Thursday, September 30, 2010

Common sense on teaching

Diane Ravitch had been a supporter of the No Child Left Behind testing and then realized that it was a stupid idea and destructive. Now she says that testing should only be used for diagnosis of learning, not as the primary tool to reshape American education. Her assessment of the charter schools movement, merit pay, and the various means of undermining the value of teachers in schools is scathing, and truly worth watching. Her assessment of the use of student test scores as a means to diminish the value of classroom teaching comes toward the end.

I hope to get back to the discussion of a simpler scale for educational assessment, through which anyone visiting a classroom would see and measure the value of the learning taking place. Today, I have a development meeting and will spend most of the day in my own shop finishing up a couple cabinets for the small cabinets book.

The hands, our hands, present an inconvenient truth in education. We learn better, and more quickly and more effectively when our hands are engaged. What we learn hands-on, by doing real stuff is remembered longer and available long after lectures and read materials are forgotten. But it is so much cheaper to have kids bored in class, sitting with hands stilled, than to have students actually engaged in learning. And that my friends is the great shame of American education.


  1. I have to admit it is hard to open my ears to Diane Ravitch after reading her The Schools We Deserve. I don't know if her opinions have changed since then, but it was a monument to bland centrism in educational thought.

    What is your complaint about charter schools? I hear it from UUs all the time, but in my book there is no reason for one educational philosophy (the local Board of Ed's) to be the sole one available in the district's schools. Let different approaches flourish in one city.

  2. I think it is interesting that Ravitch came full circle from her support of No Child Left Behind. She came to here senses.

    I don't have any particular complaint about charter schools except that they are being sold as the magic bullet when they actually are better only 17% of the time (as measured by standardized testing). Which is a vicious catch 22. Standardized testing is a poor measure of success and we need to get back to hands-on common sense in learning and schooling.

  3. Anonymous5:18 AM

    Charter schools run the gamut from great to horrifically bad. They are on some levels private schools run with public money. They don't have to take one and all, like public schools, and they don't have to keep their problem students. With rules like that, no wonder they produce better test scores.


    PS I was not a K-12 public school teacher, but at the community college I dealt with their graduates.

  4. The main rationale for charter schools is that we need new models to reshape education, but I think we have model enough in Finland. Sure we would rather invent something homegrown, like a school where kids do video gaming all the time and adults are only present to double check scores, kind of like the clerk at Walmart who overseas self-checkout.

    We have a great model for education that we completely ignore. We have teachers who we marginalize. And one could say we have chosen idiocy for the next generations.

  5. Mario, that is not the case here in San Francisco, where the charter schools have to choose students by lottery just like all the other public schools in the city. The families have some choice--they list the schools they'd like to get into--but the schools have none; they do have to take one and all. Charter schools here are in no way private schools, unless you mean that they are free to use a different philosophy of education than the other schools--which IMO is perfectly compatible with being publicly funded.

    Like you, Doug, I don't think standardized tests are any guide at all to a school's success. But I think charter schools should beware if they find minority families aren't choosing them.

  6. What I think that you might see in the movie "Waiting for Superman" is that the parents putting their children in the lottery are already preselected as being parents who have a greater than normal interest in their children's success. That in itself is putting an edge toward higher achievement. If every child has the advantage of having parents firmly committed to their children's educational success, we would not settle for the schools we have now.

    One interesting statistic is that 17% of charter schools do better than average public schools. Does that not also mean that 83% do no better or worse? But then the measure for those statistics is standardized testing which doesn't measure the things that are most important, creativity, self determination and teamwork.