USA Falls in Olympics Standings: Legislators Pass the No Child Left Unfit Law

Olympic symbol

Rankings in the International Olympics indicate how great and powerful a nation is. The outcome shows that the USA is losing its premier position. Legislators in Washington acted in a bipartisan way to pass the No Child Left Unfit Law. This requires all students to take physical education every single school day from 6th through twelfth grade. They are further required to pass standardized skills tests at each grade level, including swimming, tennis, soccer, skiing, ice skating, hockey, badminton and gymnastics, which were chosen as the most important Olympic sports. Every student must develop a minimum level of proficiency in each of these sports in order to graduate from high school.

A few objections were raised. What about the students who don’t have access to swimming pools, ice rinks or ski slopes? The government will just have to pay big business to build these in our impoverished cities and towns and in the south. What about students with disabilities? Depending on the disability, the school will need to document it and provide a list of related skills that the student is capable of mastering.
All objections were dismissed when Michelle Obama said this legislation would definitely help to ward off obesity and make kids get in shape.

No one asked about the gym class klutz. We’ve all known these kids; they trip over their own two feet, they have no visible or medical disability, but seem to have been born clumsy. No amount of practice seems to help them hit a tennis ball or keep their balance in any sport. Should these kids be denied a high school diploma or will they drop out, knowing they haven’t a prayer of meeting this requirement?

This legislation is hypothetical, but think about the legislation that does exist: students are required to demonstrate proficiency in mathematics, beginning at early grade levels because the USA is not a top-performing country in math and science tests. We claim that standardized tests will move our country toward more highly skilled math and science professionals. This, in turn, will gain world dominance in new technologies for the USA. How many years must we perpetrate this fallacy before we realize that education is not a factory where all products must come out the same?

Will Rating Teachers Really Improve our Schools?

 

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The Boston Globe published an opinion article* that decries the “disconnect between Boston’s teacher ratings and how the schools are performing”. The author, Lawrence Harmon, asks “why only about a third of Boston’s third graders in district schools read at an advanced or proficient level?” …if only 5.8 of Boston teachers need improvement and just 1.2 percent are unsatisfactory. He implies that teacher ratings are grossly inflated. Yet, there is no consideration for exactly what these numbers measure.

To suggest that teacher ratings should correlate to how schools perform is a huge oversimplification. Standardized test scores are not normalized for effects of poverty, parental education, first language, disability, transience, class size, availability of educational materials, etc. We have already done a huge amount of harm to our students and our schools with data that labels them under-performing. Our public schools are actually improving and the majority of teachers are very dedicated, and take responsibility for student learning. No one should give media attention to our public schools until they have read the book Reign of Error by the noted Columbia University professor, Diane Ravitch.

Our public schools and teachers have been degraded and demoralized using standardized test data. Granted, there are a small percentage of incompetent employees in all organizations, public and private. Schools are no different, so why do we single out the teaching profession? No one has defined what truly makes a good school or a good teacher. Pompous policy makers, data crunchers and think tanks ignore the true purpose of education: to build on what students know with instruction that is relevant to their lives in order to prepare them for successful futures. Standardized test scores do not reflect the quality of schools in the context of their true purpose. Similarly, teacher rating systems do not attempt to measure the most important component of good teaching. As evidenced by the students themselves in a video on the state’s web site, this is ability to motivate, interact, relate and care about their students.  Student Video

Publicly rating teachers, professionals (with as much college education as attorneys), is truly demeaning. To claim that the variables that impact student performance are excuses is ridiculous. Mr. Harmon states that “great urban police departments…take responsibility for the crime rate…” Yet, we wouldn’t dream of evaluating police departments and officers based on a comparison with the average crime rates for the entire state. This makes about as much sense as evaluating public defenders on the percentage of guilty clients they are assigned, or doctors based on the percentage of their patients who die.

* Boston Teacher Ratings Don’t Add Up by Lawrence Harmon,  The Boston Globe, November 30, 2013.

Everybody is a Genius

“Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” Albert Einstein saId this long before NCLB, TAAS, MCAS, FCAT, CAT and all the rest. The idea of standards-based education and testing was to make education equal; students would have the same rigor of instruction and learning expectations no matter where they went to school. This concept is hard to argue with. But, the reality is that equality of results relies on so many factors beyond teachers: equality of funding, student health and nutrition, availability of good tutors, emotional stability, parental and community support, culture etc. These variables are enormous. Yet the statisticians insist on comparing schools based on these assessments, to the detriment of the school and the student. No school wants to be labeled underperforming. No principal deserves to be fired for the variables that impact student performance. (Some may deserve to be fired for doing their job poorly as a manager and an instructional leader.) Where will “underperforming” schools find top-notch teachers? How can they do a good job in an atmosphere of low morale and high pressure?

It’s the students who suffer most from low self-esteem, are labeled and put in remedial classes. These kids go through life believing they are stupid. This is the real crime of the system. There’s a high school in Massachusetts with a 50% dropout rate. Yes, I said Massachusetts. Many of these students would make great graphical designers, historians, physical education or world language teachers, EMTs and a wide variety of other professionals. Yet they gave up because they had no hope of passing the MCAS in math or English/language arts and graduating.  Howard Gardner at Harvard elucidated the theory of Multiple Intelligences 30 years ago, yet the current educational system totally ignores this valuable concept.

Every student needs certain basic capabilities in reading, computer literacy and mathematics. These expectations are essential. We needed to move beyond “social promotion” of a few generations ago where it was possible for a student to graduate unable to read. We must look to the options available for graduates to be able to earn a living and to the talents of the individual students. Education should be nurturing their multiple intelligences. Surely our next generation will need science and math graduates, but many others as well. Education in some countries prepares the students for the opportunities available in the workforce. By the end of 4th grade, every child in Aruba is fluent in three languages: Papiamento, English and Spanish because the number one industry there is tourism. Tourists are primarily from the US and South America. Most can do mental math with money faster than you or I can use a calculator. But if these people had gone to school in the US, they would have no future, no high school diploma, no opportunity, and the pursuit of happiness would be beyond their reach.Image

Destination – The Finish Line: Equal Opportunity

The city of Dayopolis built a huge racetrack to give everyone the opportunity to have a chance at the million dollar prize.

The rules were drawn up as follows:

-The race is open to anyone who can drive.

-A driver can only race once in his/her lifetime.

-The driver must bring his own car.

-All injuries and damages are the sole responsibility of the driver; the Dayopolis Destination Race Corporation will be held harmless.

The first race drew enthusiasts from all over the world with a huge variety of vehicles. Mean, lean, racing machines sped around the track while souped-up golf carts seemed to inch along. There were many accidents, but Dayopolis Destination Race Corporation executives didn’t care. They clearly had no liability and they were making lots of money on refreshments and spectator tickets.

Within a few years, only the fastest, best and most expensive cars entered the race. The dreams of Everyman A. Racer went up in smoke. He quickly realized that the race was not for him, only for the very lucky and the wealthy.

Public education in America is heading down the same race track. We spend over two hundred million dollars on one high school and still have students in buildings that should have been condemned 50 years ago. Some students have every advantage, while others can’t even see, but have no one to pay for their glasses. The Congress cannot agree on a new law, so student loan rates are going up. The middle class is being squeezed out of more opportunities.

Public education has taken one step forward and two steps back in rectifying the savage inequalities that Jonathan Kozol wrote about in the 1991. Good schools from kindergarten through college are becoming out of reach for all but the wealthy, the ones who can afford the great race cars.

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A Teacher’s Voice: On Leaving with a Sad and Heavy Heart

Of all the research in education, the one variable that consistently shows an impact on student learning is the teacher. Yet teachers currently have the least amount of influence on our current educational system; they are treated as workers on an assembly line who turn students into proficient test takers.

If you don’t believe that our public education system is broken, please watch Ellie Rubenstein’s video. Her first-hand experience tells how legislation and policies have resulted in misdirected priorities, attrition of good teachers, and schools that are failing our students.

Teacher’s resignation video: ‘Everything I loved about teaching is extinct’

Typing showing the words I quit.

From the Washington Post,
May 23, 2013

Time for a New Paradigm: A Model of Education for the Future

Education is not about test scores. It’s about preparing students for a productive life. It’s about helping all students find a purpose, a passion, and a meaningful way to make a living. It’s about teaching students:

  • Reading in English to open countless doors;
  • Math to solve problems logically and to have the tools for financial literacy;
  • Writing to communicate effectively,
  • Social studies to understand the meaning of good citizenship, our place in the global economy, and world politics;
  • Science to understand nature, health, and spark innovations for the future; and
  • Fine and performing arts to find beauty and to appreciate expressions of culture in our world.

Education should foster child-like curiosity and creativity, key ingredients of life-long learning. If we are spending billions on creating standards, tests, accountability systems, and a myriad of curricular materials, we are not spending this money on educating our students. Our current system demands that one size fits all. Our students are not all alike. They have distinct talents, diverse backgrounds, and very different needs. Future engineers need four years of high school math; future landscapers, artists and chefs do not.

What a costly, horrific mess we have made of public education in America. It has perpetrated a whole industry of test makers, consultants, statisticians, and curriculum developers, costing us billions of dollars. In the name of accountability, we strive to preserve an ineffective system, where educating the student is not the priority.

We urgently need to stop, re-examine education, and create a new vision before it’s too late. As Buckminster Fuller said, “You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.”

An example of a geodesic dome based on Fuller's design

The geodesic dome based on Fuller’s design at Epcot Center http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Epcot07.jpg

This new model needs these elements:

  • Dedicated, visionary leaders and respected teachers who focus on the students;
  • Unlimited, organized curricular materials in all subject areas;
  • Student leaders who are rewarded for their efforts and recognized for their talents;
  • A parent, guardian or involved adult; and
  • A system that makes this possible.

Successful schools build a leadership team that understands what their students need and finds ways to meet these needs; this includes students with language, cognitive, emotional and social issues as well as those with abilities and talents that require nurturing. Leaders need to understand the mission and be able to implement all aspects of making a meaningful education a reality for all their students.  In James C. Collins’ book From Good to Great, the author starts with importance of “getting the right people on the bus.”

All curricular materials should become part of a national repository, available to all online, coded to essential standards, vetted for accuracy, and keyed sequentially to depth of understanding. Wikipedia has made encyclopedias obsolete; similarly, this repository would make textbooks a costly thing of the past. The power of technology vastly improves curricular resources with embedded videos, assessments, hyperlinks, text-to-speech, ease of access, and lack of printing costs.

Grade levels would be based upon student mastery, not chronological age. In the early years of schooling, students would work on basic skills on the computer, in small groups with the teacher, whole class activities, and in pairs, as appropriate. Skill mastery would be measured by the computer assessments. Students would progress, as in martial arts or scouts, by earning their badges or belts for completion and then moving to the next level.  Students demonstrating proficiency and a desire to tutor may be paired with others needing more help.  More mature students can be formally developed as tutors to assist struggling students. Groups of students with similar interests can work on projects that foster creativity, apply knowledge, and develop collaborative skills.

The teacher’s role will be one of a good coach. Teachers will be expected to:

  • Have in-depth knowledge of and a passion for their subject;
  • Know their students, their strengths and weaknesses;
  • Schedule class and group activities;
  • Monitor each student’s progress;
  • Encourage students’ talents and keep them challenged.

The school leadership will set a culture of high expectations with all students and teachers working to realize their fullest potential. Collaboration among teachers, peers and parents will be the norm. Every teacher and student in every school will have a portable electronic device with access to the repository. Instead of one mass of marginally meaningful data that our present testing scores provide, computer systems will set standard competency levels in all subjects and then include multiple paths for students to pursue until they have met sufficient requirements for graduation with a marketable set of skills or preparation to pursue advanced studies. Parents will be able to access the repository as well as their child’s progress electronically.

The need for legislation, policies, and earmarked funds for specific groups of students would no longer be necessary. This new model would meet the needs of all students and truly provide an appropriate education for each and every one. It’s time for this new paradigm.

The National Curriculum Project: A Repository for Universal Access

What the world of education needs now is a National Repository of Curricular Materials. This would be an online library of lessons on every subject with pre-assessments, instructional media, practice tasks, quizzes, and tests all linked to the common core standards.

Can this be done? There is a precedent, the federal government funded the National Genome Project at a time when gene-sequencing work was fragmented, competition in the field was rampant and yet, the entire human genome was sequenced for all scientists to access worldwide.  This made possible exponential progress in science because the common good prevailed.

Analogously, private interests by textbook publishers and educational consultants would need to allow funds to be allocated centrally for this to happen in education. Currently, the common core standards have spurred a flurry of disparate activities to create texts, units, and lessons by teachers, professors, consultants, publishers and others. Yet teachers and students don’t have the materials they need at their fingertips. Over 40 years ago, we had a textbook that was the curriculum, complete with quizzes, tests and tips in the teacher’s edition. Teachers planned, taught, and focused on their students.

But the world is far too complex, the classrooms of today far to diverse for static textbooks. We need appropriate, engaging materials available for all students: for helping struggling students, for challenging proficient ones and for addressing the needs of all students in between. The vast majority of these curricular materials already exist: in published and online texts, states’ extensions of the standards, uTube videos, online assessments, educational games, etc.  They need to be vetted, indexed and made available to all.

The intended consequence of this proposed curricular project is access to an appropriate education for all. With this tool, students could progress at whatever pace is most suitable to them: delving deeper into areas that interest them and repeating lessons similar to ones they find difficult. Teachers would finally have all the tools for differentiation in their classrooms. Every student would have the world at his fingertips.

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The Repository would allow the system to break the mold of education by chronological age. Students would be grouped by progress, as in martial arts. Classrooms would be different. As communities of learners, students could shine in their areas of strength. Students would learn that practice and perseverance lead to success and recognition. Teachers and student leaders could spend time in small groups, clarifying concepts, discussing issues, making one another think, and providing encouragement for the pursuit of excellence.

Teachers’ roles would be re-defined as coaches, mentors, progress monitors, and discussion leaders. They will have time to know their students, encourage them, and build on their strengths. Sparking students’ interests and passions is how education will give us future successful citizens.

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In 1868, Ezra Cornell said “I would found an institution where any person can find instruction in any study.” Today internet access for all and the organized, vetted materials of a National Repository of Curricular Materials can make this possible!

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Photo from dreamtime.com _______________________________________________________________________