Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Yes, there is such a thing as a stupid question!

There was an article in the Minneapolis StarTribune last weekend on No Child Left Behind. I've indicated before that I have mixed feelings about NCLB, but there was a quote at the end of this article that I've heard before from NCLB supporters, and it never fails to get my goat. It comes from Deputy Commissioner of Education in Minnesota, Chas Anderson, and it refers to the unreachable and ridiculous goal of having ALL kids proficient in everything by 2014.

"When people say that we can't hit 100 percent," she said, "I'll ask them, 'If it's not 100 percent, if it's 90 or 80 percent, then you need to tell us which 20 percent of kids we're going to leave behind.' And no one can answer that question."

I can answer that. The answer is, "We don't know!" We are talking about a statistic, and we are talking about dealing with human beings with wills of their own. No matter how good a job teachers and schools do, some students, for whatever reasons, aren't going to care about being proficient. We KNOW that there will be some students somewhere who, no matter how hard we try, we aren't going to be able to reach. Will it be Billy Thompson or Sally Wilson? I have no idea!

I am often amazed by the things that are done in modern medicine. They have made great progress in so many things. For example, the survival rate for breast cancer has continually increased. But I doubt very much that they are going to have a 100% survival rate by 2014. To set that as a goal, and to tell the medical profession they are failing if they don't reach that would be the height of stupidity. But if you ask, "Well, which women do you want to die?" no one is going to say, Betty Jones and Sally Garfield. We don't know which women will die, and we don't want any of them to, but we know that some probably will.

The article also had a quote from a supporter of No Child Left Behind that I can live with:

For St. Paul Superintendent Meria Carstarphen, the law's implementation is imperfect. "But without it," she said, "we would have no leverage to bring to light the problems associated with the achievement gap, and that's at the heart of what the spirit of the law is about: Transparency. Are we doing the job or not?"

I think showing exactly where schools are is a good thing. I also think it's a good thing to set improvement goals, as long as those goals are reasonable. But when people make statements like the one Deputy Commissioner Anderson made, it's obvious that they are much more interested in playing politics with schools than they are in improving them.


Blogger Mr. McNamar said...

Like you, I have deep concerns with NCLB while maintaining that for too long we have been allowed to go unaccountable to the people we serve.
I am often amazed at how seemingly intelligent people--educated beyond a Bachelor's I presume--can fall victim to the hyperbole of NCLB.
There is a series of commercials, I forget for what company, in which they focus on the letter H for human element.
In our world of education, we have to recognize that sometimes the Student element and the Teacher element don't react well together.
But at the same time, I think we too easily fall back on that truth (not you or me, of course). It is an easy out for too many of our colleagues who would rather collect their paycheck until retirement in a few years.

9/02/2008 4:29 PM  
Blogger Mrs. C said...

I enjoyed this post and have linked to it. Hopefully some of my friends will come visit and say hi! :]

9/03/2008 3:26 AM  
Blogger Luke said...

Friend of Mrs. C stopping by to say "Hi." [smile] Interesting things. Thanks for sharing.


9/03/2008 7:49 AM  
Blogger Dennis Fermoyle said...

Mr. McNamar, you raise a good point. It is something I need to always keep in mind. I argue that public schools are doing a better job than we're given credit for and that we face some problems that the general public doesn't completely understand. I don't want that to be used by anyone in education as an excuse for complacency, but that is definitely a danger.

Mrs. C., thanks for linking, and Luke, thanks for stopping by!

9/03/2008 3:00 PM  
Anonymous michael mazenko said...

Responding to people outside of education on issues like this is always our problem, and it is a burden from under which we will never actually crawl. All we can do is argue, as you have, that the situation is far more complex than any law, news report, conference, or sound bite makes it out to be. We have never argued that we can get 100% of kids to reach expectations as a varsity quarterback, we have never based the pay of doctors or dentists on how healthy there patients there are, and we will never reach 100% proficiency in schools, though it is always a goal. The reality that we don't know who it will be, even though we know it will be someone, is the best response to this question.

I published a piece in the Denver Post several weeks ago called "The Mis-education of Sean Hannity" after Hannity said on the air that "the government has ruined the education system." Clearly, his claim is ridiculous, but there are far too many people who will agree even though 80% of Americans are satisfied with their education, and 75% of Americans are satisfied or "very satisfied" with their children's schools. The reality is that the education system has many significant problems, but is, overall, quite efficient in what it does.

9/04/2008 11:42 AM  
Blogger Dennis Fermoyle said...

Thank you for that, Michael. You make good points. Despite the fact that so many Americans are satisfied with THEIR OWN public schools--the ones they are actually familiar with, people like Sean Hannity have succeeded in convincing people that our public schools in general are terrible.

9/06/2008 3:17 AM  
Anonymous Elizabeth Blake said...

Of course schools need to be accountable for the work they do, but it is a more complex matter than that. Teachers, even the best teachers, need support from administration. I'm a certified chemistry and general science teacher, but when registration walks through my door with 36 students behind him, to add to my class of 34 earth science students, it's a little hard to teach 74 students with no warning. Or when a principal expels my favorite student just because he said "Aah, that's gay", I ask you: How can that boy NOT be left behind, when he's just been expelled by a moody principal? Or when I was halfway through a chemistry course and was transferred an hour away to teach seventh grade science and I asked personnel what would happen to my chemistry students and was told, "That's none of your concern," and I was replaced by a long-term sub who knew nothing about science - these are things that society needs to be aware of. I wrote a dramatic memoir about the obstacles I met teaching at-risk students in an inner-city school. NO CHILD LEFT BEHIND? THE TRUE STORY OF A TEACHER'S QUEST by Elizabeth Blake, on Amazon.com. Teachers need support, and society needs to demand this, or too many children will be left behind.

9/09/2008 7:40 PM  
Anonymous Elizabeth Blake said...

Oops. Mis-typed. I meant 36 and 38 to equal 74 students in one class. Yes, I can add!

9/09/2008 7:47 PM  

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