Sunday, May 03, 2009

NAEP, Dumb Experts & Smart Experts

The NAEP test results have been out for awhile, so there's been a fair amount of scuttlebutt about them during the last week. There are things in the results to give those who want to be hopeful some reasons to be hopeful, and for those who want to bash American education to bash it some more, but after eight years of No Child Left Behind, the bottom line seems to be that not a lot has changed. Surprise, surprise!

I happened to have CNN on as Jack Cafferty, one of that network's Bill O'Reilly wanna-bes, went on one of his rants. (Is anybody else sick of "angry white males" in telejournalism?) Jack is an expert on everything, of course, and he complained that after all the money we've spent on education, NAEP scores hadn't improved in forty years. Jack blamed the teachers unions, and he wants to start firing teachers. Jack is an idiot--at least on this issue.

Lately, however, I've been reading an "expert" who actually does seem to have a clue on educational issues--Malcolm Gladwell. One of the most important complaints about American education has to do with the achievement gap between upper and middle income and lower income kids. Critics have often used this to complain that American education isn't working. Well, here's a surprise. In his book, Outliers, Gladwell uses test scores to defend American education. He shows that lower-income kids keep up with middle and upper income kids during the school year, but they fall farther and farther behind during our long summer vacations. His conclusion: American schools work! Please pause while I faint.

Gladwell is also the first expert I've read who understands that the reason kids from other nations--Asian ones in particular--get a better education than American kids is that they try harder. In discussing the superior scores of Korean and Japanese students in math, Gladwell says, "We sometimes think being good at mathematics as an innate ability. You either have 'it' or you don't. But..it's not so much ability as attitude. You master mathematics if you are willing to try...Success is a function of persistence and doggedness." Gladwell points out that the problem is a cultural one. If we are going to improve education in America, we are going to have to address our culture regarding school.

Gladwell uses the KIPP Schools as an example where the mindset of students from the inner-cities, or their culture, has successfully been changed. He gives an example of a day in the life of a student named Marita:

I wake up at five-forty-five a.m. to get a head start. I brush my teeth, shower. I get some breakfast at school, if I am running late. Usually I get yelled at because I am taking too long. I meet my friend Diana and Steven at the bus stop, and we get the number one bus. I leave school at five p.m, and if I don't lollygag around, then I will get home around five-thirty. Then I say hi to my mom and really quickly start my homework. And if it's not a lot of homework that day, it will take me two to three hours, and I'll be done around nine p.m. Or if we have essays, then I will be done like ten p.m., or ten-thirty p.m.

Sometimes my mom makes me break for dinner. I tell her I want to go straight through, but she says I have to eat. So around eight, she makes me break for dinner for, like, a half-hour, and then I get back to work. Then usually after that, my mom wants to hear about school, but I have to make it quick because I have to get in bed by eleven p.m. So I get all my stuff ready, and then I get into bed. I tell her about the day and what happened, and by the time we are finished, she is on the brink of sleeping, so that's probably around eleven-fifteen. Then I go to sleep, and the next morning, we do it all over again.

Gladwell argues that Marita's trade-off of much of her childhood freedom for the opportunity to a promising future, especially when compared to the future of a typical disadvantaged child, is worth it. I can't argue with that, but I know how some people feel about KIPP, and I'm not proposing that we become KIPP. More important, I don't think we have to. In order to provide a first class education to American students, I don't think we have to force them to, as Gladwell says, have "the hours of a lawyer trying to make partner or of a medical resident." Nevertheless, while we don't have to go as far as KIPP, we should try to learn from them. They may take it a bit far, but I think we need to move in their direction. Screw around with merit pay if you want. Screw around with choice, standards, and blah, blah, blah, and we will continue to see little change. If we really want to improve American education, Gladwell is right. We are going to have to do something to change the mindset and culture of our students.

9 Comments:

Blogger Mrs. C said...

I'm not sure that that's all there is to it... just because of my own personal experience with lower-class white boys. I've written about one here and would appreciate your thoughts:

http://homeschoolnetc.blogspot.com/2009/03/hating-school.html

I actually don't wonder if starting school LATER and slower wouldn't be more helpful in the long run for children like this. BTW shh but not mentioned in my post is the fact that this child was born to a mother on drugs and these are his "guardians." He gets crummy medical care/ Medicaid and part of me wonders how this little boy can be helped. He was born on the SAME DAY as Elf and is in our family. My heart breaks for him! (And no, he's not Elf's twin LOL, Elf was a 10 pound baby and there would just be no room...)

Ok, now reading your post again, I'm wondering if you're equating education with test scores (which doesn't sound like you, maybe I misread) and test scores with "opportunity." And having these "opportunities" with being successful people.

Maybe the answer is more simple: lower-middle class children as a group may not have the same AMBITIONS as upper-class children. It just seems a lot of this looking from the outside in and trying to rig test scores of the lower-classes smacks of paternalism. But interesting sidenote is that I'm hearing that black boys are very inspired by Obama and perhaps "talking white" isn't as stigmatized. Ok, so, maybe there is ONE good thing about this president. :p

Maybe we should change the law to "Every Child Left Alone" and let the parents decide when or if they send their children to school and where.

I'm happy with where my older sons go to school, so the law would not change my behaviour. It just seems that lower-class folk *I* know look at the have-tos and not the IDEA of what education is.

Hopefully that was all related to the blog post b/c I enjoy our conversations. God bless ya! :]

5/03/2009 7:08 AM  
Blogger Dennis Fermoyle said...

Hi Mrs. C.!

It's hard for me to comment on Mitchell's situation because I'm so far away from it. I have no doubt that you're being as honest as you can, but there may be things going on that you're not aware of.

In any case, at my level (high school), I think it is that simple. Effort isn't the only thing, but it really is the most important thing. Every kid I've had who has failed has been a victim of his (or her) own lack of effort. Granted, ability levels vary, but I've seen a lot of kids who did not have a lot of ability do amazingly well because they tried so hard. There are some kids, however, who can't seem to do well no matter how hard they try--in my class that would be kids with very poor reading comprehension skills--and that's why I have a basic class, and once again, in that class, the effort matters the most.

You are absolutely right when you say that lower-middle class kids tend not to have the ambition of upper-middle class kids. Upper-class parents lifestyle is dependent on the upper-middle class occupations, so they know that education is the key to their kids remaining in that social class. Therefore they put great emphasis on it. Working class kids, and they make up the majority of the kids I work with, are more interested in having after school jobs than they are in doing homework.

By the way, Mrs. C., I'm not as anti-testing as a lot of other teachers. Tests don't measure everything in education but they do matter.

5/03/2009 8:15 AM  
Anonymous Jude said...

I'm hopeful that our high school is moving in the right direction next year. I've liked the idea of ZAP--zeroes are not permitted, which I read about on a middle-school science list a few years ago, and it seems that we're going to institute a zap system. Students who don't do homework will receive a mandatory detention until homework is done. To heck with motivation--just make them do the work and learn what they're supposed to. Maybe it will work.

5/03/2009 8:50 AM  
Blogger Dennis Fermoyle said...

Jude, that sounds like a plan!

5/03/2009 9:07 AM  
Blogger Dragon Lady said...

I would be wary of the ZAP system. We have a similar system at the high school I attend (we call it SOS, success on Staturdays) Where students who have missing assignments are assigned to SOS where they complete the work. THeir only penality being SOS. We cannot force the kids to come to SOS brcause of laws dealing with the number of schools day etc. Sp we end up with massive amounts of students who just refuse to do the work during the week abd when confronted they will tell you they will just do it in SOS. Many of these students then do not show up to SOS. As a result our failure rates have increased rather than decreased. Teaching kids they can "do it later" is not the answer. I do believe we need to be most concerned with the mastery of the skills, but we are also a social institution that society has made responsible for teaching such esoteric ideas as motivation, work ethic, and citizenship. I do not know of a single job in the world beyond public education that will allow a job not to be done when it was assigned to be done. So I say hold the students accountable for completing the work when assigned. If it does not show matery allow them to redo the assignment (or a different assignment) after some reteaching and practice in tutoring....or peer tutoring in the class, until they do master the skill. In this way we 1) teach them a work ethic...the assignment is still due when it is due 2)we focus on the mastery of the skill and reflect that in their grade. Now I know this system will only work if the student is willing to put in the effort, but ultimately a student's education is primarily a result of their choices and motivation.

5/03/2009 9:36 AM  
Blogger Dennis Fermoyle said...

Dragon Lady, you make a good point. I was assuming that the student would not receive full credit for the late work, but they would have to do it. One teacher I know gives students zeroes for late work, but they have to turn it in or they don't pass the class. If students were to receive full credit for all late work, I can see where that could be a problem. That's just like the old outcome based education where kids could re-take a test they hadn't studied for when it was first given and still receive and A. I'm with you. I believe in deadlines, and they have to mean something.

5/03/2009 11:03 AM  
Blogger JeffW said...

Your original post is filled with what I would call "no kidding". I'd bet I could walk into your classroom and after two days be able to point out the kids who are motivated and who have parental support from those who don't. And, huh, they have the exact same teacher. Agree that changes need to be made top our culture -- problem is, no one know how to get that to change and it certainly cannot be legislated.

5/04/2009 8:30 AM  
Blogger Dennis Fermoyle said...

Jeff, I think the way we change our culture is to be less tolerant of not only bad behavior but poor effort. That's what KIPP Schools do, and politicians and people like Bill Gates think they are the greatest things since sliced bread. As I said in my post, I'm not looking to go nearly as far as KIPP, but if so many people with clout think so highly of what they are doing, why should it be impossible for them to give those of us in traditional public schools the power to demand reasonable behavior and reasonable effort?

5/04/2009 2:54 PM  
Anonymous Williiam Jaroske said...

It has been become more common that todays public Schools have gotten to be a very dangerous place. on one front you have drugs and alcohol. pear pressure is another one, then you have since the invention of the internet. Online bullying have reached critical mass with little efforts to combat it.

Then you have environmental movement has many young ones mislead about the facts regarding the planet and politics. While I envy some that struggle through it and survive without getting brainwashed with propaganda.

You can't just point the finger at teachers without pointing the finger at the parents. Folks might just blame George Bush because of the failure of No Child left behind. Do you honestly believe it was a right wing conspiracy? No It was a liberal idea drummed up by the liberal elitist to place Bush in a bad place. Lets face it. It was meant to be a failure to they can make Bush a scrap goat.

No Wonder that parents went towards home schooling because the Public school system is such a disaster That does not teach out nations children what should be taught.

Something is really sinister when I catch a lot of heat for criticizing the United Nations and Model U.N. Clubs all across the United States. Something is incredibly wrong when they have to eliminate the speech to all who oppose.

Changing the law to "Every Child Left Alone" sounds good on paper. however changing laws are not going to help the failing school system. The best thing to do is the look into alternatives and let the public school system go into collateral collapse.

12/07/2010 4:19 PM  

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