tough luck education

Boy, education management sure is tough in New York. This from the NYT’s David Hernszenhorn:

The city’s Panel for Educational Policy yesterday approved Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s plan to impose strict promotion requirements for third graders, but only after the mayor and the Staten Island borough president fired and replaced three members just before the vote.

Schools Chancellor Joel I. Klein announced the changes to the panel, the successor to the Board of Education, at the start of a meeting last night at the High School of Art and Design in Manhattan. But word of the dismissals had already spread, and he had to struggle to be heard over the jeers of a seething crowd.

This is a tough fight for the minds and hearts of third graders. The article continues. I’ve plunked in a lengthy portion:

Mr. Bloomberg said he had amended his policy based on comments from panel members, but would not tolerate them voting against him.

Although Mr. Klein said they had resigned, the three panel members said in interviews that they had been tersely dismissed and had intended to vote against the mayor’s plan.

The panel had been viewed as little more than a rubber stamp of the mayor’s policies. But his plan to hold back students based on standardized test scores met stiff opposition, and seemed headed for defeat.

Under the plan, students who score in Level 1, the lowest of four rankings, on next month’s citywide English and math tests, will be forced to repeat third grade unless they score at Level 2 after summer school or their teachers successfully file an appeal on their behalf.

City officials have estimated that the new policy could force as many as 15,000 of the current 74,000 third graders, or about one in five children, to repeat the grade  four times as many as have been left back in recent years based on teacher and principal discretion.

Mr. Bloomberg announced the plan, intended to end the practice called “social promotion,” as a centerpiece of his State of the City speech in January. “This year, for third graders, we’re putting an end to the discredited practice of social promotion,” the mayor declared. “We’re not just saying it this time. This time, we’re going to do it.”

We have lots of discussion at TCC about the “idea” of so called “social promotion.” We don’t like it when the majority of our students have to go through the English and Math foundations courses, sometimes having to do a year of “developmental” work. Often students will complete the work and move into college credit courses and do fine. Many, however, don’t and disappear. Often students enter credit bearing courses by testing into them and bomb. We know that entrance tests don’t predict all that well how students will perform, SAT or Acuplacer. Many students who come to college beamed directly in from high school aren’t prepared to work with the material, to study the material, to manipulate the concepts, to manage the time requirements, and to live with the decorum of college space (for example, a lot of students think it’s okay to get up in the middle of discussion, leave the room, then return. The thought that this may be rude doesn’t seem to alter what they do before class.) Others do just fine: they struggle with the reading, grasp the basics over time, come to class, prioritize, and participate. Fine by me.

There are many guesses about what the problem is with performance and behavior: secondary education, globilization, teacher training and unions, bad management, mass media, Britney Spears, social inequity, political expediencies, and changing socio-cultural situations and trends.

The students and colleagues with whom I speak know that my proposition is tentative and observational: the problem with learning in America is the concept of systematized and mechanized education that treats people as if they were cut of the same genes. As the article above illustrates, whether Bloomberg is right or wrong by padding his Board to get what he wants and thinks he’s entitled to, the status quo is simply more status quo. More of the same, and more of it: standardization rather than standards. The answer is always more rules, more chapels on the green, as Blake would say.

What are the consequences, intended or unintended, of the above proposal? (If 1 out of five of the 3rd graders have to do the grade again, where is the system actually going to put them, with class sizes already brimming over? Are the people who sell or rent out portable buildings drooling?) One will be more pressure on teachers and students to perform in a system that is already choking under its massive foot. Or maybe everyone will pass and all will be well and paradise will be restored. Who knows.

My answer, which will never happen, is less education and more opportunities to learn (a reconceptualizing of learning from the ground up), a more flexible approach to grade levels and grading, moving from grades to things to learn in as much time as time requires, less testing and more active demonstration of knowledge. This answer to the perceived problem is a “game,” really.

10 thoughts on “tough luck education

  1. Beverly

    I can’t resist this reply. A game is exactly how the system is played. Talking from a student perspective, I played the game well in my earlier days. No one could catch me. I hope you’ve got a lot of hooks and worms to lure them in. I don’t know the answers, but I know I slid through the system slicker than slick, and no testing prevented it. It was the American way for me that had me running, and then landing me right back where I left off -in school. Testing does not lend to any kind of drive, I still baulk and crumble from them. Achievement can be accomplished down so many roads, and the only way to find out how long the road goes is to travel it. Most who decide to travel will take a road that will eventually lead them back to school when they are ready. There are not many other choices if your ambition IS to achieve. My ambition is strong hearted to support preschool to 3rd graders. The right environment can make a difference between a child’s good first impression and a child that can develop a miserable outlook toward learning. Children at a young age do not have the option to not show up or drop out of school. Its an opportunity I intend to take full advantage of, and I hope I can make a difference in some childrens lives that will have a lasting affect on their educational future. Starting from the ground up.

  2. gibb

    Bev, life experience between your bouts with education is going to be one of your strongest points in both learning and teaching. That, and your desire and love for sharing knowledge.

    I want to get in on this topic so badly, because I have thought about the learning process and how different it is for each and every one of us, and how that can be used to advantage if integrated into the system, but without real knowledge of the field of education, and without the time for research, all I could say comes down to personal observation of the different attempts made over the last several decades to try new methods, and thus I’m fairly useless in an argument of this importance.

    But I will comment just on the political maneuvers of Bloomberg. Evidently he used his Algebra to learn that 10 minus negative 3 plus postive 3 equals 10.

  3. Rina

    Gosh, I can’t believe there is something that I actually agree with that broken clock of a Bloomberg on.Based on experience…in the current system, holding these children back is probably the best thing that can be done right now. I, myself, probably should have been held back in the fifth-grade…I was a space-cadet. When the nuns told my parents this, arrangements were made to pass me. Now in retrospect, I can see where this event might have been one of the many factors that threw me off course for about a decade! Thank God today’s 31 is yesterday’s 21 because by those late-blooming standards I don’t feel so bad about being 34.There are many guesses about what the problem is with performance and behavior: secondary education, globilization, teacher training and unions, bad management, mass media, Britney Spears, social inequity, political expediencies, and changing socio-cultural situations and trends.I agree with your fair assessment of the various forces that have most likely caused the downward spiral of our system…I’d probably add the factor of uninvolved parents. This addition isn’t meant to ‘stir the pot’…I only mean to say that people are busy…we lose touch. Sometimes in my daily craziness, it dawns on me that I haven’t spent ‘quality time’ with my pets! There’s a reason why homeschooled children are little brainiacs. And when people say that homeschooled children lack ‘social skills,’ I believe it’s a lie from what I’ve witnessed.I also agree with your “less education more opportunities to learn” proposal. The education system has just become far too institutionalized…bureaucratized.I just read an article yesterday on how in California they are asking for algebra waivers…so that students don’t need to necessarily pass algebra to graduate! For anyone interested check out the link below. It would be funny if it wasn’t so frightening…it enrages me and I don’t even have children.

  4. Rina

    I found this great article from Economist in regards to the homeschooling revolution…I, myself, love a good revolution (giggle)……there is certainly an ideological edge to many home-schoolers. But do not be misled. First, this is a bottom-up movement with parents of whatever political stripe making individual decisions to withdraw their children (rather than following orders from higher up). Second, the movement has a utilitarian edge. Home-schoolers simply believe that they can offer their children better education at home.

    One-to-one tuition, goes the argument, enables children to go at their own pace, rather than at a pace set for the convenience of teaching unions. And children can be taught proper subjects based on the Judeo-Christian tradition of learning, rather than politically correct flimflam. Some home-schoolers favour the classical notion of the trivium, with its three stages of grammar, dialectic and rhetoric (which requires children to learn Greek and Latin).

    This sounds backward-looking, but home-schoolers claim that technology is on their side. The internet is making it ever easier to teach people at home, ever more teaching materials are available, and virtual communities now exist that allow home-schoolers to swap information.

    The other factor working in home-schooling’s favour is its own success. Many parents have been nervous about home-schooled children being isolated. With almost every town in America now boasting its own home-schooling network, that worry declines. Home-schooled children can play baseball with other home-schooled children; they can go on school trips; and so on.Here’s a link to the original article:

  5. gibb

    Okay, so this will be a Rina-length comment because I cant get it out of my head and its more interesting than picture framing, and she has brought up some interesting points.

    The student who gets a D in English Grammar because he doesnt pay attention could be daydreaming of how to build the next non-fuel dependent mass means of air transportation. So there is reason to delve deep into the methods of education and its standards.

    It is impossible not to both take individual needs and abilities under consideration without labeling to do it. Labels is not necessarily a bad word, except in politically correct circles perhaps. I would willingly accept a label of genius, or even tall. It is the multitude of eradicable labels that add up to who we are, otherwise, an adjective has no meaning whatsoever. Its just the broader label and preconception that causes problems and misconception. With this in mind, I do not think that separating a class level of third graders for example, into yet four more levels (often within a group of less than thirty students) plus most likely special ed, is unreasonable.

    There must be a set of standards, i.e., learning to read and write and count to 100 by X grade. But the flexibility lies more within, as you say, the methods of teaching and the concepts surrounding the subject being taught.

    Just as an F student isnt dumb but obviously lacks interest in that area and hasnt had the match lit by the right method, the teacher that is bad is most often just another way of saying that the way he taught was not the way the particular student was best able to learn.

    Right now were tied into personal teaching methods of the instructor, and new methods developed and implemented based on…what? What comes to mind is a generationmy nieces and nephews includedthat were forced to learn the new math by using abacuses and their fingers (ours were slapped if trying this) and a complicated easy method of addition and subtraction with which they also lost the benefit of parental help who threw up their hands in despair because thats not how they were taught, nor could they understand it. I dont believe that methods used when I was learning were the best for all, but I can still go grocery shopping without a calculator and have guessed within a dollar of the total, subtracting coupons and specials as I go.

    But this is the point, that if teaching methods were based upon scientific research such as what weve learned about the human brain, rather than coming up with new concepts to apply to everyone, and structuring learning levels, they could be more efficient and successful based upon students traits and tendencies instead. Is there an artsy way to teach history? Yes; those that possess more of a creative mind may learn by writing essays, while those that have an engineering bend may learn by understanding strategy, and those that learn by rote will excel at datesand all will remember in their own way what was taught. Some learn by repetition, some learn by doing, some learn by listening and absorbing, some learn by argument and challenge. While the educational system cannot provide six teachers to each student obviously, I think that groupings could be made based on something better than a flat-out label based on arbitrary testing that appears to be giving a false picture of intelligence.

    There has to be some legitimate means of testing, to overcome the obvious slicker student, as Bev suggests; that, and the inability of a single teacher to give full in-depth attention to the psychological aspects of any more than maybe a class of ten students. As an aside, because I could afford to do it, I stubbornly refused to assume that if A is B and B is C, then A & C are alike, simply because I dont believe in assuming anything is true without further facts, and accepted when this was always marked as incorrect on these tests, but smiled because I was being true to my beliefs.

    And our daydreamer having trouble with grammar? Watch his face light up as he diagrams a sentence.

  6. Rina

    As an aside, because I could afford to do it, I stubbornly refused to assume that if A is B and B is C, then A & C are alike, simply because I dont believe in assuming anything is true without further facts, and accepted when this was always marked as incorrect on these tests, but smiled because I was being true to my beliefs.Hehehe. Susan, you rock! I purposely got a few extra questions wrong on my last history exam because I stubbornly refused to answer how the instructor wanted me to answer on matters of “conspicuous consumption” during the Gilded Age.How was this for a short post?

  7. Rina

    Here’s another article in regards to the homeschooling revolution. If for nothing else but to celebrate the wonders and powers of Adam Smith’s invisible hand. I know. Lots of typos. If we get bored with the content, we can make a drinking game out of it:Find the Typos.I’ll buy the Guiness.Beverly, if you keep bumping heads with the PTO and they blacklist you from becoming a teacher for insisting on calling the Polaner Fruit, jelly…perhaps you can start your own homeschool network :-)

  8. Beverly

    This is the kind of independent thinking I need to grasp. Confidence that was crushed by squeezing into a mold restricted me too long. Yes, it took me a long time to stop counting with my fingers. And those attractively colored abacuses were fun to PLAY with in 3rd grade. I am shedding the mold, but it is a slow process. I’m not ready to give up a correct answer for my own independent beliefs. Perhaps when that day comes, I will have truly crossed the line to achievement.

  9. gibb

    Aye, there’s the rub!

    To teach independent thinking within a structure that’s built strong enough to keep students from wandering out of class to make a phone call.

  10. Beverly

    Gibb has got a point, I don’t know if I could mix independence with the structure of schooling at home. Home is my place of domain where rules are sometimes made from kissing the Blarney Stone. Anyway, many have encouraged me to form my own daycare over the years, too invasive. It never interested me because of the selfishness I have toward my children. Anyone who has them knows; they are Gods gift from heaven and my time with them is personally cherished.

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