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A Warning to College Professors From a High School Teacher
February 10, 2013 11:46 AM   Subscribe

A Warning to College Professors From a High School Teacher
posted by SkylitDrawl (119 comments total) 21 users marked this as a favorite

 
"I acknowledge that I bear some culpability here."
posted by box at 11:59 AM on February 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


He uses many words to say very little.
posted by Ardiril at 12:03 PM on February 10, 2013 [12 favorites]


This is not surprising. The more rigid a system is, the easier it is for teachers/students to learn how to game it, and the more school becomes about getting points regardless of whether anything's learned along the way.

This is why students hate math and learn the least in high school math courses: of all subjects, math is the easiest to reduce to a series of formulas without purpose or meaning, and I never had a high school teacher who failed to make math as dreary as can be possibly imagined. It's also why, while I took multiple AP courses, some of my best experiences happened in classes one notch below the top level – when they're not teaching to a test, my history and English teachers were freer to make me curious and passionate about their subject, to avoid the mechanics and repetition to focus on what made them really love what they were teaching.

I never took a non-honors science course, and a part of me still wonders whether that's why I have such an aversion to the sciences today, despite being fascinated with them as a kid. Three years of rote memorization, whether bio, chem, or physics, went a long way towards making all that shit seem highly undesirable.
posted by Rory Marinich at 12:06 PM on February 10, 2013 [9 favorites]


I've been hearing from colleges that their freshman are "unprepared" ever since I was in college 22 years ago.
posted by Melismata at 12:06 PM on February 10, 2013 [14 favorites]


"I acknowledge that I bear some culpability here."

that's your pull-quote? let the messenger hang himself?

He uses many words to say very little.

But this is somewhat true. Should be written in red ink and truncated slightly to "uses many words to say very little"
posted by philip-random at 12:08 PM on February 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


Words for all tertiary educators (and everyone) to learn from. Thanks. Am passing it around in Australia now.
posted by taff at 12:12 PM on February 10, 2013


Three minutes to read and grade each paper? No wonder I did so well in my AP English class twenty years ago.
posted by zooropa at 12:12 PM on February 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


To be fair I and my peers all came out of High School right before NCLB and in my experience most of us don't have very good critical analysis skills either. I certainly didn't learn mine in school, but as on-the-job training when I entered the IT industry.
posted by Doleful Creature at 12:16 PM on February 10, 2013


To be fair I and my peers all came out of High School right before NCLB

Also true, in my experience, for those of us who graduated in the 80s (and for my wife, who graduated in the 90s).

NCLB is a convenient "not my fault" excuse but it was in many ways a *reaction* to the state of education.
posted by rr at 12:19 PM on February 10, 2013 [4 favorites]


"When a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure."
posted by klarck at 12:26 PM on February 10, 2013 [14 favorites]


To summarize: "It was all so much better before!"
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 12:28 PM on February 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


To quote the first (history) professor I encountered in my direct path toward a teaching credential, on the first day of class:

"I know many of you are taking this history course because you plan on becoming high school teachers. So I want to say to you, that while this course is very good content preparation, stop looking at your college professors as examples of how to teach in high school. The teaching practices we use in college would be awful for a high school environment. Most of us professors would not last through a day of teaching high school."
posted by scaryblackdeath at 12:30 PM on February 10, 2013 [7 favorites]


Current education is designed to be a cog in the commerce machine. Diploma = money is the wrong approach.
posted by davebush at 12:39 PM on February 10, 2013 [4 favorites]


"I listened to a group of disingenuous people whose own self-interests guide their policies rather than the interests of children. I listened to a cabal of people who sit on national education committees that will have a profound impact on classroom teaching practices. "

PBS | Independent Lens: " The Revisionaries
"Once every decade, the highly politicized Texas State Board of Education rewrites the teaching and textbook standards for its nearly five million schoolchildren. When an unabashed creationist seeks re-election as chairman, the theory of evolution and U.S. history are caught in the crosshairs, which could impact the classroom curricula not only of Texas, but also of the nation as a whole." [video | 55:24]
posted by ericb at 12:41 PM on February 10, 2013 [3 favorites]


"His e-mail address is kber@earthlink.net."

I am way to internet snobby to read anything past that sentence.
posted by shmegegge at 12:43 PM on February 10, 2013 [5 favorites]


I think he makes good points about the way that overcrowding in classrooms and a focus on teaching to the test have shortchanged students very badly. That said:

What makes him think college professors are any more likely to be listened to than he and his colleagues have been? My colleagues and I have spoken and continue to speak out against practices in our own institution of higher ed that we feel harm students, but we may as well be spitting into the wind for all the good it does most of the time.

High school teachers aren't the only ones forced to teach under policies created and maintained by people who have never actually taught a day in their lives.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 12:43 PM on February 10, 2013 [9 favorites]


To summarize: "It was all so much better before!"

I don't think that's what he wants us to understand about the state of public education in the US. In case it needs pointing out, it is possible to provide a deep critique of the status quo without averring that the past was better. I think the idea here is more that the future can be better because it's easy to see what's wrong in the present. If only policy-makers would actually listen to educators.
posted by clockzero at 12:46 PM on February 10, 2013 [10 favorites]


Even when a state has tests that include writing, the level of writing required for such tests often does not demand that higher-level thinking be demonstrated, nor does it require proper grammar, usage, syntax, and structure.

I just quit teaching in a DCPS middle school and I can speak to the truth of this; it's RIDICULOUS and can even be counter-productive. For example, on reading tests you're only supposed to use information from the text so you are penalized for having an outside interest and knowing information not directly given to you. I understand the importance of citing evidence but I've (internally) scored tests and had to give the student a low score for a complete and thoughtful response because they'd read some Laura Ingalls Wilder or something and had more meaningful contributions to a short composition on the pioneers than whatever they got from the essay.

For some BCRs (brief constructed responses) the scoring is based on direct textual evidence which means that you are not supposed to use inferences. Inferences and summarizing are both higher order skills compared to lifting quotations directly from a text but it's what you have to encourage students to do to improve their scores.

Additionally, spelling doesn't count, so we don't worry about spelling. I understand that a student shouldn't be penalized based on ideas for spelling but presentation matters; I've had jobs where I've been in charge of weeding out resumes and I can tell you that I threw out any with spelling errors because that was someone you couldn't trust to represent the company properly.

There is a LOT to be said here and much of it involves why I quit teaching in the DC Public School system. I'm not super happy about it and it's a bit painful but I don't feel like it's my failure. There's a lot of stuff that creates a bad educational situation and it really, REALLY sucks.

If anyone knows of any education policy positions open in the DC metro area please MeFi mail me. I'd still like to help.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 12:46 PM on February 10, 2013 [19 favorites]


I honestly think the problem is bigger than testing requirements, though these certainly do nothing to help, and arguably plenty to harm. I attended public school before No Child Left Behind was instituted—in Maryland, no less, the state where the author taught—and suffered under an unending string of absolutely dismal and incompetent teachers. They did not require standardized metrics to fail at their jobs, nor would such metrics have deterred them in any way from doing so.
posted by dephlogisticated at 12:52 PM on February 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


I was going to debunk this article point by point, as I usually do, but it was so full of deliberate misstatements and garbage that I couldn't even scratch the surface. I will just note, the teacher deliberately obfuscates the difference between elective AP and College Board tests, and mandatory State level High School exams under NCLB.

Damn I am sick and tired of condescending essays from teachers who hate teaching. Don't blame testing for ruining teaching. You did that all by yourself. Standardized testing is now used for teacher evaluation, this is why they're doing it: to catch bad teachers like you.
posted by charlie don't surf at 12:53 PM on February 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


Charlie, I'd really like to hear your thinking. Would you be up for clarifying a little more? I say this as someone who was a "teacher who hated teaching" and thus quit. I don't thinking testing is the only thing that has "ruined teaching", I agree that there are a lot of factors, and I'd be really interested to hear what you think the solutions are.

I'm asking this in a very serious and genuine and non-snarky way; most of the people with whom I speak on this subject are educators or former educators who have opinions very similar to my own and I'd really, REALLY appreciate the chance to hear from someone who clearly thinks quite differently from me about what you think the problems and solutions are.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 12:56 PM on February 10, 2013 [7 favorites]


(Incidentally, I was a "teacher who hated teaching" based on the pressures and the process and the exhaustion and the lack of respect and support, not because of the actual TEACHING. There wasn't enough time and, being in Southeast DC, there were a lot of compounding issues but I still loved my kids and in fact have stayed in touch with a number of them even though I don't see them every day.)
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 12:58 PM on February 10, 2013 [6 favorites]


I... am torn on this subject. On the one hand, I do have the feeling that the quality of university students as a whole has been dropping for the last decade -- they seem less curious, less interested in participation, unskilled in writing, speaking, and thinking, and eager to figure out ways to "game" the class rules. On the other hand, I am also aware that professors have been griping about the quality of students (compared to when they were in school) since, like, forever.

I wonder sometimes if teaching is even possible. In many ways what I do is facilitate learning. For the student who is interested and wants to learn, I can usually enhance their experience. For the student who is on the fence, I can sometimes spark some interest or help them past a blockage in their understanding or skill development. For the student who actively resist learning, there is little I can do to change their mind. In each case, it's the student who is doing the heavy lifting, which is as it should be, but everyone has this idea that teaching is something that is done to you....
posted by GenjiandProust at 1:00 PM on February 10, 2013 [10 favorites]


It sucks having your profession demonized. I have a ton of sympathy for teachers. But one of the easiest ways to get my eyes to roll and my brain to skip ahead to the next topic is to start up with this "We have to labor under policies enacted by non-teachers!" crap. Every profession has to deal with that. Plumbers don't write building codes, soldiers don't decide where they fight, and the only requirement for being on any Congressional committee is being in Congress. Telling me that I couldn't possibly understand how hard your job is only tells me that you're not good enough at explaining it. I can accept that from a plumber, but from a teacher? That's a little worrisome.
posted by Etrigan at 1:06 PM on February 10, 2013 [5 favorites]


Would you be up for clarifying a little more?

I work in educational testing, at the most fundamental level. I am a scorer, I read essays and give them scores. Every single assertion she makes about how tests are scored is wrong. I don't even know where to start.

Let me make an analogy. In a Constructed Response, kids sit down with no preparation and no advance knowledge of the topic, and are expected to produce a well developed essay on the spot. If the task is to produce a persuasive essay, they are expected to use facts to develop their points. But since they have no access to reference materials, they are allowed to just make shit up and it isn't held against them. If they cite fake facts and statistics, we evaluate whether it supports their argument, not on whether it is factually accurate.

But the Washington Post has editors and fact checkers, so you can't just make shit up and expect to make a convincing argument.
posted by charlie don't surf at 1:12 PM on February 10, 2013


> Plumbers don't write building codes,

Building codes are written by engineers, who are the same group of people who design plumbing supplies.

If building codes were written by elected officials, there would be a lot more buildings falling down.

> soldiers don't decide where they fight,

Generals, who are high-ranking soldiers, set both strategy and tactics in war. Elected officials do not command a division into war.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 1:18 PM on February 10, 2013 [16 favorites]



Don't blame testing for ruining teaching. You did that all by yourself. Standardized testing is now used for teacher evaluation, this is why they're doing it: to catch bad teachers like you.


I know you are just a lowly temp-scorer in the testing industry, and it is an industry, but I think that opinion is exactly that of your employers and the politicians who created that industry.

I happen to think that public school teaching is a social carrot, make-work program for the lower/middle classes: if you are not very ambitious, willing to toe-the-line, and able to make it through 4-years in a university ed-program: congratulations! you get a job for life, assuming you continue to be unambitious and willing to do do what your managers tell you.

If you are ambitious. If you see a society with vanishing few opportunities for kids without wealth or social connections. If you live in a town totally destroyed by the collapse in manufacturing employment and aren't willing to advise your students to join the military. Then, teaching in a public school is like hitting yourself in the head with a hammer over and over again. If you care about the kids then you have to have a tough stomach to see them screwed repeatedly by a system that has no use for them while telling them to shut-up and pay attention in class because, maybe, if they can eat shit for years, and can find some way to afford college. they can become a teacher too (or become a nurse... )

Like most jobs, teachers are defined by those who stay as teachers. Attritions rates are very high in teaching, not just because it is a hard job, but because teachers are being held accountable for grand failures of U.S. society.
posted by ennui.bz at 1:24 PM on February 10, 2013 [21 favorites]


I had a roommate once who was a high school science teacher. His room was a mess all the time, he was dating one of his former students (according to him, they started dating the year after she graduated so it was technically "okay," but still sketchy as hell), and whenever he had a problem with one of us he would write angry notes on the whiteboard instead of talking face-to-face. And these are the people who we should give the liberty to set their own policies? Hell no.

Teachers are public servants, and one rather obvious observation about the role of servants is that they serve. A servant who does whatever they feel like doing (instead of what is asked of them) is of no use to the public trust and needs to be fired. Teaching vague intangibles such as "critical thought" could indeed be a good faith attempt to improve their students lives, but it could also be a bad faith effort to obfuscate the teacher's own incompetence by saying that they teach things "that cannot accurately be measured." Why should we give educators the benefit of the doubt in this regard? After all, it's not a either/or situation - there's no reason they can't teach critical reasoning skills in addition to the tangible deliverables that we expect of them. Expecting students to be able to memorize facts succinctly doesn't somehow take away their capacity for rational debate.
posted by wolfdreams01 at 1:26 PM on February 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


I had a roommate once who was a high school science teacher.

Now that is the kind of research I like to base my social policy on!

OK, that was a bit unfair, but, the problem with your example is that everyone feels this way about teaching. They have some vague memories about what it was like in school, and this leads them to believe that they have some insight into education. So we get weird policies designed by politicians who have never been educators elected by people who resented having to go to school. This is not a recipe for great educational policy....
posted by GenjiandProust at 1:32 PM on February 10, 2013 [40 favorites]


OK, that was a bit unfair, but, the problem with your example is that everyone feels this way about teaching. They have some vague memories about what it was like in school, and this leads them to believe that they have some insight into education. So we get weird policies designed by politicians who have never been educators elected by people who resented having to go to school. This is not a recipe for great educational policy....

I'm reasonably confident that (with a few notable exceptions) most politicians don't care about the method used to teach the students: they just care about measurable end results (hence the reason for testing standards). If you (and by "you" I mean teachers in general, not you specifically) can't deliver any measurable end result other than a purely subjective one, which for all we know might purely in your own head, then what good are you to the rest of society? Part of the social contract that we all live by - and teachers are no exception - is that our success or failure at what we do is measured by the people who pay our salaries, and I don't see any compelling reason for teachers to be an exception to this standard of normality.
posted by wolfdreams01 at 1:40 PM on February 10, 2013


Teachers are public servants, and one important thing about servants is that they serve. A servant who does whatever they want is of no use to the public and needs to be fired.

Sure, but that has nothing to do with what the article is about, at all, in any way. The article isn't about teachers who want to do whatever they want, it's about how the author thinks that NCLB is bad for students, teachers, and schools, and how people who have experience teaching have the best understanding of what things would improve the current situation for students, teachers, and schools.
posted by 23skidoo at 1:43 PM on February 10, 2013 [11 favorites]


This is an award-winning teacher speaking. His remarks about standardized-testing and its inevitable impact on college-preparation comform completely with what I began hearing from academics and reading in journals 30 years ago.

Here's the Mullen essay that Bernstein mentions.
Today I have listened to people who are not teachers, have never worked in a classroom, and have never taught a single student tell me how to teach.
If only corporations could finish the job of privatizing education, then they could get exactly the product they want rolling off the assembly-line. Concentrated skills without all of that disfiguring and confusing twaddle about liberality and caring and justice and equality and fraternity and liberty and the environment. But it can't happen while humanistic educational values and a century of experience haven't been discredited and driven from the field. Certainly there is nothing wrong with our programs and institutions that can't be fixed by eliminating all so-called "experience" and replacing it with algorithms. Hail Rossum.
posted by Twang at 1:47 PM on February 10, 2013 [11 favorites]


I had a roommate once who was a high school science teacher. His room was a mess all the time, he was dating one of his former students (according to him, they started dating the year after she graduated so it was technically "okay," but still sketchy as hell), and whenever he had a problem with one of us he would write angry notes on the whiteboard instead of talking face-to-face. And these are the people who we should give the liberty to set their own policies? Hell no.

I don't think it's a great idea to base your entire position about teachers on a former room-mate.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 1:49 PM on February 10, 2013 [37 favorites]


So many implicit assumptions and assertions made without evidence. The author could take a does of his own medicine and provide some evidence for his assertions. Here is some counter evidence to the teacher placing the blame on NCLB for student's declining thinking skills: SAT scores started a decline in the 60s well before NCLB came along.

On a rhetorical level, the author seems to believe that he should be spending more time teaching higher order thinking skills. Should he? Perhaps the HS teacher ought to be focusing on the student's mastery of facts? Perhaps that is all they should be reasonable expected to do? Especially since they cannot even seem to get that right.
posted by borges at 1:50 PM on February 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


So we get weird policies designed by politicians who have never been educators elected by people who resented having to go to school. This is not a recipe for great educational policy....

Or how about policies designed by politicians who are willing to sell-out public education, the cornerstone of every industrialized economy, in order to cater to their racist white constituents in one more battle in the great american class war. Or designed by billionaires who are unable to think in any other terms than the MBA-driven "business" ideology of consultants, metrics, efficiencies, that facilitated the looting of the greatest industrial economy ever known and are now slavering at the sight of the still large education budget.

The failure of liberals like "teacherken" is that they on the front lines of class war in the US but are incapable politically of acknowledging this.

If only corporations could finish the job of privatizing education, then they could get exactly the product they want rolling off the assembly-line. Concentrated skills without all of that disfiguring and confusing twaddle about liberality and caring and justice and equality and fraternity and liberty and the environment.

That's a just-so story. The corporations involved in education are run by businessmen who have never built anything in their life: they have made their fortunes by looting existing business and impoverishing their workers. They have no use for concentrated skills and likely wouldn't recognize someone with skills in the first place. And then you have Bill Gates, who built a company which despite decades of dysfunction manages to survive on the strength of monopoly economics and the sharp business decisions made decades ago.
posted by ennui.bz at 1:54 PM on February 10, 2013 [4 favorites]


This is not surprising. The more rigid a system is, the easier it is for teachers/students to learn how to game it, and the more school becomes about getting points regardless of whether anything's learned along the way.
So I don't think it's even a matter of "the more rigid a test is, the easier it is for teachers/students to learn how to game it." It's more a question of teachers and students having no option but to game the test.

Or, rather, I guess the point is that they're not "gaming" it, since the word "gaming" carries with it a sense of illicitness; someone "gaming" a system is misusing it. A teacher who teaches his or her students how to most effectively produce the type of writing the standardized tests call for is the teacher who most effectively responds to the constraints imposed by the test. This is a teacher who is doing their job. A teacher who does that and hates it is, therefore, a teacher who hates their job.

What people differ on is whether or not they consider it worthwhile to teach students how to meet the rubrics of standardized tests — whether this new practice of spending 13 years intensely training students to solve language puzzles is a worthwhile activity in the first place.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 1:56 PM on February 10, 2013 [6 favorites]


Hi, guys!

I'm working in Kenya right now, which has been a huge fan of standardized testing. In fact, the entire curriculum is geared towards the KCPE and KCSE exams, which come at the end of primary and secondary school. It's been this way for a long time.

The first-year university students are champions at multiple-choice test-taking, fantastic at performing calculations and memorizing minutae, but have very, very limited conceptual understanding of, well, just about anything. And the reading rates are absolutely abysmal.

Fortunately the university system is set up to reward exactly this skill set: memorize what the teacher tells you, reproduce it on an exam, and pass all of your 9-13 classes per term with flying colors. This weekend, for example I was working with a few excellent students - really great people - who were having trouble with a calculus II course. It quickly became apparent that they didn't know the definition of the derivative or what it had to do with rate of change. One said that the lecturer the previous term had mentioned once, in passing, some relationship between integrals and areas... The focus is on reproducing calculations, rather than aiding understanding or getting the students to a point where they can synthesize new things from what they've received.

But there's another step here: When you graduate, you become a teacher or lecturer yourself, and teach the next generation exactly as you've been taught, with no understanding of the material or really any idea of what understanding the material entails. And you get stuck in this crazy cycle where no one understands what's going on, but there are hundreds of thousands of kids to educate to get them ready for this test that determines the trajectory of their adult lives.

So yeah, standardized testing sucks and is dangerous when teaching is geared towards it. And the real danger comes when the negative effects start creeping higher in the system.
posted by kaibutsu at 2:02 PM on February 10, 2013 [36 favorites]


Interesting article, thanks for the post.

I have grown grudgingly accustomed to being told how the topic of a Metafilter post sucks over and over in the comments section for the past few years, but today along with the usual race to the bottom I get "I could tell you point by point how this sucks, but I am too lazy so just take my word for it" and "I knew a guy who was kind of personally reprehensible and he had the same job as the person commenting on the topic and so I don't take anyone with that job seriously and neither should you"

I used to recommend Metafilter to people but these days, just AskMe.
posted by Kwine at 2:05 PM on February 10, 2013 [27 favorites]


I'm reasonably confident that (with a few notable exceptions) most politicians don't care about the method used to teach the students: they just care about measurable end results (hence the reason for testing standards). If you (and by "you" I mean teachers in general, not you specifically) can't deliver any measurable end result other than a purely subjective one, which for all we know might purely in your own head, then what good are you to the rest of society? Part of the social contract that we all live by - and teachers are no exception - is that our success or failure at what we do is measured by the people who pay our salaries, and I don't see any compelling reason for teachers to be an exception to this standard of normality.

Fair enough, but I have a couple of quibbles with your thinking. First, I'll suggest that most politicians don't care about education at all; they just need to be seen "doing something about the problem." Education is a weird thing -- everyone has opinions because they have experienced education, yet few of them have any real insight into what works in the classroom, anymore than your flushing the toilet on a regular basis makes you an expert on designing and running sewer systems. Second, "measurable end results" are much more complicated in teaching than in, say, widget production -- students absorb concepts at different speeds, and it often takes quite a while for students to realize that they have learned something, especially something as abstract as "higher order thinking." Politicians and Education Policy people grab onto standardized testing, I think, not because it's really a "measurable end result" that actually measures anything important but because it's easy to do. Then we can all pretend we are objective and call it a day. From my point of view, the "measurable end result" of NCLB is that I am now teaching weaker students than I was a decade ago, but, as I comment above, that could just be the rosy glow of nostalgia.
posted by GenjiandProust at 2:07 PM on February 10, 2013 [12 favorites]


Seriously, the start of this thread smacked so much of "tl;dr." I come to mefi to get away from the "this has too many words I don't want it" attitude prevalent on other sites.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 2:10 PM on February 10, 2013 [8 favorites]


Ironically, if we would take really good care of our teachers, pay competitive salaries & offer fantastic benefits, then education would take care of itself. Instead, we pay teachers poorly, overwork them, treat them like shit, and then wonder why education suffers. This is a great example of what, with corporations I call the "customer service death spiral." It works like this: company makes budget cuts that result in poor customer service. Customers take their business elsewhere. Company's profits go down. So: more budget cuts and the cycle begins again. The poor education results > more restrictive rules and tests > shrinking base of competent teachers > poor education results cycle is just another version of this. The only way to "fix" education is to treat it less like job training and more like university classes used to be. Pay teachers handsomely, give them lots of academic and pedagogical freedom. That's the only real way to solve the problem. But that would require taxes, and no one likes those.
posted by eustacescrubb at 2:11 PM on February 10, 2013 [18 favorites]


ennui.bz: I know you are just a lowly temp-scorer in the testing industry, and it is an industry, but I think that opinion is exactly that of your employers and the politicians who created that industry.

I don't speak for my employer, or anyone other than myself. Certainly I disagree with them on many points. But the internal research I see is way above the level of this petty argument.

The lowly temps I work with are the most highly educated people I ever worked with. Many of them have MAs and PhDs. Most of them have more years at this job, than the average teacher has taught.

Twang: This is an award-winning teacher speaking.

Well, the Washington Post gave him an award. By his own criterion, journalists and publishers are unqualified to make assessments of teachers.

ennui.bz: The corporations involved in education are run by businessmen who have never built anything in their life

The biggest corporate interests I know of in the educational testing field are the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and the Walton Family Foundation. You might hate those Robber Barons as much as I do, but you can't say they never built anything in their lives.
posted by charlie don't surf at 2:21 PM on February 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


if we would take really good care of our teachers, pay competitive salaries & offer fantastic benefits, then education would take care of itself

"Take really good care of our teachers" is a HUGE challenge, though. This means, among other things, providing them with reasonable class sizes, appropriate time for their full jobs including planning and grading, and giving them the resources and curricula they need.

I also think that some guidance is a good thing, and I actually do think we SHOULD have standards; you need to have a sense of what skills and knowledge students are expected to have. I'm not against accountability and I'm not even ENTIRELY against testing, I just think we need to re-work how we do it and figure out what we're actually testing. I also think that we need to recognize 1) not all schools/school districts are the same 2) if you base things like salaries and budgets on test scores, you're providing a strong incentive against saying "I need help" both for school districts and for individual teachers.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 2:22 PM on February 10, 2013 [3 favorites]


Standardized testing is now used for teacher evaluation, this is why they're doing it: to catch bad teachers like you.

We have an adjunct faculty member in my department at mid-sized State University who is an extraordinary and very dedicated teacher, in my opinion. Last Fall she showed me a comment that a student wrote on her exam. The student wrote: "When your students fail, you fail". This is a student who, I am told, missed class often and when she was in class sat in the front row with a passive aggressive posture (arms folded around chest--no note taking) and scowl on her face that screamed "I dare you to try to teach me".

The very idea that students like that are used, in part, as the arbiters of good teaching is one of the great dysfunctions in the evaluation process of teachers. Teachers are not miracle workers. And until we stop asking them to prove their effectiveness while ignoring the numerous social variables that affect teaching and learning, then the system is doomed to failure.
posted by Seymour Zamboni at 2:26 PM on February 10, 2013 [15 favorites]


Since teachers are obviously not to be trusted to talk about teaching how about we listen to what a physicist has to say about the NCLB approach to education? From 'Surely you're joking Mr. Feynman' by Richard Feynman

" Later I attended a lecture at the engineering school. The lecture went like this, translated into English: "Two bodies . . . are considered equivalent . . . if equal torques . . . will produce . . . equal acceleration. Two bodies, are considered equivalent, if equal torques, will produce equal acceleration." The students were all sitting there taking dictation, and when the professor repeated the sentence, they checked it to make sure they wrote it down all right. Then they wrote down the next sentence, and on and on. I was the only one who knew the professor was talking about objects with the same moment of inertia, and it was hard to figure out.

I didn't see how they were going to learn anything from that. Here he was talking about moments of inertia, but there was no discussion about how hard it is to push a door open when you put heavy weights on the outside, compared to when you put them near the hinge - nothing!

After the lecture, I talked to a student: "You take all those notes - what do you do with them?"

"Oh, we study them," he says. "We'll have an exam."

"What will the exam be like?"

"Very easy. I can tell you now one of the questions." He looks at his notebook and says, " 'When are two bodies equivalent?' And the answer is, 'Two bodies are considered equivalent if equal torques will produce equal acceleration.'

So, you see, they could pass the examinations, and "learn" all this stuff, and not know anything at all, except what they had memorized."

posted by Perfectibilist at 2:36 PM on February 10, 2013 [23 favorites]


To clarify: my comment above (that high school teachers are not the only ones who must teach under policies created by people who don't know and don't care about what makes for good educational policy) was not meant to dismiss the points made by the author of the original article. Rather I was expressing my frustration that college and university administrators often don't seem particularly motivated to support educational policy that is good for the students either. I WISH I could do something about it, and I am sure my American counterparts do too, but it is hard being so powerless when other people think you have power.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 2:38 PM on February 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


As any production engineers know, you can't test in quality.

So, while agree with the basic thesis of this essay let me reiterate what others have said: for a guy complaining about students writing badly, this essay is meandering and difficult to understand. You know what they don't teach in English (or US Government and Politics apparently)? Editing.

About 500 to 1,000 of those words need to be removed.
posted by GuyZero at 3:00 PM on February 10, 2013


> Plumbers don't write building codes,

Building codes are written by engineers, who are the same group of people who design plumbing supplies.


And which of those are plumbers?

If building codes were written by elected officials, there would be a lot more buildings falling down.

And who said they were?

> soldiers don't decide where they fight,

Generals, who are high-ranking soldiers, set both strategy and tactics in war. Elected officials do not command a division into war.


Elected officials certainly do command divisions into war. They don't command them in war, but it wasn't the generals who said "Go to Afghanistan" or "Go to Iraq." That was the President and Congress.

What's your point here? That some people actually do have influence over some aspects of their own career fields? I'm not arguing that. But the author is clearly intimating that anyone who's never taught doesn't really have the right to tell him how to teach. That's not how our society -- or any society -- works.
posted by Etrigan at 3:08 PM on February 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


Fair enough, but I have a couple of quibbles with your thinking. First, I'll suggest that most politicians don't care about education at all; they just need to be seen "doing something about the problem." Education is a weird thing -- everyone has opinions because they have experienced education, yet few of them have any real insight into what works in the classroom, anymore than your flushing the toilet on a regular basis makes you an expert on designing and running sewer systems. Second, "measurable end results" are much more complicated in teaching than in, say, widget production -- students absorb concepts at different speeds, and it often takes quite a while for students to realize that they have learned something, especially something as abstract as "higher order thinking." Politicians and Education Policy people grab onto standardized testing, I think, not because it's really a "measurable end result" that actually measures anything important but because it's easy to do. Then we can all pretend we are objective and call it a day. From my point of view, the "measurable end result" of NCLB is that I am now teaching weaker students than I was a decade ago, but, as I comment above, that could just be the rosy glow of nostalgia.

I admit that's a fair point, but I think that you're blaming the wrong people for this situation. It's true that politicians may not fully understand the best way to fix the system in order to obtain measurable results that suitably reflect reality, but that's because the people most qualified to help them figure out objectively good ways to measure achievement - the teachers themselves - refused to participate in that discussion. If teacher's unions had offered to support No Child Left Behind at the time that it was proposed, they would have had much more leverage to influence the legislators and shape public policy. Instead they chose to fight it tooth and nail, and thus positioned themselves as the enemy rather than stakeholders - guaranteeing that they would have virtually zero impact in shaping policy. This happens almost every time education policies are proposed that would expose incompetent teachers: rather than welcoming the changes as a way to weed out their bad apples and thus enhance the overall respectability of their profession, teachers instead lock ranks to oppose the legislation completely, even when they have no chance of success. Given that horribly inept negotiation tactic, it's little wonder that politicians have started to ignore their input entirely.

In my opinion, the future is like an empty truck rolling downhill. If you step in front of it and try to push in the opposite direction, you're only going to get crushed - but if you approach it from a sideways angle and climb into the driver's seat, you may be able to steer it to where you want it to go. Teacher's unions chose to step in front of that truck, and they have only themselves to blame for the inevitable outcome.
posted by wolfdreams01 at 3:15 PM on February 10, 2013


The NCLB is bad, sure. But the slackness has been creeping in for decades. You can enjoy yourself with your reflex "ha, old people always say that", but it is still true. I remember in high school, about 1980, this one geometry teacher just flatly refused to use the mandated textbook, which was some crap like "Geometry: A Transformational Approach" where you were supposed to learn geometry by contemplating reflections and rotations, I guess. The big idea was that students have difficulty with proofs in geometry, so we'll look for an alternative way to teach the subject. She used instead the old book, which hadn't yet been sent to be pulped, and which taught the subject the way it has been taught for centuries. The good 8th grade English teacher did the same thing - no "Language Arts" textbook for us; we used the shelved grammar book, with boring exercises and no colorful pictures. What does it say when the best teachers in a high school all had to swim against the current of the curriculum in order to provide sound instruction in fundamentals? It's not good. What if I hadn't had those teachers?
posted by thelonius at 3:16 PM on February 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


When I was tutoring math and English to students at the open admissions art school I was dumb enough to enroll into, I was shocked at how unprepared some second and third year college students were. A couple times I wasn't sure if I should abandon the lesson plan that was given to me and just teach some of these students how to plagiarize more effectively (there was one student who was taking blocks of unaltered text from Amazon reviews of books, using a confusing mix of pronouns that made it unclear whether he was talking about himself, the reviewer, the author, or the protagonist).

By the time I was teaching math to a small NCLB after school class at a public school on Chicago's west side, I did abandon the lesson plan. There were 5th, 6th, 7th, and 8th graders all shoved together, and even when you've got some astute 5th graders and slow 8th graders, there's just so many areas where their skill sets and knowledge bases don't overlap. You probably wouldn't be that surprised at how quickly an 8th grade boy will tune out when he sees a 5th grade girl grasping on to concepts he's struggling with, even with a COOL TEACHER WHO CAN RELATE AND CARES AND IS WILLING TO SPEND UP TO TWO-AND-A-HALF HOURS A WEEK HELPING OUT.

It's a sad gig. More power to the people who do it full time.
posted by elr at 3:22 PM on February 10, 2013 [4 favorites]


It's interesting how often teaching related posts on the blue turn into arguments about how teachers are complaining about their jobs and how if they hate their jobs so much, they should all quit.

I think the problem is that people (lawmakers, the general public) want teachers to be held accountable in their jobs, but no one wants to do the legwork that actually entails. If we as a country were actually serious about attracting good teachers and making sure they continue to teach our students well, they would be fully supported in their first few years, and each year would have a performance review in person. The logistics of this of course are pretty difficult, so it's easy to see why so many people rely on standardized testing. All I know is that the students in my 5th grade class where I am a student teacher are all very bright kids, but they get so much test anxiety that everything they have learned about a subject flies out the window when they sit down to take an assessment. How exactly are we supposed to be evaluated by 25 10 year old's who struggle in test taking? And should we cut out the science experiments that make them so excited every day in order to prep them to take a test? I am not sure that is the right answer.

I keep thinking back to kaibutsu and their experience in Kenya. Yes, Kenya has great test scores, but are they preparing their citizens to be critical thinkers? To make decisions regarding their education? To be engaged and excited learners in their society? It doesn't sound like they are, and that is profoundly sad.
posted by ruhroh at 3:35 PM on February 10, 2013 [4 favorites]


Actually, ruhroh, the irony is that the test scores are really kind of terrible, in spite of the endless test prep. A few people do ok enough to kind of perpetuate the system. And a gigantic amount of creativity gets destroyed; the students I work with are fantastically eager to learn when presented with a chance and given a bit of direction. But even across the four years of university you can see them getting worn down, expectations falling into line with the reality on the ground. But that eagerness to learn provides a lot of hope: if you can get something in place to trigger that enthusiasm on a decently large scale, the whole system could probably turn itself around in the space of fifteen or twenty years.
posted by kaibutsu at 3:49 PM on February 10, 2013 [3 favorites]


I am amazed that anyone is scoffing at this guy's op-ed. I started teaching this year and instantly discovered that NCLB had, in fact, wrecked my students' reading, writing, and thinking abilities. I spent the first few paragraphs of this article jumping up and down shouting "Oh my god, I'm not the only one seeing this!"

You should have seen the Department of Ed under Bush. The staff there were all in their 20s, and their only cred was that they'd worked as a page for Congressman Asshat-Orwhatever, (R)-Peoria. None of them had ever worked in a classroom. I'm as likely to complain about stodgy old teaching methods as anyone else, but this was downright spooky.
posted by gusandrews at 3:59 PM on February 10, 2013 [13 favorites]


Could someone please go over this article with a highlighter and indicate which sentences will be on the test?
posted by George_Spiggott at 4:10 PM on February 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


If teacher's unions had offered to support No Child Left Behind at the time that it was proposed, they would have had much more leverage to influence the legislators and shape public policy. Instead they chose to fight it tooth and nail, and thus positioned themselves as the enemy rather than stakeholders - guaranteeing that they would have virtually zero impact in shaping policy.

Um, so... the teachers who opposed standardized tests because they thought, in their professional opinion, that these were terrible policies likely to damage student learning should have supported a program of standardized tests so they could... what? Help write the tests? Be seen as non-obstructionist? That doesn't really make any sense as an argument. As far as I can see, if the point of NCLB was to ferret out bad teachers, it doesn't seem to have done that at all; rather it had made it harder for good teachers to do their jobs. Which no amount of cooperating by the teachers whose main objection was this is exactly what would happen would have changed.

But, hey "teachers unions are evil," I get that's the talking point. I assume that will be on the test rather than the critical thinking part.
posted by GenjiandProust at 4:18 PM on February 10, 2013 [16 favorites]


Standardized testing is now used for teacher evaluation, this is why they're doing it: to catch bad teachers like you.

Um, no. It's largely being used to crush unions, close public schools, and further enable public funds being sent to private and parochial schools.
posted by Thorzdad at 4:29 PM on February 10, 2013 [25 favorites]


I taught for 6 years in a Texas charter school where the curriculum was geared towards college prep. I taught a variety of AP and IB history courses.

The author, when discussing the rubric used grade AP Govt. free-response questions claims that "there is no consideration of grammar or rhetoric, nor is credit given or a score reduced based on the format of the answer. A student who takes time to construct a clear topic sentence and a proper conclusion gets no credit for those words." This is clearly not the case in AP European History, AP American History, AP World History or IB History (20th Century Topics).** So when he talks about his AP curriculum discourages proper essay writing, please understand that he is speaking for the AP Govt. curriculum only, and not the other AP History classes.

Also, just because the AP rubric doesn't take grammar and rhetoric into account, doesn't mean he can't add that requirement when his students produce work for him to grade.

It seems like his letter should be addressed to the College Board to light a fire under their ass to overhaul their AP Govt. guidelines instead.

** It's not that the scoring guidelines for these classes don't have their own issues, but his claims needed to be put in the proper context.
posted by Groundhog Week at 4:43 PM on February 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


Standardized testing is now used for teacher evaluation, this is why they're doing it: to catch bad teachers like you.

Um, no. It's largely being used to crush unions, close public schools, and further enable public funds being sent to private and parochial schools.


You forgot how they want to create an uneducated permanent underclass to feed on like the Eloi.

It's clearly and obviously wrong that people actually think that it might help kids. They must be mustache-twirling villains. That makes hating them so much easier than believing they might actually be fellow well-intentioned human beings who are doing things that don't work.
posted by Etrigan at 4:49 PM on February 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


It's clearly and obviously wrong that people actually think that it might help kids.

Oh, I'm sure some people do. The same people who think free speech zones, extrarordinary rendition, warrantless wiretapping, and sneaking home our returning dead under cover of darkness and a press ban all further the cause of freedom. We call them "dupes" and "useful idiots".
posted by George_Spiggott at 5:00 PM on February 10, 2013 [4 favorites]


Oh, to further refine my previous comment...

With the 129 AP students he had, I really don't blame him for not teaching any more than he had to for that AP test. 129 is WAY too many AP students. The most I ever had in one year was about 75 AP students (I taught in a smaller school, so 75 students was about 75% of that class). Teachers are humans who need sleep, not machines.
posted by Groundhog Week at 5:02 PM on February 10, 2013 [3 favorites]


I've been a high school history teacher for 11 years. I currently teach AP US History and I have taught AP Government. This article is a completely accurate assessment of the state of social studies.

At the beginning of my career, my students were able to independently read Newsweek articles and variety of newspaper articles and we could discuss. My students today cannot do this. They simply cannot read and understand in the way they were able to a decade ago. In general, they don't have the background knowledge.

Last week, at least 4 of my juniors in my "regular" US history classes couldn't tell me what happened in 1776. I mean, I taught them that just a few months ago. My AP students hadn't heard of Chief Joseph, Sitting Bull, Geronimo, or the Sioux (what is the Sio-x, teacher?"). I can give endless examples. I spend so much time teaching teaching content that is quite difficult to even address writing or higher level thinking skills.

I teach in a fairly wealthy district in a school that is ranked in the top 25 in Illinois. My students are college-bound and the children of professionals.
posted by Hop123 at 5:35 PM on February 10, 2013 [6 favorites]


So when he talks about his AP curriculum discourages proper essay writing, please understand that he is speaking for the AP Govt. curriculum only, and not the other AP History classes.

But an essay that gets the maximum score (9? I've forgotten) can be a fairly appallingly written essay, as one can see from the samples. One can excuse this by saying that they're asking for a quickly written essay, but no matter what, they're not requiring well-written essays.
posted by hoyland at 5:36 PM on February 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


To clarify, the US history exam is the one I remember sample essays from. (I took European history from a teacher who thought the AP syllabus was an affront to his teaching and was explicitly never doing anything with a view to the test.) Comparative politics is weird because I think a lot of students who take it aren't prepared (as in their schools didn't offer the course, only US government)--they're taking it on the off chance they pass because the fee structure encourages them to do so.
posted by hoyland at 5:40 PM on February 10, 2013


When it comes to standardized testing, here is what I would like to see...

1. Instead of states hiring some company to create their tests, I would like to see states hire their own teachers to craft the test and scoring guidelines (similar to what wolfdreams01 said above... let the teachers take ownership of the test).

2. I would also like to see each state pay their teachers extra to grade those tests (not their own students' tests, but maybe teachers in one city could swap with another city, or something like that). If us teachers what quality essay questions, we shouldn't want the grading of those essay questions farmed out to people who aren't as familiar with the state curriculum.

3. Tests should only be every three years, but in all subjects. I'm thinking at the ends of 5th grade (the year before middle school), 8th grade (the year before high school) and 11th grade. Let's say little Johnny McStudent did poorly on his tests in 8th grade. His weakness was interpreting visual data (graphs, maps, etc.) and can't make inferences from them. Johnny's teachers in 9th, 10th and 11th grade must provide evidence that they have worked to improve that particular skill. For example, Mr. Teacher, Johnny's 9th grade social studies teacher, keeps an example of an essay Johnny wrote at the beginning and end of the year that demanded the analysis of visual data, and comments on how he improved on that particular skill. The data gathered from the 11th grade test will tell us if Johnny improved on that skill. If not, then we still have one more year to get Johnny to learn it.

I know that this would require a new level of data keeping that teachers aren't quite used to, but teachers really shouldn't have more than 100 students in a given year. Oh well... a man can dream.
posted by Groundhog Week at 5:44 PM on February 10, 2013


But an essay that gets the maximum score (9? I've forgotten) can be a fairly appallingly written essay, as one can see from the samples.

Well, appalling when compared to what? Yes, I've seen some shoddy shit essays (in terms of structure) get 9s, but from my time as an AP grader, most 9s are fairly well written (and certainly better written than the essays in the middling point range). No grading rubric is perfect, especially considering that 100s of different teachers are grading these AP exams. They are not all of one mind.
posted by Groundhog Week at 5:50 PM on February 10, 2013


Everyone should repeat Goodhart's Law until they absorb it: Inferences based on standardized testing are valid insofar as they acknowledge the distorting effect of the test and the decrease in reliability attendent.

I'll also say that I went to two high schools concurrently, one that was based on an open model that emphasized critical thinking, and one that was based on the traditional mode of teaching, both with a high percentage of students going on to Ivy League study.

I use more out of my Creative Problem Solving and Earthworks (an open project class) classes even today than I do anything out of the more traditional school; the best thing that the trad school did was a class called Humanities that was a cross-discipline Western Civ. course built out of regular sources rather than textbooks.

Tests, in the main, are mediocre instruments for measurement of education, especially when balanced against the opportunity cost and the fallacies of quantification. Anyone who can't grasp that shouldn't be grading any exams that require critical thinking. And responding to critiques of testing with an ad hominem dismissal of the critic as a bad teacher? When tests are graded by folks like that, how can they help but be a failure, a knuckling of the brightest to the empty pedantry of the puffed up dullards?
posted by klangklangston at 6:10 PM on February 10, 2013 [9 favorites]


Out of ideology and sentimentality we ask schools to attempt the impossible - educate everyone to college-ready when we KNOW that most will never be able to earn a real college degree, and that many of those will earn one will only have the discipline and motivation to do so a number of years after leaving high school, and will employ virtually nothing that they learned in high school in so doing. We deprive those who need it of useful vocational training and we also deprive those who have the IQ and motivation to go to college of an enriching secondary education, unless they're lucky enough to go to a school that can ignore the whole mass production ideology and sentiment.
posted by MattD at 6:18 PM on February 10, 2013 [6 favorites]



To summarize: "It was all so much better before!"


It may have been. Educators have less control than ever over their class rooms. That goes from lesson planning, to methodology, to course content, to grades. The weight of bureaucracy is growing at every level of the education system, and while it's added enormously to the cost of education I'd like to see some evidence that it's added to the quality of education.

I'd like to see authority going back to the teachers, at every level of the education system. At least until someone can demonstrate that hamstrung teachers and massive bureaucracy has led to a better product.

I'm sure there will be times that I'm uncomfortable with the results of that, there are a lot of teachers and academics in the world that I've had cause to disagree with. I'm pretty convinced that it's going to have to happen sooner or later though, modern education models aren't working. I know people getting into teaching, and I know people retiring from it, and they're all desperate to help out and horrifically frustrated by the walls they run into.
posted by Stagger Lee at 6:35 PM on February 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


It's true that politicians may not fully understand the best way to fix the system in order to obtain measurable results that suitably reflect reality, but that's because the people most qualified to help them figure out objectively good ways to measure achievement - the teachers themselves - refused to participate in that discussion.

Wow, that is about the opposite of true. Many teachers just do their jobs and try to stay out of big issues like this as much as possible, but many other teachers have been actively involved in educational reform issues for decades, long before the current high-stakes testing craze. Such teachers have been talking about assessment, and how to assess more difficult skills like critical thinking, for decades. Such teachers have been involved in trying to build positive models for teacher professional development and assessment for decades. One of the things they've figured out over these decades is that one-time high stakes tests, particularly of the multiple choice variety, are pretty much only good at measuring students' ability to recall facts, not higher order thinking skills.(*) Another thing they've figured out over these decades is that there are so many confounding variables that, while what the teacher does in a classroom is one of the inputs to student standardized test scores, the effects of that particular input among the many, many other inputs is exceedingly difficult to tease out of test score data, rendering student standardized test scores a pretty poor metric for individual instructors' teaching quality.

(*) If you want to assess how well a student is able to understand a problem, determine what information is necessary to solve the problem, find the necessary information (choosing sources, evaluating reliability, etc.), synthesize information from various sources, and then generate their own analysis to come to some sort of conclusion about the original problem (which is the sort of complete process that most of us need our "education" for in everyday life), then you need to observe the student assessing a problem, determining what information is necessary to solve the problem, finding the necessary information, synthesizing information from multiple sources, and generating their own analysis and conclusions about the original problem.


Perhaps rather than throwing blame for some poorly defined problem of educational failure, it would be more useful to recognize that public teaching is really only a relatively recently professionalized occupation, especially in the US. Back in the early days, the local teacher might have been whoever had managed to complete grade 8 or however many levels the local school got up to. Teachers' Colleges were founded to address this lack of professional standards, and made some pretty amazing strides at that. But at the time, teaching was primarily a women's occupation (except at higher levels or maybe for children of the rich; heck, this is still the case), and thus had (and continues to have, I'd say) many sexism-based obstacles to being taken quite so seriously as a profession. Even back in the 90s when I was an undergrad an education degree was often seen (whether accurately or not) as an easy option for folks who couldn't hack it in a more serious major. And the pay and workload are certainly not commensurate with any other serious profession, even today, in most parts of the US.

One could certainly call for teaching to be a more rigorously professionalized occupation. As a student (and in particular, as a student who changed schools approximately every year and a half/school districts approximately every two years), I had a wide range of teachers. As a university professor, I've interacted professionally with a range of teachers (though mostly at the post-secondary level). I think it would be great if teachers at all levels (toddler up through higher ed) were required to have both a background in educational psychology and teaching, and sufficient domain knowledge to be able to understand, for example, that there are some key mathematical skills that are more important in the long run than this or that particular topic that happens to be in this decade because it was important for some recent scientific or commercial development. The way to make that happen, though, is to treat teachers as professionals: respect them and their professional expertise, both in their employment conditions and socially; and focus on training for positive professional standards rather than expecting punitive measures against individual teachers to somehow trickle down and change an entire professional structure. Focusing on improved teacher training, like the original teachers' colleges did, has proven to be quite effective at raising professional standards in education (especially given that there was a ways to go, and they were basically working with no domain knowledge in the fields of education research, ed psych, child development, etc. initially). Using a supposed performance metric that reduces teachers to cogs with no room for initiative or expertise is the exact opposite of raising professional expectations for teachers.
posted by eviemath at 6:50 PM on February 10, 2013 [11 favorites]


Out of ideology and sentimentality we ask schools to attempt the impossible - educate everyone to college-ready when we KNOW that most will never be able to earn a real college degree

It's a tricky situation. Do we go back to the old model of ridged tracking, where once you're on the remedial track, it's almost impossible to rise up? Reintroduce trade school classes in high school (which require a lot of expensive supplies)? Are we willing to tell kids that they aren't college-ready yet, and need a few more years to mature before they can go to college? That they may never go to college? A lot of parents (read: taxpayers) don't want to hear that their little Johnny can't/won't cut the mustard.

If our goal isn't getting kids college-ready (I don't think it should be the only goal), then we in the US need to have a serious conversation about the purpose of K-12 education. Is it teaching responsible citizenship? Is it just making sure kids aren't illiterate and innumerate (Is that a word?)? Is it getting them ready for the workforce? Expensive babysitting? Is it getting all students to fulfill their potential (whatever that may be)? Is it all of these things? A mix? Something else entirely?
posted by Groundhog Week at 6:51 PM on February 10, 2013 [6 favorites]


I use more out of my Creative Problem Solving and Earthworks (an open project class) classes even today than I do anything out of the more traditional school

The world needs ditch diggers too. Should we require mandatory ditch digging classes? When I was in high school, I had an after school job that actually involved digging ditches with a pickaxe and shovel. That's why I worked so hard at getting an education, so I would never have to do manual labor again.

Tests, in the main, are mediocre instruments for measurement of education, especially when balanced against the opportunity cost and the fallacies of quantification.

Tests, in the main, are mediocre instruments. The only thing worse for measurement of education is every other system they have tried. You understand that this is a scholarly, peer reviewed research project, right? Measurement systems that rely on the intuition of teachers are basically voodoo. One of the most important goals of testing systems is an evaluation of the testing system itself. Anyone who can't grasp that shouldn't be criticizing these measurement systems, since they cannot imagine that educational testing professionals have sufficiently critical thinking to evaluate their own work and that of their peers.

Anyone who can't grasp that shouldn't be grading any exams that require critical thinking. And responding to critiques of testing with an ad hominem dismissal of the critic as a bad teacher? When tests are graded by folks like that, how can they help but be a failure, a knuckling of the brightest to the empty pedantry of the puffed up dullards?

You know who are the worst scorers? Teachers. They take the job thinking it will be easy, they have done this before. Then they discover it resembles the part of their job they hate the most. They don't understand the job is scoring, not grading. They can't adapt to a different standard than their own. They rage at the students, at their essays, and then at the scoring system. They are certain they could write better tests than the professionals. They rage about using standardized tests to evaluate teachers. Then I wonder if I should tell them, that is the purpose of the job they're doing right now.
posted by charlie don't surf at 6:54 PM on February 10, 2013


But the author is clearly intimating that anyone who's never taught doesn't really have the right to tell him how to teach.

Wasn't clear to me. Plumbers have to follow rules made by non-plumbers, that's true. But if 99% of the plumbers complain, "hey, these rules you guys made, they don't really work in the actual plumbing contexts that we face every day," the rulemakers are supposed to listen -- not necessarily do whatever the median plumber says they should do, but recognize that first-hand account has value. I hope designers of buildings do listen to the first-hand accounts of plumbers, and I hope generals and their civilian commanders do listen to the first-hand accounts of soldiers.

That said, I've been teaching college math for 15 years now and haven't noticed any particular decline in the math skills of entering first-year students. But math is probably one of the subjects where standardized testing works best. I'm always inclined to think the test must be missing a lot, and I'm sure that's true to some extent, but whenever I actually look at the math SAT I find myself impressed with the people who make it, who have clearly tried their best to write a test that's hard to pass if you don't know what you're doing.
posted by escabeche at 6:55 PM on February 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


Can anyone in the pro-testing crowd explain why you think that standardized tests reflect what we want our teachers to be doing?

(serious question... I'm actually interested to hear it)

It always seemed bizarre to me that at the exact historical moment when our machines allowed us to instantly and perfectly access facts and figures instantly, there was a huge push towards holding teachers accountable for their students' collective ability to do rote tasks of memorization.
posted by graphnerd at 7:13 PM on February 10, 2013 [6 favorites]


It always seemed bizarre to me that at the exact historical moment when our machines allowed us to instantly and perfectly access facts and figures instantly, there was a huge push towards holding teachers accountable for their students' collective ability to do rote tasks of memorization.

Because industrialization doesn't just mean mechanizing factories, it's a way of organizing labour. It's the industrialization of the education system.
posted by Stagger Lee at 7:28 PM on February 10, 2013 [4 favorites]


To be fair, there were many instances of school being focused on rote memorization before the computer era, from what I've read. But there were also many instances where it wasn't. One of the things the initial push toward teacher professionalization hoped to address was the significant variability in public education in the early days of the US.
posted by eviemath at 7:34 PM on February 10, 2013


Because industrialization doesn't just mean mechanizing factories, it's a way of organizing labour. It's the industrialization of the education system.

Yeah. But aren't we about a century late on that?
posted by graphnerd at 7:35 PM on February 10, 2013


One of the things I have noticed on Metafilter is that because we are always taught to assume our fellow Mefites are arguing in good faith, it frequently translates to a regrettable tendency to assume that other people in the world are also acting in good faith. So when a teacher says something along the lines of "I acknowledge that we need some way to hold teachers accountable, but clearly No Child Left Behind is broken! We need to repeal it and come up with a better system!" Mefites tend to trust that they are acting in good faith and simply believe them.

Unfortunately, the real world is not Metafilter, and I submit from experience that when it comes to either A) politics or B) large sums of money, the most effective way to operate is not to assume that people are telling the truth about their intentions, but rather to start off with the assumption that they are filthy liars and privately set certain benchmarks of integrity that they will have to meet in order for you to assume that they are acting in good faith. (This does not mean being impolite to them - simply that until they meet those benchmarks, you make sure to examine their alleged motives with a far more critical eye.)

For example, when a teacher says they want No Child Left Behind repealed so that a different method of accountability can be put in place, it's certainly possible they are arguing in good faith. But it's also possible that teachers unions are aware of the difficulty of passing legislation through gridlock, and that once NCLB gets repealed, they will make no effort to put an alternate system in place to help fire inadequate teachers. Maybe they simply want the laws repealed so they can go back to the "good old days" when they had tenure and could do whatever they wanted without being held accountable to the public. In short, maybe they're filthy liars who just want No Child Left Behind repealed so that they have a second chance to refight the legislative war that they already lost the first time. Without any evidence that this is not their intent, why should we automatically assume that their intentions are honorable?

This ties into what I said about "benchmarks of integrity" that people can use to prove their bona fides. To me, a reasonable benchmark to demonstrate that the teacher's unions are indeed acting in good faith would be for them to actively propose alternate systems that would still allow us to achieve the goal of measuring educators worths and eliminating the crappy ones. Meeting this benchmark of integrity would demonstrate that they are sincerely working for legislative change rather than legislative repeal. Acknowledging that teachers do need to be policed somehow and coming up with their own proposals for how to do that in a more reasonable way would demonstrate a sincere respect for the will of the people. But you know, whenever I hear teachers complaining about their jobs, this is the one thing I never hear. It's all "whiny this" or "broken system that" and the one thing that is never offered (and certainly not in this FPP) is an alternative method to police themselves. If teacher's unions won't extend this olive branch, why should we believe their intentions? After all, if their unions truly wanted to compromise, why would they wait until they had already lost the legislative war to do so?

I acknowledge that perhaps my specific benchmark may seem unreasonable, and it's very possible that maybe there are other ways teachers can prove good faith which I have not considered. The specific benchmarks are totally negotiable. My overall point is simply that assuming good faith when it comes to the unions attempts to influence educational legislation just seems a little naive to me. Surely you can understand the important of not necessarily taking people's agendas at face value?
posted by wolfdreams01 at 7:41 PM on February 10, 2013 [4 favorites]


It always seemed bizarre to me that at the exact historical moment when our machines allowed us to instantly and perfectly access facts and figures instantly, there was a huge push towards holding teachers accountable for their students' collective ability to do rote tasks of memorization.

Yeah, talk about getting it exactly backward. When knowledge bases are instantly accessible from practically anywhere, memorization becomes less valuable, not more. It's the powers of analytical thinking and synthesis that remain vital, and more exclusively so.
posted by George_Spiggott at 7:44 PM on February 10, 2013 [7 favorites]


explain why you think that standardized tests reflect what we want our teachers to be doing?

That isn't the relevant question. Standardized tests aren't a reflection of what teachers should be doing. They are research into how well students are doing, and as a byproduct, how teachers have an impact on student education.

The real question is, do you think many teachers could do better? What is the definition of "better?" Could standardized tests help define teaching goals, by determining what teachers do well and what they don't do well? How could less data about student performance be better than more data?
posted by charlie don't surf at 7:49 PM on February 10, 2013


Surely you can understand the important of not necessarily taking people's agendas at face value?

Does that include the agenda behind NCLB?
posted by George_Spiggott at 7:52 PM on February 10, 2013 [4 favorites]


Bias warning: charlie don't surf is financially dependent on the regime of standardized testing.
posted by yonega at 7:54 PM on February 10, 2013 [4 favorites]


the most effective way to operate is not to assume that people are telling the truth about their intentions, but rather to start off with the assumption that they are filthy liars

Well, yeah, but given that I am a teacher, so what am I supposed to do here, assume that I'm a filthy liar?

The thing is, wolfdreams, there's a lot to be said for your posture of instinctive skepticism, but it has to be broadly applied to make sense. Why should you assume that NCLB is a method of accountability, or that its intent is to induce students to learn more? Why don't you, instead, assume that a lot of politicians are filthy liars who have come up with a politically palatable way to break the organizational power of a group of unions who tend to give their opponents money?

I know why *I* don't think that -- it's because I, unlike you, default to believing that people are arguing in good faith, and that teachers, principals, school board members, union leaders -- hell, even elected officials representing the party I don't vote for! -- share a goal of improving education, and have different ideas about how best to get there.

But that's me. What about you? Why would you take the stated goals of the advocates of standardized testing at face value? What benchmark would you need in order to convince yourself to believe, as I do, that advocates of standardized testing are arguing in good faith?
posted by escabeche at 8:24 PM on February 10, 2013 [6 favorites]


Bias warning: charlie don't surf is financially dependent on the regime of standardized testing.

Funny how "experience" can turn into "bias" when the experienced person is on the other side of the issue.
posted by Etrigan at 8:26 PM on February 10, 2013


How could less data about student performance be better than more data?

Is that supposed to be a rhetorical question?

It's not a rhetorical question.

It's a question with an actual answer. The answer is that if the data is wrong, or if it's not wrong, but it measures something other than what it says it measures, then it's worse to have it than not to have it.

Not saying standardized test scores are like this. For my part, I like (some of) them. Just saying: less data really is sometimes better than more.
posted by escabeche at 8:27 PM on February 10, 2013 [3 favorites]


So when a teacher says something along the lines of "I acknowledge that we need some way to hold teachers accountable, but clearly No Child Left Behind is broken! We need to repeal it and come up with a better system!" Mefites tend to trust that they are acting in good faith and simply believe them.

Yeah, or when they base their argument on reductio ad roommate.
posted by aaronetc at 8:34 PM on February 10, 2013 [7 favorites]


wolfdreams01 - was this responding to me in that maybe I can win this debate by arguing the same thing louder sense, or did you just ignore my comment 'cause it didn't support your conclusion? You don't have to assume (or merely assume) anything - you could instead pick up a few books on educational theory and practice and the history of education and educational reforms and learn what the people and organizations that you are talking about have actually said and done.

For example, one good place to start is the Principles and Standards for School Mathematics developed by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics. "Standards", in education-speak, are the basis for assessment rubrics. They are the "what are we actually trying to measure/assess here?" part. Groups such as NCTM then go on to recommend best practices for how to assess if students' learning meets the standards. If you are going to base teacher evaluations on student learning outcomes without factoring in the myriad other variables that also affect student learning outcomes, you can still do a far, far better job assessing student learning outcomes than through high stakes standardized testing.

Another alternative to No Child Left Behind was the effort by a broad coalition of educators (i.e. teachers!) and education proponents in Maine to develop the Maine Learning Results. Although the development of these standards and assessments to measure them was given added urgency by the impending NCLB national legislation and the desire on behalf of many educators and education proponents in Maine to have positive, useful learning standards instead of what was being proposed for NCLB, the process was started independently beforehand.

To say that teachers unions and teacher organizations are universally and categorically opposed to putting in place some sort of standards around student learning outcomes is a lie. To assume that this is the case based only on the fact that teachers unions and organizations opposed NCLB is ignorant.

Teachers unions and organizations are opposed to trying to raise educational standards by applying punitive measures to individual teachers and schools in the absence of considering any other factors affecting student learning outcomes. This, as I mentioned above, is far from the only way to raise educational standards and improve student learning outcomes. And, as I mentioned above, history in fact gives us a better, proven effective option: focus on increasing professional standards on the teacher training end of things, support teachers in their professional development, and treat teachers like professionals.
posted by eviemath at 8:41 PM on February 10, 2013 [13 favorites]


(And teachers, since the 1800s in the US, have been involved in and in fact leading these other sorts of efforts to raise educational standards and student learning outcomes. Which, as I mentioned in my first comment, have actually been pretty successful overall.)
posted by eviemath at 8:45 PM on February 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


I was really tempted to take wolfdreams01's comment as an argument made in good faith, but then I put on my reading glasses and now it seems safer to assume he's a filthy liar. I mean, right from the horse's mouth.

Teachers don't have the final word on education policy. They have an agenda just like everyone else -- even objective "put children first" reformers whose selfless passion for children leads directly to an agenda of union-bashing and privatization.
posted by leopard at 9:13 PM on February 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


How could less data about student performance be better than more data?

When the collection of that data becomes such a monumental task that it crowds out efforts that will actually improve student performance.

I taught in the public schools for fourteen years, seven of which were post-NCLB. The fact that huge amounts of money for the district, as well as the administration's reputation and jobs, now depended on those test scores meant that everything had to turn towards improving test performance.

But here's the really important part: because those tests were so important, they couldn't be left to chance. There needed to be a whole second set of district-designed tests that would identify those students who were at risk of failing the state test, so that efforts to help individual students could be focused "appropriately." And, perversely, no matter whether I personally had identified a student who needed extra help, they had to fail the district-designed test in order to qualify for help. God help the struggling student who put in a lot of effort and passed the district tests by a point or two. He or she was locked out of getting extra help.

The end result is that between third grade and eighth grade (my school was a K-8 school), the kids I taught had to take 104 separate standardized tests, some of them over several days. Overall, if you add up all of the days that involved 'official' testing of one sort or another (in other words, not including any tests that were part of the normal curriculum), it comes out at about one-sixth of all days. Over third through eighth grade, that's about one school year's worth of time.
posted by Chanther at 9:43 PM on February 10, 2013 [8 favorites]


"The world needs ditch diggers too. Should we require mandatory ditch digging classes? When I was in high school, I had an after school job that actually involved digging ditches with a pickaxe and shovel. That's why I worked so hard at getting an education, so I would never have to do manual labor again."

Yeah, actually though, I have a white collar writing job. Saying that Creative Problem Solving is ditch digging just shows you don't know what the fuck you're talking about. Which isn't exactly a surprise, but hey.

"Tests, in the main, are mediocre instruments. The only thing worse for measurement of education is every other system they have tried."

Do they test you on tu quoque?

"You understand that this is a scholarly, peer reviewed research project, right?"

Yes, and? I also understand that your job depends on it. But you understand that not every valid research question can be generalized from, and that there are often — especially in econometric studies — deeply problematic assumptions or ungeneralizable results or bad inferences, even in published papers?

"Measurement systems that rely on the intuition of teachers are basically voodoo."

Look, I know you're operating off of the implicit assumption that good teaching can be quantified effectively without perverting the incentives against the general goals of public education, but since that hasn't been demonstrated, dismissing subjective valuation just seems to be begging the question again.

"One of the most important goals of testing systems is an evaluation of the testing system itself."

Do you not understand how silly you sound giving Scout's Honor on this?

Testing the testing system is evidence in support of testing? I'm sure that several accomplished dancers could come up with a dance about how dancey dancing in schools is.

"Anyone who can't grasp that shouldn't be criticizing these measurement systems, since they cannot imagine that educational testing professionals have sufficiently critical thinking to evaluate their own work and that of their peers. "

Well, as they don't have the day to day experience of teaching the children, and relies on metrics that they create — no direct observation, only inference — it's not so much about critical thinking as it is not over-valuing measurement itself as valid. But it's pretty funny to get this bluster from someone so convinced the teacher was a bad one based on this essay, despite apparently misreading it and insulting pretty much all and sundry.

It's like getting mad at people who tell you that Avatar was terrible by yelling about what the box office was, then telling anyone who disagrees that they just don't know enough about movies to know that very smart people measure the box office.

"You know who are the worst scorers? Teachers. They take the job thinking it will be easy, they have done this before. Then they discover it resembles the part of their job they hate the most. They don't understand the job is scoring, not grading."

You say this like this is an argument for more testing. You know what shows that maybe this isn't accurately measuring what kids learn or what kids should learn or even how to teach kids what's important? That you're assuming the test is a better measurement of that than teachers.

"Then I wonder if I should tell them, that is the purpose of the job they're doing right now."

"LOL you've got a job that makes things worse because you need money, sux 2 ur asthmar piggy"
posted by klangklangston at 9:53 PM on February 10, 2013 [5 favorites]


Alright, why don't we step back, look at some of the countries that are doing things right and plagiarize them? Are any doing it right? Which ones? Why?
posted by Canageek at 11:04 PM on February 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


I hear Sweden has a pretty good educational system?
posted by eviemath at 11:37 PM on February 10, 2013


I was recently at the African Institute of Math Sciences in South Africa for three weeks. Withing African math education, there are big differences between former French and former English colonies. The consensus seems to be that the French system was a) much more demanding, but b) is producing better students than the English system. We've been noticing an incredibly high output of really gifted maths people from Madagascar(!); I talked with one of them at lunch one day, and she said her incoming class at university was something like 2000 people, to which only one or two hundred actually graduated in the end. So it_seems_ that at the University level they're culling people out like mad, while making sure that the elite are actually performing at something approaching their potential.

I think this is a pretty common question in educational systems: Do we aim for general mass education, or do we focus on making sure that the elite are as elite as possible? Both aims are incredibly important, and in a well-designed system you should see a bit of each. Working in Africa, resources are often very tight, so it becomes more of an either-or proposition. But in the US, there's no reason that both shouldn't be possible. (And especially at lower levels of the educational pyramid scheme, we shouldn't be culling out too many students! No sense throwing out all of the kindergartens who can't tie their shoes properly at the end of the year...)

The solutions that make sense for teaching broadly and teaching the elite are quite different. Since pay and opportunities tend to be better at elite schools, we tend to end up with elite teachers at the elite schools, especially at university level, but I think this happens in secondary as well. And as a math-educator-educator I once knew said, a good teacher will help students even with their hands tied behind their back and the worst pedagogy in the world. But we can't only take elite teachers, simply because there are too many students involved. Probably they would do better with some better pedagogy, but the big problem is how to craft systems that help mediocre teachers do better.

Using standardized tests to weed out mediocre teachers is thus flawed on two levels. First, the tests are widely known to be fail at identifying teacher value. Second, we need to be helping new teachers and struggling teachers do better, since we can't rely on the few elites to do everything.

ok, at this point I feel like I'm just rambling....
posted by kaibutsu at 2:12 AM on February 11, 2013 [3 favorites]


Using standardized tests to weed out mediocre teachers is thus flawed on two levels. First, the tests are widely known to be fail at identifying teacher value. Second, we need to be helping new teachers and struggling teachers do better, since we can't rely on the few elites to do everything.

That's exactly the issue here. School boards are looking for ways to eliminate bad teachers. They probably already know who they want to eliminate, they just need ironclad justification. The testing companies aren't really interested in producing justification for firings. Their research is used to produce "professional development" materials to help teachers improve in their deficient areas. Some deficiencies are personal failures, but some of those areas are deficient nationwide because the curriculum doesn't address it. That is being addressed with professional development coordinated with Common Core standards, and focused groups like NCTM as referenced above.

A lot of Federal money has been shoveled into education over the years, with no widespread performance metrics to determine if the money was spent effectively by the States and local communities. There are indexes like college test scores, but that only measures a subsection of students, and can only be used to make inferences about the other students. Now more universal standards are being developed. Get used to it.
posted by charlie don't surf at 4:40 AM on February 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


As a former middle school special ed teacher in a relatively wealthy town, I can tell you this: I worked with kids who had all sorts of disabilities from autism to dyslexia to emotional to behavioral to word retrieval. All of these kids were on highly specific IEPs that included hours of weekly instruction to help them learn how to learn. Out only goal was to teach these kids how to deal with their disabilities and become strong learners.

And EVERY single year, from November to March, the administration would pull me aside and "remind" me that the high stakes testing was coming and they would tell me to understand that my role was now to spend EVERY SINGLE MOMENT with these kids teaching them how to take the test.

All IEP goals were completely scrapped for months every single year so these kids could pass.

And every year, sped teachers in my district were fired if their kids didn't make Annual Yearly Progress.
posted by kinetic at 4:57 AM on February 11, 2013 [8 favorites]


I won't get a chance to read the whole article before work, but this NYT article seems possibly relevant: Worrier/Warrior?
posted by HighTechUnderpants at 8:02 AM on February 11, 2013


In short, maybe they're filthy liars who just want No Child Left Behind repealed so that they have a second chance to refight the legislative war that they already lost the first time.

So it strikes me that most of the criticism around NCLB seems to be about how it is terrible for students from any number of perspectives. And it also strikes me that the rejoinder to that seems to be 'but how will we fire union thugs,' which seems to posit that the center of education policy should be policing instructors rather than actual education.
posted by shakespeherian at 9:46 AM on February 11, 2013 [5 favorites]


I taught freshman writing classes at the college level for seven years. Like most college teachers, I was frustrated with some of the tendencies of my students (only some of them - on the whole I liked my students very much). Chief among these was their carelessness with facts and evidence. One gets the sense, from reading their papers, that they think they can just say a thing and have it act in their paper as a true, supporting fact, whether or not the fact is actually true.

This past year I started to proctor and grade practice SAT tests, and what I saw explained a lot of the problems I was seeing in my college freshmen. I don't know how many Mefites have taken, or seen, the SAT since the new writing section was added, but I'll be the answer is not many. So, here's how it works: students are given a very simple prompt, like "true success requires individual achievement, and a person who relies on the help of others cannot be said to have succeeded." The students are invited to agree or disagree in a short essay, using examples from literature, history, and their own lives. But here's the thing. Because ETS cannot expect its graders to have an encyclopedic knowledge of literature and history, the veracity of the supporting evidence is not a factor in the grading of the essay.

I'm going to repeat that: the veracity of the supporting evidence is not a factor in the grading of the essay.

In other words, a student can respond to the above prompt by saying, for example, that John F. Kennedy needed help from others during his administration; after all, it was only with the help of his Secret Service officers that he was able to evade assassination. In that case, the student will not be penalized for resting an entire argument on the fact that JFK survived an attempt on his life in Dallas when, in fact, he was killed.

It just explains so much. We tell kids, all through high school, that this is the most important test they're going to take, and that it will determine their entire future. And then we tell them that facts don't matter on the test. What did we expect?
posted by Ragged Richard at 12:11 PM on February 11, 2013 [3 favorites]


School boards are looking for ways to eliminate bad teachers

And because of the nature of school boards - dinosaurs too often made up of unqualified people who are there simply to impose their ideology or to assume a distinguised respectable position - good teachers are looking for ways to eliminate school boards.

When the people hire a workforce of trained professionals to do a job, they need not look beyond their own hiring and workplace policies should those professionals fail to achieve the results they expect given that the school board has designed the curriculum.

Most schools would function more effectively with noone but the trained educators ... people willing to give up private salaries in order to devote their energies to helping kids learn ... in charge. The paternalistic school-board/superintendant/principal model almost always creates endless ways to make sure that education is NOT the focus of the school.
posted by Twang at 5:10 PM on February 11, 2013


So it strikes me that most of the criticism around NCLB seems to be about how it is terrible for students from any number of perspectives. And it also strikes me that the rejoinder to that seems to be 'but how will we fire union thugs,' which seems to posit that the center of education policy should be policing instructors rather than actual education.

If you want to run an successful business, you need to have a method to identify and get rid of ineffective employees. Similarly, if you want to run an successful educational system, you need to have a method to identify and get rid of ineffective teachers. That should be common sense to just about everybody. My beef with teachers is that (for the most part) they don't acknowledge this blindingly obvious fact, nor do they propose any alternative solutions. This leads me to believe that they're generally acting in bad faith.

Another important point to consider is that if No Child Left Behind gets repealed, imposing any sort of accountability on teachers will be that much more difficult, since teacher's unions will undoubtedly misrepresent the repeal by framing the entire concept of "accountability for teachers" as a failed policy, making it much harder to pass an alternate measure.

wolfdreams01 - was this responding to me in that maybe I can win this debate by arguing the same thing louder sense, or did you just ignore my comment 'cause it didn't support your conclusion?

Eviemath, I wasn't ignoring your initial comment, it's just that it seemed somewhat vague and I wasn't quite sure where you were going with it, so I didn't want to risk misunderstanding you. Your second response makes more sense to me, and I actually found it very encouraging to see that at least some teachers unions are actually trying to find alternative solutions without undermining accountability. I don't know what your expectation was here - were you thinking that I would argue against this somehow? While I may have a (deserved) reputation as a union-hater, it's not a blind unreasoning hate - I simply hate them for their unwilling to compromise and the way they always seem to put their own needs above the good of society. The sources you referenced have made me see that at least some teacher's groups have dropped this childish attitude (and are actually acknowledging that having accountability is in the publics best interest!) and this actually makes me feel much more positively disposed toward them. I appreciate your sharing the links. Seeing this change in their approach makes me feel like there may actually be an acceptable middle ground between beating the unions senseless or letting them walk all over us, and personally I find that possibility rather inspiring.
posted by wolfdreams01 at 5:35 PM on February 11, 2013


1890s to 1910s: Women Teacher's Rebellion:
By the turn of the 20th century, nearly 75 percent of America's teachers were women. But women made up a far smaller percentage of administrators, and their power decreased with each higher level of authority. Their deportment had always been closely watched; increasingly their work in the schoolroom was not only scrutinized, but rigidly controlled. Teacher autonomy was on the decline, and teachers resented it.

Especially in big city schools, teachers at the turn of the 20th century felt like the most insignificant cogs in a huge machine. They felt dictated to and spied upon. Furthermore, they were badly paid and lacked pension benefits or job security. Many teaching positions were dispensed through political patronage. Married women were often barred from the classroom, and women with children were denied a place in schools. And daily conditions could be deplorable. The often-cited developments of immigration, urbanization and westward expansion had swelled, and changed the face of, the student population. Teachers had little flexibility in how they were to teach their myriad charges, who in urban schools particularly, might well come from impoverished families who spoke little English. They taught in classrooms that were overcrowded, dark and poorly ventilated. Schools felt like factories. ...

In the early decades of the 20th century, even as school districts put greater emphasis on "professionalization," teachers everywhere felt left behind. City Boards of Education, increasingly made up of business and professional men, worked to reform teaching. Often their goals were laudable: to root out corruption, to raise the practice and status of teaching, to ensure real student achievement. But they rarely had any first-hand knowledge of what teaching actually was like. They worked according to a business model, with clear hierarchies and chains of command -- which left teachers at the bottom. The "administrative progressives" (as education historian David Tyack has called them) wanted to impose uniformity and efficiency on classrooms of 50 disparate children. They supported the move away from Normal Schools to university departments of education, where theory would rule. They discouraged individual initiative by teachers, whom they considered too limited to enact worthwhile change.

Not surprisingly, teachers rebelled. At least in urban districts teachers had the advantage of numbers. Cities became the centers for the teachers associations that eventually grew into unions. In Chicago, Margaret Haley and Catherine Goggin of the Chicago Federation of Teachers rallied their peers (and the city government) for improved pay, retirement benefits and tenure. Haley knew that many women considered teaching genteel, white-collar work. Joining a union was anathema to them. But she convinced them that they needed the union and could do real social good within its embrace. In the process, she laid the foundation for the American Federation of Teachers (one of the two main teachers unions today, along with the National Education Association). In New York, Grace Strachan and the Interborough Association of Women Teachers fought for Equal Pay for Equal Work (despite men's assertion that they rightfully should be paid more than their female counterparts, since they had families to support).
The more things change, eh?
posted by eviemath at 5:47 PM on February 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


If you want to run an successful business, you need to have a method to identify and get rid of ineffective employees. Similarly, if you want to run an successful educational system, you need to have a method to identify and get rid of ineffective teachers. That should be common sense to just about everybody. My beef with teachers is that (for the most part) they don't acknowledge this blindingly obvious fact,

It's almost like they work in a profession where the goal is to bring everyone up to a suitable level, not come up with methods to identify and get rid of ineffective students....

Seeing this change in their approach

You have indeed misread my comments. Standing up for positive standards for student learning outcomes - ones that actually measure all aspects of student learning - is not some rarity or new change in the behavior of teachers' unions or other teacher organizations. You seem to be confusing measuring learning outcomes, having learning standards, and other aspects of caring about student learning with union-busting and punishing teachers rather arbitrarily. The two are not synonymous. They never have been synonymous. I'm not sure how many different ways I can say that. The corollary to this is that teachers can simultaneously resist degradation in their working conditions and support and actively work to improve student learning outcomes, including setting reasonable standards for those outcomes.

Further, why is getting rid of the bottom some proportion of teachers more important to you than raising the performance of all teachers above some acceptable standard? For one who purportedly cares so much about standards, what you are proposing is throwing out the idea of an objective standard that potentially anyone could meet with sufficient training in favor of what is essentially grading on a curve. That is not a prime example of logical reasoning.
posted by eviemath at 6:03 PM on February 11, 2013 [3 favorites]


Another important point to consider is that if No Child Left Behind gets repealed, imposing any sort of accountability on teachers will be that much more difficult, since teacher's unions will undoubtedly misrepresent the repeal by framing the entire concept of "accountability for teachers" as a failed policy, making it much harder to pass an alternate measure.

So, we are clear that the point of NCLB is busting teachers' unions and not really about what would be best for the students, then, sort of a "don't love the students, hate the teachers" approach. I'm not sure that can be called "arguing in good faith," but, then, it's education policy.
posted by GenjiandProust at 6:09 PM on February 11, 2013 [3 favorites]


If you want to run an successful business, you need to have a method to identify and get rid of ineffective employees.

You're taking that as a given, but if it were true businesses would be more successful in places with lax labour laws and low-union membership. That has not been shown.
posted by Stagger Lee at 6:13 PM on February 11, 2013 [2 favorites]


Public education is not a business?
posted by shakespeherian at 6:16 PM on February 11, 2013 [3 favorites]


And also for the nth time, but you are arguing in favor of the rote memorization approach after all. Repeat after me: public education is not a business; public education is a public service.

A business has a goal of making a profit, and is organized to that end. Specifically, unless we're talking worker-owned co-op, a business owner is making profit off of capital ownership, extracting value from the labor of employees (that being what capitalism is all about).

A public service has the goal of providing a public service for the greater good, and is organized to that end. Specifically, it isn't supposed to make a profit, and no one is supposed to be profiting off of capital ownership and extracting value from the labor of others.

Public services are not businesses. Public services are not businesses. Public services are not businesses.

Public services and businesses have different organizational structures because they have different organizational goals. Public services and businesses have different organizational structures because they have different organizational goals. Public services and businesses have different organizational structures because they have different organizational goals.

Does that clear things up? Don't forget, it will be on the test.
posted by eviemath at 6:17 PM on February 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


On preview, shakespeherian gets an A! Now, why do public education and businesses have different organizational structures?
posted by eviemath at 6:18 PM on February 11, 2013 [2 favorites]


More from my most recent link, on teachers unions and their historical positions on helping students:
There are two national teachers unions in the United States today, the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers. The NEA was founded in 1857 as a policy-making organization, one that hoped to influence the national debate about schools and schooling. Over the next hundred years, it played a significant role in standardizing teacher training and curriculum. Until the 1960s, the NEA tended to represent the interests of school administrators and educators from colleges and universities.

The AFT, on the other hand, was always much more of a grass-roots teachers' organization. It was formed in 1897 as the Chicago Teachers Federation, with the explicit aim of improving teachers' salaries and pensions. Catherine Goggin and Margaret Haley allied the CFT with the labor movement, going so far as to join the American Federation of Labor - an act that horrified everyone who wanted to see teaching as genteel, white-collar employment. At the same time, the union conceived its work in terms of broader social improvement, bettering the lives of the poor and the alienated
posted by eviemath at 6:22 PM on February 11, 2013


More educational standards co-existing with advocacy for respect and positive working conditions for teachers:
The 1983 report "A Nation at Risk" depicted teachers who were both underqualified and underpaid, working in poor conditions, achieving poor results. A follow-up report in 1986, "A Nation Prepared," laid the foundations for a new professionalism and a new Standards movement. It proposed improving teacher education, restructuring the teaching force and giving teachers greater say in how they met new requirements for student achievement. The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards was born the next year to provide a clearing-house for national recognition and certification of exemplary teachers.
posted by eviemath at 6:28 PM on February 11, 2013


Repeat after me: public education is not a business; public education is a public service.

Public services are not businesses. Public services are not businesses. Public services are not businesses.

Does that clear things up? Don't forget, it will be on the test.


Eviemath, in all of my comments on this thread I've been respectful of your views. I haven't indulged in any sarcasm towards you, and I even acknowledged when I felt you made good points.

So I have to question why you feel like the patronizing attitude above is necessary. You do realize how attacking somebody who's treated you with courtesy might sort of make you seem like an awful human being to the person on the receiving end, right? And while that approach is very successful at shutting down dialogue (which you've done successfully - congratulations! I don't want to talk to you anymore), I'm not sure how you perceive this approach as "arguing in good faith."
posted by wolfdreams01 at 7:26 PM on February 11, 2013


[Folks, I know it's a hot-button topic, let's try to keep it focused on the ideas rather than each other.]
posted by LobsterMitten at 7:52 PM on February 11, 2013


wolfdreams01, do you believe that there are any excellent teachers in the public schools?

If there are excellent teachers, and if NCLB is an effective way of separating good teachers from bad teachers, shouldn't we expect to see some of these excellent teachers praising NCLB alongside all of the (presumably) bad teachers whining about it?

Where are these excellent teachers praising this new system that finally rewards them for being excellent while punishing their lazy colleagues?
posted by straight at 9:05 PM on February 11, 2013 [4 favorites]


If there are excellent teachers, and if NCLB is an effective way of separating good teachers from bad teachers, shouldn't we expect to see some of these excellent teachers praising NCLB alongside all of the (presumably) bad teachers whining about it?

I was nominated as Teacher of the Year in MA, the state known for having the most difficult high stakes test, MCAS. Let's call me an excellent teacher.

The premise is faulty. Excellent teachers understand that education doesn't happen in the ONE YEAR we have a kid; it's an aggregate of 12+ years. And during those years, a lot can happen to a kid:

they can get sick
they can have family problems
they can become homeless
they can have psychiatric difficulties
they can have medical difficulties
they can suffer the death of loved ones
they can be diagnosed with a disability...

But our employment is measured by how our kids do during that ONE YEAR we worked with them.

So let's say for the sake of argument that I have an outstanding track record of raising scores every year (and remember, I'm considered an excellent teacher). But one year in particular, one student loses a parent, another becomes homeless, one is hospitalized for emotional difficulties.

That year, my AYP average is going way down.

And the next year, my contract won't be renewed.

It's that simple.

Conversely, let's say a crappy teacher (and yes, there are plenty) had all of the afore-mentioned kids the previous year but the kids did well on the test because their family circumstances were okay.

I'M the one who is going to be fired because of their bad scores, not them.
posted by kinetic at 2:30 AM on February 12, 2013 [2 favorites]



Eviemath, in all of my comments on this thread I've been respectful of your views. I haven't indulged in any sarcasm towards you, and I even acknowledged when I felt you made good points.

So I have to question why you feel like the patronizing attitude above is necessary. You do realize how attacking somebody who's treated you with courtesy might sort of make you seem like an awful human being to the person on the receiving end, right? And while that approach is very successful at shutting down dialogue (which you've done successfully - congratulations! I don't want to talk to you anymore), I'm not sure how you perceive this approach as "arguing in good faith."


I did get quite snippy last night. I'm sorry. I read your comments as seriously, possibly intentionally misreading my comments to aid your point, as trying to make nice with me after imputing negative things about others, such as the other (specifically public school) teachers in this thread, and as sounding like a broken record on the public services should be run as businesses track (in this and other threads). I was disinclined at the time to assume better faith. This was uncharitable of me, at the least, and anti-social and irresponsible as a metafilter commenter at the worst. In the future, I'll try to remind myself to put the keyboard away until such moods pass.

Perhaps you could apply the same courtesy to teachers in this debate, as well? (Lets say, all of those aside from me at least.) Especialy if you want them to continue to engage with improving the quality of education and proposing alternatives to NCLB instead of, say, refusing to talk to the NCLB proponents?
posted by eviemath at 4:42 AM on February 12, 2013


I think the conflating of "what is educationally good for children" and "how can we fire teachers at will" both in this thread and in all levels of US educational policy also results in tempers running hot.

For my entirely anecdotal part, I have never heard any teacher (or parent) say "High-stakes testing got rid of [that bad teacher]." I know a number of former teachers, all evidently good at their jobs and all very dedicated and knowledgeable (based on conversations about teaching) explain that they have left education because the environment had become intolerable. So the effects of NCLB, based on my entirely unscientific study are a) students with weaker grasp of critical academic skills and b) an exodus of dedicated teachers with other options from the teaching profession. That does not strike me as a positive outcome.
posted by GenjiandProust at 5:21 AM on February 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


... we ask schools to attempt the impossible - educate everyone to college-ready when we KNOW that most will never be able to earn a real college degree...

My town's (not especially good) high school just announced that it is collapsing its instruction from three tracks plus some AP courses down to three -- and, well, actually, "AP courses" is the third track even though they aren't offered in all areas in all four years. *brittle laugh*

And in case people miss the joke, the new tracks are called "Honors" and "College Prep," even though there's a town-wide fuss about how many kids were getting inflated grades and are about to fail the state's high-stakes test and not get a diploma, and so they're instituting standards-based grades and a new grading system and a new, later start time. And adding deans to the high school. And reorganizing the assistant principals. And and and...

All of this done, of course, without sharing any metrics, data, or justifications besides "Trust me!" in this combination of dismissiveness and smarmy Joe Isuzu-ism, while telling other people to be sure to set "S.M.A.R.T." goals so the administration can evaluate them.
posted by wenestvedt at 7:07 AM on February 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


[dial it back folks.]
posted by jessamyn at 8:24 AM on February 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


But our employment is measured by how our kids do during that ONE YEAR we worked with them.

Yes. This seems so obviously ridiculous. Our leaders have essentially decided that evaluating teacher effectiveness is too hard and to expensive, so they've chosen to measure something else that's easier and less expensive to measure and then reward/punish teachers based on that. I think they'd be just as likely to successfully weed out the bad teachers by drawing names from a hat.
posted by straight at 10:01 AM on February 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


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