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Posts Tagged ‘Art of teaching’

Is the SAT About to be Abandoned? If So, Will Standardized Tests Follow?

October 15, 2019 Comments off

A recent PBS New Hour segment reported that many colleges are giving serious consideration to abandoning the use of the SAT as a primary metric for admissions. Why? Here’s one reason:

Critics of the tests have long argued that they reflect income more than ability, a chorus that is growing louder. And this year’s notorious Varsity Blues admission scandal — in which parents, through an intermediary, bribed test administrators to change test scores or let students cheat — reinforced the idea that the tests can be gamed, legally or illegally, by families with enough money.

My hunch is that there is another reason: the SAT score, viewed as a proxy for “academic excellence”, is the basis for lawsuits contending that colleges who use the test as the basis for entry are screening out many Asian-American students who attain higher scores on the tests than either African-American or legacy students.

The so-called “competitive colleges” have many high scoring students to choose from and, in some cases, more than ten times as many applicants as they need in order to sustain themselves. These schools have the luxury of picking and choosing who they want and, consequently, they select based on “diversity”. In many cases “diversity” provides a means for the colleges to avoid affirmative action challenges from African-Americans by accepting students-of-color with SAT scores that are below those of rejected Asian Americans. But “diversity” also provides a means of appeasing graduates who are large donors and whose children SAT scores are middling, a means of fleshing out orchestras, athletic teams, and a means of “creating” geographic and economic diversity in each class.

As the PBS report indicates, when “competitive colleges” ignore SAT scores it does not dilute the academic strength of the school. It DOES, however, undercut any argument that these schools are denying access to “less qualified” students at the expense of one group who consistently scores high on those tests. For Asian-Americans this abandonment of tests is, arguably, bad news. But for those who are born into poverty, who attend public high schools outside the affluent suburbs or college towns the abandonment of the SAT as a basis for entry is good news… for it forces college admissions officers to look at their applications and determine if they have what it takes to succeed in higher education.

From where I sit, the faster SATs are abandoned the better… and with any luck at all those who measure the “quality” of public schools based on standardized test scores will follow suit. If that happens, instead of defining individual “excellence” based on a single test 8th grade students seeking entry to NYC’s “competitive” public schools will be examined in a more wholistic fashion. If that happens, instead of schools receiving a “grade” based in any way on a standardized test they will be carefully assessed using a wholistic accreditation process, one that involves a self-assessment as well as an external one. Would such a system cost more money? Yes— but it would be fairer, more focussed on each student’s individual needs, and would greatly expand the opportunity for students to engage in creative activities. Here’s hoping it happens soon!

Gifted and Talented Programs Fail on Two Accounts: They Segregate Based on Race and Economics AND They Tell 90% of Students They are UN-gifted and UN-talented

August 29, 2019 Comments off

Today’s NYDaily News op ed article by Alison Roda and Judith Kafka describes one of the major pitfalls of NYC’s current arrangement that separates “Gifted and Talented” students into programs designed to meet their needs: it ends up segregating white and Asian children from the economically disadvantaged African-American and Latina students:

The just-unveiled proposal to eliminate New York City’s Gifted and Talented programs, while also doing away with selective admissions for most middle schools, has predictably alarmed critics who fear that restructuring a system that sorts young children into academic “winners” and “losers” will hurt those who currently benefit from it.

Yet the city’s G&T programs do not serve a highly specialized population of children with exceptional academic needs. Instead, they help to maintain racial and socio-economic segregation by creating exclusive educational spaces. Middle schools that base admissions on students’ test scores, grades and attendance records serve a similar function: They promote segregation while framing high quality education as a scarce resource.

Instead of having gifted and talented programs that sort and select students based on test scores, grades and attendance— and implicitly on parents’ ability to navigate a systems complex as application to college— Mss. Roda and Kafka are seeking de-tracking and “…eliminating exclusive programs”. So if these programs vanish, what will take their place? Based on a Chlakbeat article by Ms. Roda, it would be school-wide enrichment, which she describes as follows:

(School-Wide enrichment) is an approach that tasks school staffers with identifying students’ interests and then developing mini-courses, more detailed units of study, and electives for older students centered on those topics.

Schoolwide enrichment “is really flipping the whole idea on its head,” said Allison Roda, a professor at Molloy College who has studied the city’s gifted programs. “Instead of sorting students based on perceived ability and whether they can pass a test when they’re 4 years old, the school’s job is to find out what those gifts and talents are and to develop them.”

For younger children, that could mean setting up small groups of students who are pulled out of their classrooms to learn the basics of photography. In middle and high school, staff can give students questionnaires about their interests and use that information to set up electives that could include topics ranging from robotics to journalism.

The idea, experts said, is to create additional learning opportunities that foster curiosity for all students in a school instead of walling off opportunities for students labeled “gifted.”

In sum… school-wide enrichment, which was popularized in the late 20th century by University of Connecticut teacher Joseph Renzulli– is based on the constructivist theories rooted in John Dewey’s philosophy and Jean Piaget’s psychology— the student-centered approach that reinforces the “notion that he learner has prior knowledge and experiences, which is often determined by their social and cultural environment. Learning is therefore done by students’ “constructing” knowledge out of their experiences.” This paradigm is the opposite of the behaviorist approaches used to break learning into its component parts and then have teachers pour the information into students… an approach that also assumes that a student’s capacity for learning can be measured by standardized intelligence tests and assume their “performance” can be measured by standardized achievement tests.

Based on my experience as an administrator for over three decades, it is clear to me that the adoption of this “new paradigm” will be an uphill battle… for virtually everyone in public schools has been exposed only to the behaviorist paradigm and it’s basis in “efficiency” seems to fit the Western perspective on teaching and learning and the Western perspective that education is “hard work”.

I hope that Ms. Roda’s advocacy for this approach results in an embrace of school-wide enrichment… for when it IS put in place every child in the school benefits. But it will only happen if those at the top are willing to persist on promoting it, for the parents of those children who have been identified as “gifted and talented” when they are four years old are already in the  pipeline and are benefitting from the special treatment their “special programs” provide them and they will not go quietly.

This Just In: Recess Helps… A LOT! It Allows Children to Be Children and Not Data Points

August 16, 2019 Comments off

In yet another study that proves the sun will rise every day, researchers gathered data that proves the value of recess. “Becky” who writes for Your Modern Family reports:

…research is actually showing how schools with more recess have happier, smarter, and more focused students.   In fact, recess even helps students to be more friendly and social.

“Recess is the only place in school, maybe the only place in their social life, where kids have the opportunity to develop social skills with their peers,” says Murry, former chairman of the AAP’s Council on School Health.

And why was recess ever considered unworthy? If you guessed that it ate into time needed to prepare for standardized tests you’ve been a careful and diligent reader of this blog for the past eight years. And guess what country assures recess at all costs AND consistently outscores the US in international tests? FINLAND!

Strong research in Finland shows that children who engage in more physical activity and play do better academically than children who are sedentary.  From kindergarten through eighth grade, students in Finland spend 15 minutes of every hour in recess, enjoying unstructured outdoor play. During that time, they love to make up games, expanding their imaginations and creativity.”

15 minutes per HOUR… as opposed to our country that often tacks 15 minutes of recess onto the end of lunch period. For those who scoff that it would never work in our country, Becky has some news for you. A program called the LiiNK Project provided more recess for students and, voila, test scores went up!

A school in Texas took part in the LiiNK Project, where students in K-1 had four 15-minute recess breaks a day.   “Adopting LiiNK requires eliminating one hour of instructional time each day. That is a high risk for educators who believe more instruction leads to higher test scores. But research shows vast benefits to providing kids recess.”

“In districts that have adopted LiiNK, the teachers, administrators, and parents raved about its effects on students. The additional recess, they said, helped their kids focus better, misbehave less, and even lose weight. There were benefits for teachers, too. Sandra Hill, a third-grade teacher at Chavez with 18 years experience, said better-behaved kids improved her morale. She described the difference between teaching LiiNK kids and the kids at her previous schools as “night and day.”   “This year was hands down, the easiest year I’ve had with behavior.”

Cindy Griggs, a kindergarten teacher at Eagle Mountain Elementary, a LiiNK school in Fort Worth, described a similar change. Recalling her students’ behavior before LiiNK was implemented four years ago, she said, “They were always antsy, messing with the name tags on their desks, poking each other, rolling around on the floor.”

But now with the extra recess: “They’re able to get all that energy out. Coming in, they’ll just be sitting on the carpet zoned in and engaged for 45 minutes.”

A Texas college professor and elementary school Principal were given the last words on this topic, which included lots of links to lots of reports substantiating the value of recess and unstructured play:

Professor and associate dean at Texas Christian University, Debbie Rhea, launched the recess initiative, reminding her of her childhood.   “We have forgotten what childhood should be.   And if we remember back to before testing—which would be back in the ’60s, ’70s, early ’80s—if we remember back to that, children were allowed to be children.”

“Test scores don’t tell you everything you need to know about a child,” she said. “I hope people can understand that. In this age of accountability and testing, I think we’ve forgotten that we’re dealing with these little kids with their little hearts,and they need to be nurtured too.” – Principal Elizabeth Miller, Chavez Elementary School.

And here’s what is saddening to this retired veteran school superintendent: anyone who entered the teaching profession after NCLB has NEVER known of a time when “children were allowed to be children”.We now have a generation of teachers who know of nothing except accountability based on standardized testing… teachers who themselves were subjected to passing fill-in-the-bubble tests to prove they had the ability to deal with little kids with their little hearts. The sooner we move away from this “meritocracy” based on tests the better!

In “Call Me By My True Names”, Thich Nhat Hanh Points Out a Troubling Reality that Princeton Professor Drives Home

August 7, 2019 Comments off

I just watched the YouTube video embedded below featuring Eddie Glaude, a Princeton Professor who talked with MSNBC about the recent killings in El Paso and Dayton. Watch it… and then read Thich Nhat Hanh’s poem, Call Me By My True Names, that is pasted below the video clip. My concluding thoughts follow the poem.

Call Me By My True Names

By Thich Nhat Hanh

Don’t say that I will depart tomorrow— even today I am still arriving.

Look deeply: every second I am arriving to be a bud on a Spring branch, to be a tiny bird, with still-fragile wings, learning to sing in my new nest, to be a caterpillar in the heart of a flower, to be a jewel hiding itself in a stone.

I still arrive, in order to laugh and to cry, to fear and to hope. The rhythm of my heart is the birth and death of all that is alive.

I am a mayfly metamorphosing on the surface of the river. And I am the bird that swoops down to swallow the mayfly.

I am a frog swimming happily in the clear water of a pond. And I am the grass-snake that silently feeds itself on the frog.

I am the child in Uganda, all skin and bones, my legs as thin as bamboo sticks. And I am the arms merchant, selling deadly weapons to Uganda.

I am the twelve-year-old girl, refugee on a small boat, who throws herself into the ocean after being raped by a sea pirate.

And I am also the pirate, my heart not yet capable of seeing and loving.

I am a member of the politburo, with plenty of power in my hands. And I am the man who has to pay his “debt of blood” to my people dying slowly in a forced-labor camp.

My joy is like Spring, so warm it makes flowers bloom all over the Earth. My pain is like a river of tears, so vast it fills the four oceans.

Please call me by my true names, so I can hear all my cries and laughter at once, so I can see that my joy and pain are one.

Please call me by my true names, so I can wake up and the door of my heart could be left open,the door of compassion.

In response to the relentless accumulation of deaths due to mass shootings, politicians are drawn to quick solutions, solutions based on linear Western thought. If we limit guns we will limit deaths. If we identify potential killers and deny them the chance to acquire weapons we will limit deaths. If we stopped the sale of video games that graphically engage players in shooting enemies we will limit deaths. These solutions connect dots…. but as Mr. Glaude and Thich Nhat Hanh point out, there is an interdependence in play that requires each of us to examine ourselves and identify the role we are playing in increasing the violence and hatred in our world.

Can schools teach self-awareness and interdependence? It is a question I am wrestling with… and one I hope others who support public education will examine as well.

Will NYS’s Review of Graduation Requirements End Regents Tests? Alas… I Doubt It

July 30, 2019 Comments off

A recent Chalkbeat article by Reema Amin reports that New York State will be launching a blue ribbon commission to look at graduation requirements. The commission, whose members have not been named, will examine four big questions, one of which is this:

How much does passing the state’s vaunted Regents exams improve graduation rates, student achievement, and college readiness?

Over two decades ago, when I was Superintendent in an Upstate New York district, the Board of Regents adopted a new set of graduation standards calling for all students to pass five Regents examinations on the pretext that doing so would signal that the high school graduates were ready for work or ready for higher education. The content supervisors in the district were not alarmed about the consequences for students, assuming that the cut scores for passing the Regents tests would be adjusted to ensure that more students would be able to pass. But several were concerned about the consequences for teachers, many of whom would need to change the content of their courses to focus on passing the test instead of focussing on important but difficult to measure skills like interpersonal communication, creative problem solving, and teamwork.

The committee examining graduation standards will have a tough sell if they choose to abandon the Regents, for there are generations of high school graduates who view the Regents as evidence of excellence even though study after study has shown, in Ms. Amin’s words:

…these assessments don’t better-prepare graduates for life after high school and can harm certain students, such as students of color from low-income families.

The four questions the committee will wrestle with are these:

what should children know and be able to do before they graduate;

how should they be able to demonstrate their knowledge;

to what degree does requiring the passage of Regents exams improve student achievement, graduation rates and college readiness;

and what other measures of achievement can signal high school completion.

Responding to the first question will require consensus building among employers, post-secondary admissions counselors, and high school educators. Reaching consensus will be difficult but attainable. It is the metrics that will challenge the committee… for doing any kind of portfolio review is a laborious, time-intensive, and— therefore– costly process that the committee will likely find too daunting.

I hope I am wrong… but I think the Regents will survive yet another review in the same way that the entrance examinations to elite NYC high schools and SATs hang on despite evidence that they are not valid screening assessments. Like the entrance exams and the SATs, the Regents are a cheap, fast, and seemingly precise measure of “academic knowledge” that are “proven”— especially in the minds of those who succeeded on them in the past, who are those who will be making the decisions for the future.

There ARE No Two Sides When it Comes to Condemning Racism… BUT

July 19, 2019 Comments off

This USA Today op ed article is correct in its assessment that there are not two sides when it comes to condemning racism… but what is a teacher to do if her boss or the majority of the school board supports the position of all but 4 GOP congressmen that the President’s recent tweets and subsequent behavior is not racist? I dare say SOME teacher will encounter this dilemma.

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Sanity Prevails in Florida Dismissal of Holocaust Denying HS Principal… BUT…

July 14, 2019 Comments off

I read a NYTimes account of the dismissal of a Boca Raton HS Principal with a sense of relief… but also a sense of bewilderment. According to an article by Sarah Mervosh, William Latson, the Principal of Spanish River Community High School in Boca Raton, Fla., wrote in an email exchange with an unidentified parent in April 2018 that:

…the school offered an assembly and courses on the Holocaust, but that they were optional and could not be “forced upon” all students.

I can imagine that an irate Holocaust denying parent writing an email to a Principal complaining about an elective course offering and, perhaps, a school-wide assembly on the topic… and I can see where a Principal’s appeasing response might be taken out of context as evidence that his personal equivocation on the issue. What I found astounding was what followed:

“I can’t say the Holocaust is a factual, historical event because I am not in a position to do so as a school district employee,” Mr. Latson wrote, making a distinction between his personal beliefs about the Holocaust and his role as the leader of a public school. “I do allow information about the Holocaust to be presented and allow students and parents to make decisions about it accordingly. I do the same with information about slavery.”

I cannot fathom how anyone “…can’t say the Holocaust is a factual, historical event” and then justify such a stance based upon his status as a “…school district employee”. Then, in case the reader has any doubts about Mr. Latson’s wisdom, depth of knowledge of history, or political savvy, he indicates that he not only allows students and parents to make up their own facts about the Holocaust, he invites them to do the same thing with slavery!

Thankfully, the citizens of Boca Raton did not take kindly to Mr. Latson’s thinking and the school district did the right thing:

The comments set off an intense backlash in South Florida, which has a significant Jewish population and has among the highest concentrations of Holocaust survivors in the world. Thousands signed an online petition calling for Mr. Latson’s resignation, and on Monday, the Palm Beach County school district announced that he would be stripped of his position as principal and reassigned to another job in the district.

In response to the rise in anti-Semitism in the state, the Florida legislature has mandated instruction on the Holocaust in order to ensure that every student who graduates from Florida schools is aware of the horrific genocide that occurred in World War II. The Palm Beach County School Board Chair, Frank A. Barbieri Jr., emphasized that the district’s curriculum exceeds what is required by the state mandate.

“Every generation must recognize, and learn from, the atrocities of the Holocaust’s incomprehensible suffering and the enduring stain that it left on humankind,” he said. “It is only through high-quality education, and thought-provoking conversations, that history won’t repeat itself.”

And leaders in the Jewish community also weighed in:

Mr. Levin, of the Jewish Federation of South Palm Beach County, said that the Holocaust should be treated like other undebatable facts throughout history, from the Roman Empire to the Revolutionary War to slavery.

“We simply don’t let educators pick and choose what is a philosophical debate and what is not,” he said, adding: “There is no way to be politically correct about the Holocaust. It is a fact of life.

It IS a fact of life… like climate change, like the need for vaccines, like many inconvenient facts of history and science. When the day comes that we get to choose facts democracy dies.