Sunday, October 29, 2006

The American History Required Knowledge Test

Every quarter I give a test at the end of each quarter called THE REQUIRED KNOWLEDGE TEST. It was inspired by those Jay Leno type man-in-the-street interviews, where they ask people questions that any citizen should know, and they give ridiculously stupid answers. Often they are about current events, but sometimes they are about American history. (Question: Who did we fight in the Revolutionary War? Answers: China, Russia, or Vietnam.)

When I give this test, students have to show that they know the answer to every question in order to get a passing grade for the quarter. If they get one or two wrong, I'll just have them come up after class and tell me what the correct answers are, but if they get a significant number wrong, they'll have to take the entire test again. Students can still fail for the quarter even if they take care of this requirement--and some always do--but they can't earn a passing grade without it. I have never had any kids get Fs because they couldn't pass this test, but I have had a couple of kids, who didn't take me seriously, end up with Fs for quarter grades because they never took care of this. One of them would have had a B-. In any case, here's my Required Knowledge Test:


1. What European explorer is most often credited with “discovering” America?

2. In what year did he do it?

3. What people were already here when that explorer came?

4. What European nation’s colonies eventually became the United States?

5. What was the name of the war the U.S. fought to gain its independence?

6. Who was America’s commanding general in this war?

7. Who did the United States fight against in this war?

8. Who won this war?

9. On what exact date (month, day, and year) did the United States declare its independence?

10. How many states were there in the U.S. at this time?

11. Who wrote the Declaration of Independence?

12. What is the U.S. plan of government called which went into effect in 1789 and is still in effect today?

13. What are the first ten amendments which guarantee Americans basic rights called?

14. Who was the first President of the United States?

15. Who was the Indian leader who united various Indian tribes into a confederation in the early 1800’s to resist American efforts to take away their land?

16. What group of Indians was forced on “The Trail of Tears”?

17. What nation was much of the southwestern United States, including Texas, Arizona and California a part of before they became part of the United States?

18. What war that the United States fought involved slavery?

19. Who was the President of the United States during that war?

20. In what war were Lexington, Concord, Valley Forge and Yorktown important places?

21. In which war was the Battle of Gettysburg fought?

22. What war involved the Union and the Confederacy?

23. Who was the Union?

24. Who was their general at the end of the war?

25. Who was the Confederacy?

26. Who was their commanding general?

27. Who won this war?

28. What did the Supreme Court say it was okay for Southern states to do regarding black people in the case of Plessy vs. Ferguson?

29. Where in the United States were blacks treated equally and gain full civil rights in the period between 1890 and 1950?

30. What nation did the United States fight against in World War I?

31. Who was the U.S. President during this war?

32. What was it called when all alcoholic beverages were made illegal in the United States?

33. What is the name for the worst economic decline in our history that occurred during the 1930’s?

34. Who was the president who was elected four times and served during that period and World War II? (Must include first name)

35. What was the name of his program to get us out of this economic decline?

36. Was this president a Democrat or a Republican?

37. What incident caused the United States to enter World War II?

38. What nation was our most important enemy in Europe in World War II?

39. What nation was our most important enemy in Asia and the Pacific Ocean in World War II?

40. Who was the leader of the Soviet Union during World War II and in the early years of the Cold War?

41. Who was the leader of Germany during World War II?

42. What group of people did he try to completely wipe out?

43. Which side did we fight on during World War II - the Allies or the Axis?

44. Was Great Britain our ally or enemy during World War II?

45. What was our major invasion of Western Europe in World War II that took place at Normandy Beach in France called?

46. Who was the most important American general in Europe during World War II?

47. What new weapon was used by the United States to bring about the end of World War II?

48. What nation was it used against?

49. What nation was the major adversary (that means opponent) of the United States during the Cold War?

50. What type of political and economic system did that nation have?

51. What nation were we fighting to defend in the Korean War?

52. What were we trying to stop from spreading in the Korean War?

53. In what nation did a missile crisis almost cause World War III?

54. In what Supreme Court case was the “separate but equal” doctrine overturned?

55. Who is generally considered to have been the greatest black civil rights leader?

56. What U.S. president was assassinated in 1963?

57. What Black Muslim leader was most responsible for spreading that organization’s ideas in the early 1960’s?

58. What nation were we trying to defend in the Vietnam War?

59. What were we trying to prevent from spreading in the Vietnam War?

60. Did we win the Vietnam War?

61. What was the name of the scandal that resulted in the resignation of President Richard Nixon?

62. What political party were John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson?

63. What political party were Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan?

64. Do Democrats tend to be liberal or conservative?

65. Do Republicans tend to be liberal or conservative?

66. Did the Civil War take place during the 1600’s, 1700’s or 1800’s?

67. Did the Revolutionary War take place during the 1600’s, 1700’s or 1800’s?

68. Did the World War II take place during the 1910’s, 1940’s, 1950’s or 1960’s?

69. Did the Vietnam War take place during the 1910’s, 1940’s, 1950’s or 1960’s?

70. Did the World War I take place during the 1910’s, 1940’s, 1950’s or 1960’s?

I give the first seventeen questions at the end of the first quarter, the first 29 at the end of the second, the first 52, plus the dates at the end of the third, and all of them at the end of the fourth.

Believe me, I hope most of my kids know a lot more than this by the time I'm done with them, and most of my class IS NOT simply memorization and regurgitation. But when my kids don't know the answers to questions like these, it is embarrassing to me as a teacher, and it should be embarrassing to them. That's why I started giving this test, and I've actually had students thank me for it.

At the beginning of the year, I give twenty-two of the most basic questions from this test to my classes, just to see where the kids are. Every year I have a number of kids who only get one or two right, and most years at least one or two get zeroes. Amazingly, four years ago, one Laotian girl who got one of those zeroes ended up getting an A in my class. But when I see some of those low scores on that test at the beginning of the year, I know that I will have my hands full just to get kids to acquire a very basic understanding of American history.

When the state of Minnesota, or any state for that matter, sets standards for American History classes, I wish they would recognize what many of us are dealing with. In other words, I wish they would give us something that every one of our students should know in order to pass, and then give us some flexibility beyond that. Instead, they come up with ridiculous lists that would probably be more appropriate for college graduates. I don't know how true this is for other subject areas, but when it comes to history, I suspect that whenever a panel is assembled to set standards, everyone on that panel must be going out of their way to impress their fellow panel members with their own incredible knowledge and high standards. For example, the first item on Minnesota's list of standards for sophomore American history students is the ability to recognize the difference between Aztec and Mayan architecture. And after that, the list doesn't get any better.

I want my kids to know who we fought in the Revolutionary War, and I also want them to know something about the things that led up to it. I know it's a tall order, but I even hope that some kids will be able to give a reasonable argument about whether or not the British should have been able to tax us. I want my kids to know why the Civil War was fought, and I want them to know about some important people and places involved in it. I want my kids to understand something about the civil rights movement, and I want my kids to know something about how women and minorities have been treated earlier in our history. There are a lot of other things I want my students to know, but if some kid didn't know at the beginning of the year that George Washington was our first president, do I really care if he can ever tell the difference between Mayan and Aztec architecture? Give me a break!

Monday, October 23, 2006

PESPD'S Plan for Paying and Retaining Teachers

Okay, as promised, here it is! My plan for paying and retaining teachers.

We start with a normal salary schedule. For anyone who doesn't know what I'm talking about, in most places, teachers are put on a salary schedule according to the number of years they have been in their district. Their first year in a school, they are on step zero, and their fourth year, they are on step three. The higher the step, the higher the salary. In our school, the highest step is 16. In every step, there are lanes for the amount of graduate credits that teachers have had since attaining their bachelors degrees. In the schools where I've worked, it has gone by increments of 15. For example, if someone is on step four, there would be lane for Step 4 + 0 credits, Step 4 + 15 credits, all the way up to Step 4 with a Masters + 45 credits. The farther a teacher is along on lanes, the more they get paid within that step. So in other words, a teacher who is just out of college with no graduate credits might get paid something like $28,000, and a teacher who is at the highest step with a Masters + 45 credits might get paid something like $56,000.

My idea is to start with this schedule, but to allow a principal to move teachers up an down the steps. So if a school got a great new teacher, at the end of a year, the principal would be able to move her from step one all the way to step five, six or even higher if he wanted to. No teacher would object to being moved up, but many would object to being moved down, and I would also allow principals to do that. In those cases, I would set up an appeal process with a panel consisting of something like one school board member, one teacher, and one respected citizen from the community--perhaps a parent or a retired teacher. Both the teacher who had been moved down and the principal could bring witnesses and give evidence, but there would be no lawyers allowed.

Although having graduate credits or a Master's degree doesn't necessarily make one a better teacher than one who doesn't, there is value in earning them, so I would continue to have lanes within the steps in order to encourage continuing education.

In most places, when cuts need to made, teachers are laid off strictly by seniority. The least senior teachers get cut. Since, in my system, the people who the principal believed were the best teachers would be the highest on salary schedule, I would use a system similar to this. But rather than using strict seniority, teachers would be laid off according to is lowest on the salary schedule in the departments that are being cut. As things are now, a teacher in an area being cut, social studies for example, can "bump" a teacher with less seniority in a different area, like math, that isn't being cut. I would allow the principal to use his or her discretion to do this type of thing by having a teacher that is higher on the salary schedule bump one who is lower. Obviously, if a principal did this, it should be because the principal believed the "bumping" teacher was better.

I know that any teacher who doesn't like his principal is probably going to think that this is a lousy idea. But teachers aren't the only people in our society who sometimes have lousy bosses, and they wouldn't be the only ones to have to try to get along with bosses they didn't like. I know this sounds simplistic, but the solution is to replace bad principals with better ones.

I think this system would help to solve a couple of problems that we have. First of all, it would help schools to keep outstanding young teachers that are too often lost when cuts have to be made due to budget problems. It could also do a lot to cure something that I call the "I paid my dues" syndrome.

I've said before that I've known very few veteran teachers that could be called incompetent. But I have seen too many veteran teachers who have quit working as hard as they could. They quit doing those extra things that they did when they were younger because they've "paid their dues." There is no question that being made safe by seniority does an awful lot to contribute to this attitude. Knowing that longevity doesn't guarantee teachers anything unless they continue to work up to their capacity might do a lot to cure this malady.

So there it is. If you don't like it, go ahead and hit me with your best shot. I should mention that I have written other posts saying that teachers should have the power to remove disruptive and apathetic students from their classes when they think those students are hurting the education of other kids in those classes. I believe principals should be able to use their judgement to have the best teaching staff possible, but I also believe teachers should be able to use their judgement to provide the best educational environment possible in their classrooms. I honestly believe that if principals and teachers in public schools had the power to do these things, vouchers wouldn't even be an issue. And if they were, we would be so good that they wouldn't be anything to be afraid of.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Evaluating Teachers

Education Wonks had this post about Florida's new merit pay system, which evaluates teachers based on students' scores on tests. Since I think there are people who get bored with long posts, I'm going to do this in two parts. In the first one I'm going give my opinion about the evaluation of teachers, and in the second one, I'll throw in my two cents worth about how teachers should be paid and retained.

I know that many teachers believe that we place too much emphasis on high school sports, and I don't want to turn anyone off, but my experience in coaching hockey gives a great illustration of why being evaluated solely on the basis of our students' performance is a bad idea. There are a number of hockey coaches in the state of Minnesota who have had winless seasons, and there are a number of them who have had undefeated seasons, but I am reasonably certain that I am the only one who has had both.

In 1979-80 I coached a team in Mt. Iron that went 0-17. It was my sixth year of coaching, and none of my teams had ever come close to having a winning season. Looking at my record, I would have seemed to be a prime candidate for firing. But the athletic director and the other administrators at my school--the people who were familiar with the players and the conditions I had do deal with--didn't think so. They knew that our senior leadership was terrible. In fact, I had to dismiss most of them from our team because they were more interested in drinking and partying. They knew the the players who remained on the team were very young and that some of them had little talent. They knew we were one of the few high schools in the state who had to practice outside instead of in an arena. So rather than firing me, these administrators supported me, and we followed up our winless season with six seasons in a row that were .500 or better.

In 2004-05, twenty-five years after my winless season, I was co-head coach of a team that went 29-0-2 and won a state championship. Although I think our staff did a good job, coaching was definitely not the major reason for our success. We had an outstanding group of student-athletes that included the best senior leadership I've ever seen. Our players were talented and incredibly dedicated. We also had a practice situation that might have been the best in the state of Minnesota. Our undefeated season in 2004-05 didn't mean that I was a great coach any more than our winless season in 1979-80 meant that I was a "failing coach."

You see the same kind of thing in classrooms around the nation. Some teachers work in wonderful schools in affluent communities with highly motivated kids who have supportive parents. Others are working in impoverished neighborhoods with an intolerable number of kids who could care less about learning.

The differences between some schools are drastic, but sometimes there are even big differences between classes within a school. Anyone who follows high school sports knows that schools tend to go through cycles of athletes. Obviously, in 2005, our school was at the top of a very good cycle of athletes. Not coincidentally, we were also at the top of a very good cycle of students. That year, I taught A.P. American Government for the first time. At the end of the year my students took the A.P. test and did very well, at least by our school's standards. Eleven of my 21 kids got 3s, five earned 4s, and one earned a 5. If you wanted to base merit pay on the performance of those students, I'd tell you to be my guest. But last year, with a year of experience under my belt, I definitely did a better job teaching the class. Despite that, my students didn't do nearly as well on the A.P. test at the end of the year. It didn't help that three girls in the class decided to go on a two-week "senior vacation" to Hawaii in the middle of the school year.

And it doesn't look like things are going to get better any time soon. As a group, the sophomores I had for American history last year were poor students, and this year's group isn't any better. They are terrible at paying attention, so many of them seem to never know what's going on or what is due or when, they're disorganized, and they're terribly inconsistent when it comes to doing any homework no matter how easy it is. Yes, there are some good students mixed in there, but there aren't enough of them. If you are going to pay me based on the performance of these classes, I'd better pick up a part-time job at the Holiday Station Store.

I understand that when it comes to things like merit pay, evaluations of teachers are based not just on the performance of the kids, but on their improvement they make during the year. The problem with that is that it is good students who improve, not bad ones. More than anything else, I take pride in teaching kids how to become good students, but the kids have to have some desire to do that. Many poor students at the high school level have none of that. School simply is not on their list of priorities. And anyone who thinks that there is no difference between natural intelligence and being a good student has never been a teacher.

Am I saying that the performance of students should be ignored in the evaluation of a teacher? No! In fact, it is an important factor, but it isn't the only one. In order for teachers to be fairly evaluated it has to be done by someone who knows how the teachers' kids are performing but who also knows the type of kids the teacher is working with and any other factors that are relevant. If teachers are going to be evaluated for the purpose of merit pay or for anything else that matters, I think the only reasonable way for it to be done is by their principals. I know that if a teacher has a lousy principal that doesn't sound like a very good idea, but if that is the case, the school needs to get a better principal. Whether we're talking about teachers or principals, once they're hired we need to trust them to make decisions. If they're making too many bad ones, we should have the freedom to find somebody else.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Parents: Ah, for the good old days!

The Anonymous Teacher did a post on conferences last week, and she listed some of the comments that parents made to her. This one really struck me:
The woman whose daughter isn't turning in homework in my class...she told me
that her daughter has always loved language arts, so it must be me. She
proceeded to tell me how I should teach...because apparently I didn't go to
school to learn that.

Since, like A.T., I am a teacher, I might be biased, but this sounds to me like a pretty stupid parent. However, it seems like there are more and more parents who take that kind of position in dealing with teachers these days. It make me long for the good old days.

When I was in school (many, many years ago!), not all of my teachers were great, but the idea of blaming any of them when I performed poorly was not something my parents would have considered. I remember them saying negative things about a teacher only once, and that was about one of my brother's teachers. There were times as a student that I might have suffered minor injustices, but I would not have been foolish enough to complain to my parents about it. The teachers and the school were right -- period! It was my job to do what my teachers wanted me to do, to the best of my ability. If I did something wrong and got into trouble, I should expect to suffer the consequences, whatever they might be, and make sure I didn't do it again.

There are still parents like that today, but I think it's clear that there were a lot more parents like that when I was going to school. One reason parents have become more difficult for schools to deal with is that the definition of a “good parent” has changed in the minds of many people. They think that instead of supporting teachers and the school, as my parents did, a good parent should make sure the teachers and the school are doing what the parents think they should, and to serve as advocates for their kids whenever the students have conflicts with teachers or principals.

I have to admit, however, that there are times when normally supportive parents should speak up rather than simply say, "Do what the teacher says!" I deal with 150 students in school, so I’m going to make some mistakes. There have been times when parents have pointed out that I’ve done something as simple as recording the wrong test score for a student. There have been times when parents have given me information to make me realize that I needed to change my approach to a student. There have been times when parents have politely told me that they disagreed with something I have done while acknowledging that they understood my reasons. And there have also been times when I’ve had to look a parent in the eye and say, “You’re right; I screwed up! Now what can we do to correct it?”

The key is for parents to approach these situations with the presumption that the teacher or teachers involved are competent and want to do the right thing. Many parents don't do this. Instead, they immediately assume that the teacher or the principal or whoever else from the school who is involved is wrong or lazy or acting out of ulterior motives. Obviously, the media’s constant barrage of criticism of public education helps fuel this assumption. With all the talk about "failing schools," and with talking heads constantly reporting stories about how schools have messed up, it is no wonder that many parents aren't willing to give schools and teachers the benefit of the doubt.

The bottom line is that I believe the old way of parents backing the school and the teacher was better. Whatever damage there was to my education from those minor injustices I suffered and from those less-than-great teachers I had was much less than the damage that would have resulted if I had thought that I could get my parents to support me whenever I got lazy or screwed up. There are many parents today who believe they are doing a great job because they are "backing their kids." Some of them aren't serving anyone well.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Absences: Do you think this will work?

Absences drive me crazy, so I sympathize with any school that is trying to do something about it, but I have my doubts about Buffalo's approach.

Offering a controversial incentive to boost student attendance, the Buffalo
Board of Education voted, 5-4, Wednesday evening to base 10 percent of every
report card grade strictly on how often individual students attend school.

The close vote reflected deep philosophical differences. Supporters of the measure described it as an appropriate way to improve poor attendance rates and emphasize the importance of being in school. Opponents said it offers rewards to students for doing what they should be doing anyway. "To me it's almost bribing children to come to school," said Park District board member Jack Coyle, who voted against the measure. "That's a grave, grave concern to me. I refuse to do that."

North District member Donald A. Van Every, who supported the resolution, said that last school year nearly 80 percent of Buffalo's students were absent six times or more. "I can understand the kid saying to his Mom and Dad: "I need to do this [go to school] because it will help me with my grade,' " Van Every said. "If this small token helps do that, we're on the road."

Beginning next month, students with perfect attendance during a 10-week marking period will receive 10 of a possible 10 points on their report card grades. Eight of ten points will be awarded to students with one or two unexcused absences, while students with three or four such absences will earn six points. Students with five or more unexcused absences will receive none of the 10 points, meaning the highest report card grade they can earn is 90. When the policy was first proposed in May, absences would have counted against students even if they were sick.

The new policy, hammered out after five months of negotiations, provides excused absences for illness, death or illness in the family, impassable roads, religious education, required court appearances or incarceration, approved field trips, college visits, suspensions and several other reasons. Those excused absences will not reduce student grades.

Things might well be different in Buffalo, but this policy would fail miserably in my school. It is not the unexcused absences that drive me crazy; it's those "several other reasons." My own personal favorites are "out of town," "parent request," and "needed at home." Yes, I know that all of these reasons can be legitimate, but when you see them from the same kids week after week, they tend to get a little old. The sad fact is that we have some parents who are willing to sign excuses for their kids for just about anything. And it's not just the parents. A respected businessman in a neighboring community urged his teen-aged employees to skip their afternoon classes because his drive-in was "really busy." I actually have some respect for the kids who come in with an absent slip that just says "skipped" because at least they are being honest. It's the lying and the milking of the legitimate absences for every day that they are possibly worth that have turned my hair so gray.

I wish the Buffalo schools luck, but I'm afraid that all they are going to do is to teach kids and parents in their school district to become better at lying.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Good-bye, Mom!

I have been out of commission the last couple of days. After school on Tuesday, I got word that my mother, Dorothy, who had been battling Alzheimers for several years, was "actively dying" and that I should get down to the Twin Cities as quickly as possible. I grabbed my suit, threw a few things in a bag, ran back to the school and got something together for a substitute, filled the car up with gas, and put the pedal to the metal. Mom died this morning at about 5:00.

My mother was a wonderful person. She was a working mother before being a working mother was in. She went to work at Northwestern hospital in Minneapolis as a medical technician after my dad was laid off from his job as a claims adjuster at the Federal Arsenal in New Brighton. (He later got a job as a title investigator for the Minnesota State Highway Department.) I was in third grade at the time, and she worked at Northwestern for the next 23 years until she retired. Mom was an outstanding cook, and a great seamstress. She was also very independent and highly intelligent, which made it so hard to see her go through the mental deterioration and loss of independence that inevitably accompany Alzheimers. One thing that we will probably remember about her as much as anything else, however, was how incredibly funny she was. When my sons were little, whenever they would go someplace in a car with her, they would come back roaring with laughter, and equipped with more "Grandma Dorothy" stories. My all-time favorite Grandma Dorothy story actually took place after the Alzheimers had begun taking its toll on her, but it was so typically Grandma Dorothy that I will close with it.

Three years ago, it became clear that Mom would no longer be able to get along by herself. (My dad died in 1975.) My brother, Mike, and his wife, Mary, who live in the Twin Cities, found a high quality assisted-care facility called Rosewood Estates in St. Paul. Shortly after moving in, Mom met a very nice gentleman named Carl, who also had Alzheimers. Soon, the talk of Rosewood Estates was the romance going on between this 90-year-old man and an 85-year-old woman. The punch-line to this story came when my sister-in-law first heard of this romance. She called Mom to see how things were going, and my mom said that she had met a man and they were going to get married. Mary obviously didn't know what to make of this, so she said, "Oh? What's his name?" My mom replied in classic Grandma Dorothy fashion: "I can't remember. But he's in the bathroom, so when he comes out, I'll ask him."

Good-bye, Mom. Your sons, your daughters-in-law, and your grandchildren will miss you.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Who is most responsible for a student's education?

In the a Teacher Update from on September 28, a post by TMAO was featured. TMAO's post was about teacher education, and it was his last paragraph that really caught my attention:

In the end though, the most valuable knowledge ed schools and certification
programs could instill is the fact that as a teacher it is your responsibility
to promote student achievement, and any failure to do so is your failure. It's
not the fault of parents, young people, society, Grand Theft Auto: San Andres,
neo-conservative economic policies, peer pressure, the events that occurred last
week at the corner liquor store, or myspace. As a teacher you are more powerful
than any of those things, and it's high time to start acting like it.
TMAO made a comment in this vein during the summer, and I wrote that he must be either "stupid or ignorant." Although using language like that would probably qualify me to run for public office in this campaign season, treating someone I disagreed with that way actually was an act of stupidity on my part. So let me put it this way: When TMAO says that any failure is the teacher's failure, I completely disagree. I think such statements are wrong, and I think they are harmful.

There is no question that teachers are very important in the education of any student, but they are not the only ones who play a role. Parents play a role, society plays a role, and so do the student's neighborhood and his friends. But the person who plays the most important role in any student's learning is the student himself (or herself).

I disagree with TMAO, so I'm tempted to accuse him of arrogance when he claims that teachers have so much power, but that would be dishonest. I suspect that his statement actually reflects the positive attitude of a teacher who probably works very hard. TMAO wants his kids to learn, and he is unwilling to accept any excuses--poverty, upbringing, bad neighborhoods, etc.-- for their not learning, and he is willing to take total responsibility for making that happen. Who can criticize him for that? But it is harmful to excuse parents and society from their responsibilities in the education of our students, and it is harmful to lead anymore of the public to believe that anytime students don't learn it is the school's fault.

The problem with TMAO's theory is that in order for it to be true, we would have to be able to MAKE students learn. We can't do that. We can try to make it possible for every student to learn (and even that isn't easy), we can encourage, and we can motivate. But we can't MAKE any student learn. There has to be some willingness to do that by the student himself, and sometimes that willingness just isn't there.

Part of our different beliefs on this might come from our different perspectives. TMAO works with special education and ELL middle school kids, and if I understand correctly, he has about sixty of them. I have 150 high school kids every day. Believe me, I am not implying that I have a tougher job than TMAO, but because of the numbers and the grade level of his students, I can see where he might feel more able to reach all of his students than I do.

At the high school level, no matter what teachers do, student learning requires that they do some work. I don't think I am alone when I say that every year there are some of my students who simply won't work. This probably becomes most evident at the high school level where more of that work has to be done outside of class, but I suspect that it is true to some degree at every level.

If I understand him correctly, TMAO is saying that it is entirely the teacher's fault anytime a student doesn't learn. Let's follow that thought to its logical conclusion. That must mean that it is entirely to the teacher's credit anytime a student does learn and succeeds. I think that's a ridiculous idea. Our school has former students who are now doctors and lawyers, and one of our students a few years ago earned a perfect score on her SAT. Although our school deserves some credit for providing those young people with opportunities, there is no question that most of the credit for their success belongs to them. They are the ones who did the countless hours of work and made the sacrifices necessary to acqure the learning that enabled them to do so well. And just as they deserve most of the credit for their own success, those who did not do nearly as well as they could have in school deserve most of the blame for their own failures.

If TMAO is saying that teachers should not lower expectations for students simply because they face difficult circumstances in their lives, I agree. If he's saying we should work as hard as we can to reach every student we have, I agree again. But he seems to be saying that teachers have the power to do it all by themselves, and that I totally disagree with. I know that I need a lot of help in educating my students. I'm reaching a lot of my students now, but there are still too many that I'm not getting to. If I'm going to reach more of them, I could use more help from our society, I need more help from their parents, I absolutely have to have more help from those kids who seem so unwilling to help themselves.