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The NYTimes Not Seeing Reality

November 24, 2013

Frank Bruni wrote a column  today posing this question: “Are Kids Too Coddled?” As readers of this blog can imagine, my short answer would be a resounding NO! Here’s one of the comments I left:

Arne Duncan’s remarks about suburban moms were not only “impolitic”, they were not based on facts. Here are some facts:

=>Suburban schools are NOT failing based on NAEP tests the USDOE use to measure success.

=>Suburban kids are NOT “coddled”, they are under extreme pressure from the day they start school.

=>The Common Core Standards may “…emphasize analytical thinking over rote memorization”, but no one knows WHAT the tests designed to measure student’s knowledge of the common core measure because they were never field tested.

=> There is NO evidence that the common core tests can measure teacher performance and ample evidence that “Value added” tests are flawed.

=> Many parents would love to “look at the results and ask themselves how they can help their children do better”, but they can’t because the neither the parents nor the teachers can see the test questions OR the individual student results.

As a retired school superintendent who experienced 29 years of tests I see the problem with the common core as one of implementation. The teachers who lead classrooms, the administrators who lead schools and districts, and the boards who answer to local taxpayers did not have ample opportunity to offer substantive feedback on the standards. Teachers had NO say on the design of tests and are rightfully opposed to their use as a measure of “added value”. If the NYTimes supports the idea of the common core, it should challenge it’s implementation, not “coddling” parents.

Having used up my 1500 characters and still feeling the need to share more thoughts on the subject, I entered this comment:

Are Kids Too Coddled? My answer is a resounding NO!

Those students in the suburbs and upscale urban neighborhoods might appear to be “coddled”… but from the very minute they enter school they are expected to excel. They need to prepare for the Kindergarten entry test that measures their “giftedness”, the Middle School examinations that determine if they are eligible for the “fast track” or the best magnet school; they need to “build a resume” in high school that will make them stand out when they apply to the elite college of their choice…. and heaven forfend if they don’t want to go to college!

Students raised in poverty are seldom “coddled” and too often neglected. A close look at the test results indicates it is that segment of the school population that our public education system fails.

And there are many students who drift through middle and high school disengaged because they know their parents cannot afford to send them to college and the information given to them in the classroom is of no interest to them whatsoever. They are ignored and allowed to drift because there is no place for them in our economy.

The common core is a great idea: we need to have a greater focus on analytic thinking and prepare more of our kids for life after high school… but to do that we might need to do MORE coddling and less testing.

Given Bruni’s extended riff on youth athletics I could have posted a third comment drawn from yesterday’s blog post about John O’Sullivan’s ideas on athletics, but figured someone else might do it.

As the title of this post indicates, I am distressed over the fact that the NYTimes fails to see that public education’s crisis is NOT the result of “bad teaching” or insufficient data on student performance. It is the result of what I would call “rational disengagement” by parents and students who cannot se where school will take them. Several years ago Ted Sizer wrote a book called Shopping Mall High School where he observed that successful high schools exhibited “Three Ps”: purpose, push, and personalization. The common core and the testing regimen emphasizes one of those “Ps”, PUSH, and neglects the other two. Without purpose and personalization there can be do student engagement and without student engagement there can be no school success.


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