainly arguable. It's sort of a like the question of which came first, the chicken or the egg. We didn't get to this place overnight so there was ample time for cross pollination, right?

You could argue that subjective standards enable the uniculture, widget factory. Conversely you could say that, with the widget factory in place, you must ensconce subjective standards or the whole house of cards falls apart.

Without settling the causality argument it's clear to me that the two mythologies are symbiotic and in spite of the vast majority of teachers being aware that it's bunk, they have to labor in it or be declared a heretic. You just do the best you can to try to address the vast spread in abilities you're confronted with. In June you have to let them all go, broken or not, to the next stage of Kabuki.

SteveH said...

In our town, what comes first in K-8 is full-inclusion. Families move to our town because we send very few kids away for special education. In some ways, it's very nice. Kids do learn to accept and help others. Nobody thinks that all kids are equal. It's quite obvious.

After you make that fundamental choice about education, what next? Do you say that everyone will take a hit educationally? No, you claim that it will all work out, and in fact, the education will better. How can they do that? Well, the education was not so great before. How can you tell the difference? Besides, they decide to make all kids special and develop IEPs for each one. This isn't some sort of official document. Parents don't even get to see it. Every so often, they have the kids fill out some sort of form where they talk about their learning styles and try to get them to take responsibility for their own learning.

They develop lesson plans that talk all about thematic learning and differentiated learning. They have rubrics that cater to kids at all levels. They try, but when you have such a vague definition of what constitutes a proper education, there are no clear goals. Full inclusion can't exist without it. There are the state tests, of course, but the school is more than happy to see their low cutoffs as their top goals. They promote the idea that having a high percentage of kids getting over the low cutoff means that they provide a quality education.

They know that the more able kids aren't getting what they need. They see kids leave for private school, but they claim that the parents just want an elite education for their kids. However, I have been told by some teachers that of course kids can get a better education. The kids are "pre-selected". Apparently, our public K-8 schools can go in the opposite full-inclusion direction and still provide a better education. Nobody is fooled, but the argument is now framed in terms of which end of the educational spectrum gets the resources. The schools claim that this is not a trade-off. It's possible because there is nothing in K-6 that defines a top end. What's best for the more able kids is whatever they decide.

I see this not so much as a widget argument but as defining what a high expectation path looks like in K-6. When my son was in first grade, I told some people on the school committee that they should hand out Hirsch's "What your First (Second, Third, etc.) grader needs to know" books to parents and tell them that that is NOT the education their child will receive. Even if we were to use their own idea of discovery and thematic learning, there is nothing that defines the top end.

They see that the state test requirements for the better students in high school are meaningless. Somehow, everything is just fine in the lower grades with the low state cutoffs. The answer is that they know that many students are not served well with full inclusion. They relented in 7th grade and started sorting kids in math and using real algebra books. But pushing higher expectations back into the lower grades would threaten full inclusion. They won't let that happen.

Allison said...

--Conversely you could say that, with the widget factory in place, you must ensconce subjective standards or the whole house of cards falls apart.

But this doesn't follow. there must be other assumptions here, because in a real widget factory, you'd fail defective widgets. No widget factory could survive having subjective standards. It would go out of business.

If we believed in teaching skills and a precursor to everything else, then all widgets would be expected to know how to read via synthetic phonics, know spelling, grammar, arithmetic, standard algorithms for long division. Being a widget factory wouldn't be terrible.

But in order to teach widgets, you'd have to group by prior knowledge/ability. That is the fence and framing of the answer that is not allowed. Nothing can be allowed that might separate kids into groups where different groups had different ethnic population ratios.

This is the underlying premise that informs so much of the other solutions, and why full inclusion is preferred. Singapore math is "not going to work with our group of kids" (or "our group of teachers") the board says. Under no circumstances will they find different curricula for the different populations being served. What that leaves is this model.

momof4 said...

Steve, perhaps you are not aware of the entry age into elite/travel sports. In soccer, it is not too uncommon for 7-year-olds to be playing up to a U9 or U10 team and swim practice groups based on official USS meet times usually start at 9. In gymnastics, the sorting starts in preschool groups.

Actually, soccer training is not a bad model. Outside of the US and Canada, top soccer talent is developed by the professional clubs, who start observing and recruiting kids as young as 5 (who are playing with kids 9 and 10), who typically begin training with the club at 10-13. At that point, they are essentially professionals and the club pays all their expenses. The emphasis is on individual skills. Underperforming kids are asked to leave. There was an article, I think in the NYT or WSJ, during last summer's World Cup about this difference. It all comes down to a poster that was popular when I was in college; "It's hard to soar like and eagle when you are surrounded by turkeys", with the suitable graphic. We are forcing kids who could and should soar into a model that rejects even the concept of soaring.

Paul B said...

Just to be clear, when I say widget factory it's pejorative. It's the mythical factory that denies the existence of snowflakes (love that term) and can only 'succeed' when it is supplied with identical (mythical) widgets for processing.

It's the factory that has to measure everything subjectively, lest it uncover it's own debilitating failures.

In the real world, forcing malformed raw material through successive formulations designed to receive usable stock, creates junk. Nobody makes widget factories anymore in the private sector.

Allison said...

I know you mean it pejoratively. I just disagree, because I believe an actual factory model for children would be an improvement over what we have now, because factories don't measure everything subjectively at all, and they produce results or they go away.

Anonymous said...

Because education is (except for home schooling) an endeavor that is carried out in groups, there is some sense in which we search for the experiences and curricula that all or most children can benefit from. Yes, they are not widgets, but they have enough similarities so that almost all 6 year olds can learn to read with an effective curriculum; almost all 6th graders can learn what fractions are and how to use them to solve problems, and so on. We differentiate at the margins, provide a bit of extra help to one who's confused, a little enrichment to one who's ready for it. But we cannot design each child's schooling experience as a separate entity because the only way to deliver good instruciton efficiently is to groups of children. This sometimes requires grouping of children by readiness instead of age.

Anonymous said...

Even most homeschooling is carried out, to some extent, in groups. One of the big political issues many homeschoolers face is which other homeschooling families to become affiliated with for group endeavors.

No man is an island. Neither is any kid.

Paul B said...

While it may be true that kids start out with similar skills. It's not true that they reach middle school with differences 'at the margins'. In my school we had 7th graders with objectively measured math skills that ranged from 3rd to 9th grade. This kind of dispersion is not marginal and it's not possible to 'treat' it with differentiation.

Our kids turned over at about a 30% rate every single year and every single one of them was expected to perform in their current monocultured curriculum, a model for widgets.

Allison said...

Paul, I've just visited a 22k a year private school where the 5th graders had a 3 grade dispersion, and by 7th grade, the measured range was from 4th through 10th.

No one left that school. they started in prek, mostly. There were some sizeable influxes in the 5th, 6th, and 7th grades, but not as large as 30%.

Every single one of these kids was ill served by their abysmal curriculum and differentiation in the classroom, which *refused* to sort by ability/skill before 6th grade and then "had to ability group" in 6th because of the disparity (thought they disapproved). Three tracks in 6th grade, and tracks never re-merged, and no one ever moved up, and a fifth grade teacher who was drowning trying to remediate the low (since they didn't ability group in 5th).

In this case, it was expressly a model that was built on constructivist curriculum where every child had been left to their own path. They weren't expected to perform the "same" in 5th grade and beyond--there was high, medium, and low for them. But it was still a disaster, because it was too late to really help.

palisadesk said...

In this case, it was expressly a model that was built on constructivist curriculum where every child had been left to their own path.

This is an opportune time to share my favorite quote from Zig Engelmann:

from "Theory of Instruction: Principles and Applications"(1991), p. 376 (the caps were italics in the original)

" The humanist in the classroom does not have the luxury of "not
teaching." No matter what the teacher does, a model will be presented; the
behavior of the teacher will suggest rules about the relative importance of
particular material. The TEACHER is responsible for achieving student

If the teacher permits the children to progress "at their own rate" and "in
their own style," some children may demonstrate slow rates and poor styles.
In that end, a self-fulfilling prophecy is realized. Some children will
indeed "prove" that they are slow, and the teacher will believe -- out of
ignorance, not humanity -- that these children would have been slow no
matter what type of instruction had been provided. From our perspective,
many classroom demonstrations provided by people who express great concern
for humanity are no more humane than the practice of using leeches to bleed
diseased patients.

If we are humanists, we begin with the obvious fact that the children we
work with are perfectly capable of learning anything that we have to teach.
We further recognize that we should be able to engineer the learning so
that it is reinforcing -- perhaps not "fun" but challenging and engaging.
We then proceed to DO it, not to continue talking about it.
We try to control those variables that are potentially within our control
so that they facilitate learning. We train the teacher, design the program,
work out a reasonable daily schedule, and LEAVE NOTHING TO CHANCE. We
monitor and we respond quickly to problems. We respond quickly and
effectively because we consider the problems moral and we conceive of
ourselves as providing a uniquely important function -- particularly for
those children who would most certainly fail without our concerted help.

We function as advocates for the children, with the understanding that if we
fail, the children will be seriously pre-empted from doing things with their
lives, such as having important career options and achieving some potential
values for society. We should respond to inadequate teaching as we would to
problems of physical abuse. Just as our sense of humanity would not permit
us to allow child abuse in the physical sense, we should not tolerate it in
the cognitive setting. We should be intolerant, because we KNOW what can be
achieved if children are taught appropriately. We know that the
intellectual crippling of children is caused overwhelmingly by faulty
instruction -- not by faulty children.

Because of these convictions, we have little tolerance for traditional
educational establishments. We feel that they must be changed so they
achieve the goals of actually HELPING ALL CHILDREN.

This call for humanity can be expressed on two levels. On that of society:
Let's stop wasting incredible human potential through unenlightened
practices and theories. On the level of children: Let's recognize the
incredible potential for being intelligent and creative possessed by even
the least impressive children, and with unyielding passion, let's pursue the
goal of assuring that this potential becomes reality."

Anonymous said...

Paul B, I don't disagree with you. Children can be taught effectively in a whole-class manner IF they are grouped according to readiness. That does indeed become more of an issue as they get older. The point I was making is that, unless teachers are able to teach to the whole class for a good portion of each day, the effectiveness/efficiency of the whole undertaking is compromised. And, Palisadesk, love that quotation from ZE. He is one of my heroes, and I can't for the life of me figure out why the educational establishment is so resistant to his curricula. Can you enlighten me on that?

SteveH said...

Very interesting comments:

"...where every child had been left to their own path..."

(Engelmann - 1991!)
"... a self-fulfilling prophecy is realized..."

".. we begin with the obvious fact that the children we work with are perfectly capable of learning anything that we have to teach."


Our K-8 schools say that "all children can learn", but then use only the low state test to define what that is. They even know that there is a self-fulfilling part. They used to have a nonlinear rubric grading system of 1-4, but few tried to do the huge jump in work required to get a 4. You could do very little work to get a 3. Now we have a range of 1-5. This is their rubric-based solution rather than a teaching-based solution to differentiation.

Our schools think they are doing everything that Engelmann talks about. They know that some kids should be challenged more, perhaps, but they see that many do just fine. In high school, kids are separated and more rigorous (one would hope) courses are offered. The state test becomes meaningless for many teachers and students.

Our K-8 schools like to point to our results on the state tests to show that we have quality schools. I waver back and forth between whether I think they really believe that or if they think it's good cover and PR. It's probably a combination of both.

I have also seen the phrase "helping all children" used defensively, as in "we have the difficulty of teaching a much wider range of kids than a pre-selected private school." It doesn't seem to occur to them that they are helping to create wider ranges.

After having just completed the sequence of PreK - 8 with my son, my overall feeling of the problem is that the schools (both public and private) define education in much lower and fuzzier terms than my wife and I. Their idea of education is based on what they learned in Ed school. It is not a content-based education. This only changed a little when we talked to some of our son's specialist 7th and 8th grade teachers. The difference in philosophy and expectations was very clear. The 7th and 8th grade math teachers knew about the importance of skills and mastery, but they could not or would not push the issue with the other teachers. These other teachers just don't get it. They live in their own world where they really think they are teaching kids to "problem solve". They don't have a clue about math and they really don't want to listen to content experts. They are ruining kids and they don't know it. They talk about balance, but they really don't know what that means. They don't see that proficiency on the state test is not good enough; that many kids should and could be doing so much better.

I guess what I'm saying is that K-8 educational philosophy has evolved to be everything to everyone; that they are working to provide both skills and understanding. The problem in math is that they are not competent to teach it properly. It means that if they really understood what it takes, they would have to scrap a lot of their fundamental assumptions about education. They continue to live in their own ignorant world and claim that they teach critical thinking and problem solving.

momof4 said...

If one really believes (or pretends to believe) that having 10 minutes of a teacher's time, in a heterogeneous differentiated-instruction classroom, is just as good as having 50 minutes of a teacher's time, in a homogeneous teacher-centered classroom, I haven't heard an explanation of it. I haven't even been able to get teachers to acknowledge the question; they pretend not to hear it and change the subject. The only way I can see it justified is by saying that the teacher isn't very important and doesn't have anything meaningful to teach. I guess if you believe that the whole assortment of snowflakes will eventually discover everything important by themselves, all the teacher has to do is "engage" them (I hate that term) and cheer them on. The fact that "all" kids have not suceeded to the limit of their abilities and motivations isn't acknolwedged until the kids have left ES (maybe MS) and it is far too late for them to catch up.

Catherine Johnson said...

oh, wow - this thread is gonna be GREAT!!!!


answer: more than a few

Catherine Johnson said...

Paul B- you're back!