I just read a maddening article by Natalie Wexler from the September 24 Washington Post titled “Why American’s Can’t Write”. Ms. Wexler’s reason for this situation?
Surely one reason so many Americans lack writing skills is that, for decades, most U.S. schools haven’t taught them. In 2011, a nationwide test found that only 24 percent of students in eighth and 12th grades were proficient in writing, and just 3 percent were advanced.
Ms. Wexler writes a well thought out explanation of how writing could be taught in schools, noting that the punctuation and grammar skills need to be developed incrementally and hierarchically and that teachers need to spend time reading and correcting increasingly lengthy pies of writing. She notes that the common core delineates the skills needed but implies that teachers might lack the capability to deliver instruction on those skills.
What Ms. Wexler fails to note is that writing is not tested effectively… and when it IS tested creativity and flow are far less important than consistency and format… because computers cannot “measure” creativity and flow nor can “readers” who must scan “essays” quickly in order to get tests graded quickly.
We are reaping bad writing because grading writing is complicated, slow, and expensive and we want to measure our students with standardized tests that are easy, fast, and cheap… We won’t get good writing until we are willing to provide the time needed to teach it effectively and the time needed to grade it well.
Paul Buchheit keeps state and local tax dodges in the limelight… This is one of the stealth means of corporate welfare that undercuts the public schools’ ability to provide services to children in need.
I have vivid memories of the impact of the Columbine shootings in 1999. At the time I was serving as Superintendent in Duchess County NY and we were in the midst of convening several public meetings on our budget in anticipation of the annual vote in mid May. Once the images of children vacating a suburban Denver HS appeared nightly on the news, though, parents were less concerned about the initiatives included in our budget and overwhelmingly concerned about the safety of their children in school…. because unlike the earlier reports on school violence that focused on urban schools, Columbine looked a lot like the neighborhoods in our school district and the children vacating the school dressed the same and looked the same as the children in our schools.
Pando writer David Forbes posted an article titled “The Zero Tolerance Generation” that describes the history of the “zero tolerance movement” that he traced back to Columbine. (NOTE: you can only read the initial paragraphs of because it is now behind a paywall). The article reinforces the premise of many posts I’ve written: in the name of safety we’ve spent millions on surveillance equipment, door locks, and police presence in school. With more police in school, we’ve criminalized “disobedience”, and created a school-to-jail pipeline that becomes, in the term used by Yves Smith, a self-licking ice cream cone.
To break out of the zero tolerance mentality we need to get parents and politicians to focus on the root causes that lead to violence in schools instead of spending time reacting to the violence itself. If the funds sent providing armed guards in schools, surveillance cameras, and door locks had been spent on early intervention and mental health services we’d be further along in preventing the random acts of extreme violence that occur in school. Most importantly, we’d be limiting the day-to-day misconduct that stems from the problems children face growing up in our hyper-competitive country. Instead of zero-tolerance we should strive for infinite compassion.
Alternet cross-posted Jill Barshay’s essay from the Hechinger Report summarizing the findings of OECD research based on the 2012 PISA tests that found that the highest performing students on that test used computers in school the least.
While the findings were not as strong based on home computer use, it was evident that students who used computers the most at school did worse on the tests.
Bruce Friend, the chief operating office of iNACOL, a group that advocates the use of technology in school, suggests that US schools might be overlooking the real power of computer technology, which is the real-time analysis of student performance to tailor instruction to meet the unique needs of each student. As he noted in Barhsay’s article, improving education for each child requires much more than giving each of them a computer: it requires trained teachers to assist in the application of that technology.
Barshay ends her essay with this suggestion: “Perhaps it is best to use the computer money into hiring, training, and paying the best teachers”.