Friday, September 24, 2010


I've started working on a spreadsheet to lay out the particular factors involved in a Beaufort-like scale of educational excellence. It will take me some time to get it right, as observing children is not quite as easy as observing the effects of the wind. Part of that challenge is that while we can't see the wind, its effects are physical, and the effects of learning on a child are often unseen unless we are watching closely at subtle markers. Children often tend to keep things to themselves.

Here in Eureka Springs, at the last school board meeting, there was controversy concerning the growing class sizes at various levels in public school. Some parents are rightfully concerned that classes are often too large and that teachers are really student wranglers rather than educators. When there are 26 students in a class can a teacher be very observant of subtle effects of learning on each child? Is it enough that we have standardized testing as a substitute for direct observation of learning?

Anyone who lives with a child learns to observe subtle effects that would be hidden in a classroom and a simple scale useful to parents in observing growth in learning would be a useful tool in that it would allow parents to reclaim their rightful authority in student and school assessment.

One of the things that intrigues me in the "child as craftsman" metaphor is that while children are often unable to really talk to their parents about their school experience, craftsmanship lays learning out on the table where it can be much more easily observed in that it is expressed in physical form. Having physical evidence of learning is the perfect launching point for meaningful discussion of learning growth. Kids should be invited to talk about the things they make, and through that invitation, a parent can pry open the doors of the classroom and get a profound look at what happens in school.

One of the major questions in current education debate is whether or not parents are entitled to test data on school and teacher performance. Even the experts are concerned that testing can be severely misunderstood, is often inaccurate, and very often misinterpreted. Put that testing data in the hands of parents unschooled in statistics, and lacking expertise, and what do you get? It should be accepted that parents are the ones most entitled to information about school performance. That is really why we need new simple, easy to see and understand, direct means of school and student assessment that works and reflects real learning.

As I work on the scale, I welcome your insight and participation.


  1. Anonymous9:02 AM

    It strikes me that observing the wind and observing children may not be all that different. The effects of learning on children and the effects on a sail of the wind are things we have all observed. Quantifying is the hard part.
    The sad thing about the current obsession with testing is how it is all too often seen as a way to punish teachers.


  2. Mario, they are not just punishing teachers, (as if working under some school circumstances is not punishment enough) they are using testing data to close underperforming schools, and completely replace staff. Diane Ravitch noted that following the same logic we should shut down underperforming fire departments and police stations.

  3. Anonymous5:41 AM

    Well, by that logic we should be closing down underperforming legislatures! Going one step further, around here school principals are being removed if the students don't do well enough.