A practical consideration of Robert Rothman’s thoughts on the Common Core

In the July/August issue of the Harvard Education Letter, Robert Rothman, senior fellow at the Alliance for Excellent Education, outlined “Nine Ways the Common Core will Change Classroom Practice.”

He pointed to four ways mathematics education will change and five ways the CCSS will impact English Language Arts instruction in the US. I leave critique of the mathematical implications to those more experienced in teaching math than I am. My focus, instead, is on Rothman’s assertions about how the CCSS will change how we teach students English.

5. More Nonfiction. Reflecting the fact that students will read primarily expository texts after high school, the Standards call for a much greater emphasis on nonfiction. The document proposes that about half the reading in elementary school and 75 percent in high school should be nonfiction. This would include informational texts in content areas as well as literary nonfiction in English language arts; publishing companies are likely to respond by revising their textbooks. Narrative fiction will become less prevalent. The Standards also expect students to write more expository prose.

The caution here is to think about factors that lead to people thinking of themselves as readers and writers. I don’t just mean thinking of themselves as people who can read and write, but as people who enjoy reading and writing as well.

We do a great job of telling students they are “readers” or “writers,” and many schools are able to focus on drilling students to say/chant aloud, “I am a reader,” or “I am a writer.”

As others have pointed out before me, these standards run the risk of preempting students’ development of their own reading tastes and identities as readers. It also ignores the possible effects of varied fictional structures on individuals’ habits of thinking and problem solving. Those people I know and respect as the deepest and most insightful analytical thinkers are also some of the most voracious readers of fictional texts I know.

Both have a place at the table, and to prescribe a reading diet as though all minds need the same percentage of texts is as potentially harmful as prescribing an eating diet as though all bodies need the same foods according to the same schedule.

6. Focus on Evidence. In reading, students will be expected to use evidence to demonstrate their comprehension of texts and to read closely in order to make evidence-based claims. To prepare them to do so, teachers will need to take time to read carefully with their students and in many cases reread texts several times. In writing, students are expected to cite evidence to justify statements rather than rely on opinions or personal feelings.

So tempting to make an off-handed remark about the possible implications of an evidence-driven populace on the standards of political elections and journalism, but I will resist.

I am concerned each time we breeze past the words “take time,” without pausing to consider from where that time will come. Will this mean cutting further into arts education, free time, play, physical activity?

If it is not an extension of the school day, what pieces of instruction within the existing structures will be sacrificed? At the most basic level it is a slight to teachers, presuming they are operating with a dearth of expectations on their time with children.

7. “Staircase” of Text Complexity. Students will be expected to read and comprehend increasingly complex texts in order to reach the level of complexity required for success in college courses and the workplace. The Standards document cites evidence that the complexity of texts used in schools has actually declined over the past forty years. To reverse this trend, teachers will have to choose materials that are appropriate for their grade level; states and organizations are now developing tools to help teachers evaluate complexity.

“Grade level?” To paraphrase Monty Python, “Now we see the ignorance inherent in the system.” Teachers must have and must demand the professional respect of choosing texts appropriate to the students in their classroom, not to the grade level to which students are arbitrarily assigned. As reading scholars like Nancy Atwell have discovered, such an approach doesn’t retard student progress in literacy acquisition, but hastens it.

For teachers, this will also mean revising practice to do away with the arbitrary assignment of whole-class texts and considering individual assignments and needs.

8. Speaking and Listening. The Standards expect students to be able to demonstrate that they can speak and listen effectively—two aspects of literacy rarely included in state standards. One of the consortia developing assessments to measure student performance against the Standards will create a speaking and listening assessment. Expect to see teachers asking students to engage in small-group and whole-class discussions and evaluating them on how well they understand the speakers’ points.

Less about speaking and listening, this point speaks to the lack of teacher agency present in a commodified education landscape.

No matter the quality of the consortium’s assessment, it will be seen, by teachers, as someone else’s assessment. The proctoring of such assessments will be, at its basest level, always be seen as jumping the hoop to get to the real teaching.

A key question here is “Do we want all of our students to speak and listen well or do we want all of our students to speak and listen in the same way?” We are plotting a course toward the latter.

9. Literacy in the Content Areas. The Standards include criteria for literacy in history/social science, science, and technical subjects. This reflects a recognition that understanding texts in each of these subject areas requires a unique set of skills and that instruction in understanding, say, a historical document is an integral part of teaching history. This means that history teachers will need to spend time making sure that students are able to glean information from a document and make judgments about its credibility. Science teachers will need to do the same for materials in that discipline.

Yes.

I agree.

Here is how this has been attempted in almost every school and district I’ve seen across the country:

  1. Training is developed to give teachers the school or district’s preferred method of teaching literacy in, say, science classrooms. This isn’t done in the belief that teachers are incompetent, but in an act of benevolence. The matter is urgent, and asking teachers to develop their own approaches will take time none of them thinks he has in the schedule.
  2. Teachers will take back these prescribed approaches to their classrooms and begin implementing them. Some will not implement them. Some will make them their own. Most will do as they are told for fear of repercussions. Test results will move slightly, but then become stale a year or two after.
  3. Frustrated, administrators will seek out a new way to tell teachers to implement literacy practices, assuming something was wrong with the original approach. Step 1 will be repeated in this process.
  4. Teachers will repeat Step 2. This time, those teachers who whole-heartedly accepted the first approach will be slightly jaded. It won’t be as obvious because their acceptance will have been replaced by teachers new to the school/district who have not seen this cycle before.
  5. The cycle will continue. Teacher agency, creativity, and voice will diminish.

To prepare teachers to make these shifts, states and private organizations are planning and implementing substantial professional development efforts. In Kentucky, for example, the state department of education is undertaking a massive campaign to inform teachers about the Standards and their implications for practice and is making available sample lessons and other materials on a website. But these efforts will only be successful if all teachers understand the Standards and how they differ from current practice.

Key here is the lack of any act of inquiry required by teachers. Utilizing the authority-centric approach of content delivery we are attempting to eliminate in classrooms, state education departments will disseminate materials and step-by-step guides like so many classroom worksheets.

If understanding is our highest goal, we have aimed too low.

There’s a chance for learning in the NYC teacher scores

As a journalist, I would have published the scores.
The argument isn’t whether or not the New York Times should have published NYC teacher evaluation scores.
They are a newspaper. The scores are news. Their job is to publish them. They publish the news.
If they’d sat on the scores, if they’d held them internally, if they’d published pieces of them or only profiled certain teachers, they would have been compromising and editorializing.
The coverage of the scores has certainly had an editorializing effect on how the scores are consumed. As José pointed out the other day, the person telling the story affects the narrative.
Now they’re out there, and a conversation has been stoked around the use, intent, validity of the scores.
As it should be.
As a teacher, I abhor the scores.
These scores (and value-added measures in general) are imperfect, imprecise, skewed, and dangerous tools. Let’s make that argument. Let’s make that argument better and more profoundly than those who stand by the scores.
If ever the teaching profession was faced with a teachable moment, this is it. Isn’t this what we do? We make complex issues accessible to those standing on unfamiliar ground and help them come to deep understanding. If we’re right (and we are) the truth of the argument against the scores will become apparent through education.
Yes, resent that time, money, energy must be spent on this. Detest, the scores the same way you detest poor grammar, ignorance of culture and history, or imperfect proofs. Then, find a way to teach toward understanding.
This is one of those few moments in the teaching profession’s wheel house. Let’s not miss it by admiring another problem so long that we forget to teach through it.
Teachers are better than that.
This is where unions can take the lead.
It is time for the AFT and NEA to hike up their big-kid pants and lead their membership not through dues or rallies, but through teaching.
I mean this in two ways. First, teachers are historically challenged when it comes to telling their stories. There’s every reason to believe this inability is only going to be exacerbated when faced with an issue as emotionally charged and personal as the NY scores. If teachers are going to respond and educate, they’re going to need guidance. Every union head in every school across the country should be leading trainings in how to create talking points and craft effective editorials. If there is a conversation to be had about how we measure teachers, let teachers lead it and educate teachers in how best to have those conversations.
Second, after these PR primers, help teachers organize forums and community meetings to build understanding of the scores and all their imperfections. Use the presence of the NYC conversation to move preemptively against other imperfect and unfair measures of teachers. These should have been the moves the moment the courts allowed the publishing of the scores. There’s still time to make this a thoughtful, productive conversation. All it will take is all it has ever taken – teaching.

Thanks to Paul and José for helping me figure out my thinking on this one.

Things I Know 234 of 365: Testing is killing the curriculum

Too many professors feel right at home talking at students instead of fostering an engaging and interactive learning environment. Students are expected to sit there, take notes, and find some way to stay awake. The suck-it-up-and-endure-a-mind-numbing-lecture mindset is so ingrained in college, schools even assign room names like “Lecture Hall 4”.

– Liz Dwyer

A few months ago, a friend raised an argument to me, “We’re not teaching to the test.”

It was the first time in a while I’d heard someone make this particular case.

The temptation – the overwhelming urge – was to shout, “Of course you are! You are and you have been for years. Mountains of curricular history have been shifted so that exactly what you are doing is teaching to the test.”

Instead, I asked, “I see, then you’re teaching away from it, are you?”

According to Wayne Au of California State University, Fullerton, my initial response would have been the correct one.

In 2007, Au compared 49 studies of how standardized testing had shaped curriculum across 10 different states. He wanted to know what the trends were across studies of high-stakes testing and curricula.

According to Au, “The primary effect of high-stakes testing is that curricular content is narrowed to tested subjects, subject area knowledge is fragmented into test-related pieces, and teachers increase the use of teacher-centered pedagogies.”

Well, there you have it.

But Au found more.

As he began coding the data of his metasynthesis, he found the results breaking down into three categories:

  • subject matter content alignment/contraction vs. subject matter content alignment/expansion
  • form of knowledge changed/fractured vs. form of knowledge changed/integrated
  • pedagogic change to teacher-centered vs. pedagogic change to student-centered

After Au’s data was coded, he started to look for trends in studies that included two or three of the categories.

Were there trends in shifts toward teacher-centered lessons coupled with curriculum contraction.

He found them.

Most frequently, Au found content contraction coupled with a shift toward teacher-centered pedagogy. Teachers, the studies predominantly found, were contracting what they were teaching and teaching in such a way that they were positioning themselves as the sources and makers of knowledge in their classes.

In considering triplets where three of the coded data sets were present in 28 of the 49 studies, the most frequent trio was contracting curriculum, fragmented knowledge and teacher-centered pedagogy.

That sound you hear is the rolling over of John Dewey and Paolo Freiere in their graves.

Au’s reports that some curricula were actually expanding in connection to high-stakes testing was initially heartening. This was short-lived as he wrote that such expansion was often social studies teachers expanding their curriculum to take on those skills tested by English language arts assessments.

Au concludes his report claiming such constrictions were the end goal of policymakers from the outset.

The intent wasn’t to move the mountain. The intent was to chip away, re-shape and grind down the mountain of human knowledge so that students can carry around the pebbles of the human experience as mementos of what once was.

“Given the central findings of this study, however, a crucial

question is raised,” writes Au, “Are test-driven curriculum and teacher-centered instruction good or bad for teachers, students, schools, communities, and education in general?”

Things I Know 178 of 365: Report cards should be better

Zachary has been a joy to work with this year. I will miss him next fall.

– Mary Cavitt, my kindergarten teacher

From kindergarten forward, the majority of schools get progressively worse at telling students and parents what’s being learned and how well students are learning it.

A few days ago, my mom stumbled upon a folder marked “ZAC – School” while searching for immunization records.

Not the least of the documents in the folder were both my first and my last report cards as a K-12 student.

I found my final high school report card first.

When I saw it, my eyes flashed to class rank, then GPA, then a quick scan to remind me of my final courses and teachers.

A few pieces of paper later, 24 years after it was issued, I found my kindergarten report card.

It required a little more time for consumption. Nowhere did it tell me where I ranked among the other 5 and 6 year olds. I had no idea as to my kindergarten GPA either.

The only real use for the report card was a detailed accounting of my progression as a student throughout the year.

Groan.

I could remember every piece of information from that first year of K-12. I would be hard-pressed to recount half of 1% of anything covered in my senior macroeconomics class. I’d honestly forgotten I’d taken macroeconomics until I saw the report card.

In the comments section for each quarter, Mrs. Cavitt wrote a short message to my mom alerting her to my progress and letting her know I was being seen by my teacher.

In the “Comment Explanation” section of my senior report card – nothing.

As a kindergartener, I had little use for my report card. It was a document for the adults in my life to examine and use as a starting place for conversation.

In my later years, the report card held much value. It was a quarterly mile marker of my progress toward college and beyond. Still a communication between the adults in my life, it raised more questions than answers. I have no idea how I got that B in my first quarter of English IV, nor do I know what improved in the second quarter that led to an A.

I’m certain my parents asked questions on these very topics. I’m sure I stumbled through my answers and took stabs at the multitude of possible reasons for my grades.

I try to imagine, though, what would have transpired were I not as successful as a student.

If I’d been lost in the tall grass of high school with Cs, Ds and the occasional F, this report card would have served no purpose other than to reinforce my failures and dumbfound my parents.

If I’d not had such dedicated parents, the conversations would have stopped there and the frustrations would have continued to mount.

The modern middle and high school report card is an arcane relic made supremely ironic in light of the millions of dollars spent nationally in the name of gathering data.

I’m certainly aware of the systemic impediments in place, but improving communications with students and parents on individual learning need not include standardized tests and computer-generated reports.

At the end of my kindergarten year, in math, I could name the four basic shapes, count to 43, add, subtract, print my numerals and much more.

At the end of my senior year of high school, in math, I got a B.

Which measure focused on the learning?

Time I was Wrong #3,596,897

The Gist:

  • The CtW Project is something different this year.
  • My students are grappling with the issues and their possible solutions in more authentic ways.
  • I’m teaching ways of reading that won’t be tested.

The Whole Story:

The project description around Phase 2 originally stood as:

Phase 2: Research work being done to solve problem. Create campaign to get donations for that work.

Draft an action plan around a realistic solution to the problem you’ve selected.

Meet with an identified change agent and present your pitch and action plan.

We’ve moved away from that.

Last year’s iteration of the project wrapped itself around an Ignite-style presentation uploaded to slideshare and then posted to the students’ drupal blogs. There they have languished for almost a year. I’ve called them up for conference presentations, but they haven’t been affecting much change other than that of classroom practice, perhaps. It’s striking me as ironic that I used one group’s product from last year as an example during my “Doing Real Stuff in the Classroom” session at CoLearning. If it had been “Doing Almost Real Stuff in the Classroom,” well, then that would have been something.

From the original description of Phase 2, we’ve scrapped the donation campaign, the action plan and the pitch to a change agent. Everything.

As I wrote earlier, I’ve move kids who have been researching similarly themed projects into Solution Groups. Armed only with a fact sheet built off of their 6 weeks of research and a Solution Organizer that helped them to put their thoughts in order, the groups met to share their work and discuss their individual goals for changing the issue each had been researching.

Once the groups had decided whether or not my initial groupings would work / made sense, they set to work making connections across their problems to identify a singular action that could catalyze change in each issue.

It was fascinating to watch.

After two classes, I sat with each group and had them pitch their proposals. What they came up with was better than any donation campaign my brain had envisioned.

One class has a group organizing around the issue of abuse in its many forms. They’re planning to create a resource for SLA students dealing with abuse, contacting counselors to help them and organizing a fundraising walk to help a local non-profit working with people living in abuse.

Again, more than a video dying on drupal.

As I moved from group to group, I realized no one had talked to these guys about leveraging and social media. We talked about the fact that the room probably had around 5,000 Facebook connections they could push. Then I showed them Southwest’s twitter page and we discussed why 1 million+ people would even think about following an airline.

We watched this video I’d seen the night before thanks to Ewan:

And that led to a discussion of non-verbal communication and how a video with only 6 significant words could lead to change.

Anthony commented, “That video changed my life.”

We’ll see.

From there, we visited Chris Craft’s kids’ TeachJeffSpanish.com and I walked my students through the idea that a class of sixth graders had built a site with the potential to create real sticky change.

Finally, we ended w/ a google search for “Joe’s Non-Netbook” and then “Joe’s Non-Notebook” as some re-posters have called it. I told the kids how I shot and posted the video on a whim almost a year ago.

The real fun was looking at the stickiness of the video. My original posting has 2451 views. This posting has 9673. This one has 730. There might be more, but I didn’t care.

We stopped looking at re-postings and started checking out where people had written about the video.

They started to get the idea that this video recorded as a gag had made an impact.

“You’re the first generation to be advertised to since birth,” I told them, “You’re going to need to be the savviest thinkers about this stuff so far.”

Having made it through my filter with their first pitches, the groups will begin drafting sales pitches Monday that will have to meet with unanimous class approval to move forward. It’s our own little ad hoc shareholders meeting.

So, yeah. That’s happening.

Meanwhile, the PSSA looms on the horizon and I can’t help thinking I’m going to have to move their brains into a mold where they see questions as having one answer and answers as being un-refineable. You know, like in the real world.

The ideas they’re working with now are big ones. The solutions they’re striving toward are impassioned and thoughtful. Come April, they’ll have four weeks of testing that doesn’t fit any of those descriptors.

Oh well.

New Rules

The Gist:

  • For a year of my life I lived by some pretty helpful rules.
  • I’m reviving the experiment in preparation for my next marathon and to apply what some of my students are learning about food.
  • Once a week, I’ll be writing about my progress here.
  • Many of the rules this time around are from Michael Pollan’s In Defense of Food.

The Whole Deal:

When I turned 27, I set some rules for myself.

I’d moved to Philly in a whirlwind the Fall before and still hadn’t regained my bearings in life. The rules were social and wellness based. I eliminated high-fructose corn syrup, I pledged to run 27 races within one calendar year, I worked to cut my use of plastics as much as possible, etc.

It worked. I felt better and life gained some semblance of order.

That year, I ran both the Philadelphia and Chicago marathons within a few weeks of each other. That was a mistake.
Chicago was one of the sunniest, hottest races I’ve run. In Philadelphia, we had to be careful at the water stops because the spilt water had created ice patches on the course. I didn’t really run for a year after.

Now, I’m signed up for the Ocean Drive Marathon in my attempt to get to 10 marathons in 10 years.
Add to that the disjointedness of my eating habits since returning from Africa, and it’s time for new rules.

Not one to do anything boring, I’m adopting Michael Pollan’s rules from In Defense of Food:

  1. Don’t eat anything your great-grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food.
  2. Avoid food products containing ingredients that are A) unfamiliar, B) unpronounceable, C) more than five in number, or that include D) high-fructose corn syrup.
  3. Avoid products that make health claims.
  4. Shop the peripheries of the supermarket and stay our of the middle.
  5. Get out of the supermarket whenever possible.

I’ll also be running every other day w/ the ole Nike+ attached to my iPod to keep track of my ramp up to the race (and those that follow).

As of right now, that’s all I’m working with. I’m open to any suggestions.

The plan is to blog once a week on how it’s all working out. I realized it’s going to be a bit of an adjustment when I couldn’t put the pre-shredded cheese on my eggs this morning.

Tim Best and Matt VanK worked with our seniors on a food unit throughout most of the first quarter. I’m hoping to pick up where they left off and explore the applications of what they learned.

Cheating (in) the System

6 August 09

So tired today. It may be the teaching of backward design. It may be the fact that I made the mistake of wearing long pants and the room I was teaching in had no air flow to speak of. It may be any  number of things. My money is on the idea that we’ve been going for about 5 weeks now and there are bound to be days that are more difficult than others.

Today was that day.

I’d been told that some teachers will purchase pre-written exams and administer them to their learners without reading the contents. This, I was told would lead to learners attempting to answer questions about material they hadn’t learned or even encountered in class. Try as they might, many would fail and need to repeat a class because their teacher was too lazy to write a decent exam.

I hadn’t believed it when I’d heard it.

When discussing the importance of designing assessment in Stage 2 of the Understanding by Design process, I repeated the story I’d heard.

“Does this really happen?” I asked.

“It does,” some responded while the others simply shook their heads at their lesser colleague’s actions.

I suppose my main ire is at the idea that, if you’re going to be an exam-centered educational system, at least do it well. Have a system you can be proud of or at least defend.

I’ve started to identify in some inexplicable way with belonging here. The unexpected affirmation of what I’d heard from my colleagues made me angry. Too much stands in the way of education for teachers to be pulling a bait and switch because they can’t bothered to do their jobs. More than just this, I think I’d enjoyed the idea that the similarities I’ve found between the South African, Kenyan, Canadian and American educational systems ended with what we do right. I didn’t want a reminder that our lowest common denominators are, indeed, common.

Maybe I’m just tired, and I should remind myself of the teachers here this week and their seemingly endless dedication, curiosity and hope for being able to do even better by their students.

Yeah.

Education for All?

29 July 09

One of the benefits of our schedule here in Mbita has been the chance to visit and speak with teachers and learners before our workshops begin.

Wednesday, we made our visit official with an introduction to John Ololtuaa the District Education Officer (DEO) for the Suba School District.

Ololtuaa lines up nicely with his counterparts in the States. His office was adorned with hand-stenciled charts proclaiming data relating to all facets of running a school district – per pupil spending, mean test scores, administration organizational charts, graduation rates – everything you would expect.

Except.

Last year, 51,757 learners were enrolled in Suba district – a decent number for a moderately-sized community anywhere.

One hundred thirty-four of those 51,757 learners qualified for university.

That’s .2 percent of the total student population. 

Kenya’s is an exam-based educational system that would make NCLB run to a corner and cry like a small child.

Learners begin taking exams during Early Childhood Development (ECD) which can be in the form of coloring a picture. Sometimes, a friend Maresa explained to us, this will be over a period of three days where the learner colors a little until she’s tired. Then, she comes back the next day and does a little more, and so on. The big tests come in Class 8 (Grade 8 in the US) and Form 4 (Grade 12 in the US). The Class 8 National Exam determines if a student must remain in Primary School or if they can continue to High School. The Form 4 National Exam determines if a student is eligible to continue on to college.

This is where the exception revealed itself in the DEO’s office.

134.

Of those, 128 were boys.

Do the math.

The answer you’ll find is 6.

Six girls qualified for university intake last year from Form 4. That’s 4 percent of the learners qualifying for university intake.

Dan Otedo, Chairman of the Suba Teacher Guidance and Resource Center, explained that even from that limited pool, many would not have been able to attend because they couldn’t afford it.

Before our meeting with the DEO, Dan told me girls outnumbered boys in the beginning classes of primary school, but that those statistics reversed as the years went on.

According to the DEO’s charts, in the last 8 years, a total of 42 girls have qualified for university intake.

Mama Jane, whose home we’ve been staying in here, works in the local office of the Ministry of Education and oversees ECD in Suba reiterated what many of the teachers we’d meet Wednesday would explain to us.

The fishermen around Lake Victoria entice the girls with gifts of mandazi (a sort of fried doughnut, sanitary napkins, oils and lotions for their skins and various other insignificant sundries. These gifts come with promises of love and caring which often lead to the girls sleeping with the men. Not surprisingly, this often leads to pregnancy – but not always pregnancy. 

Charles, a medical anthropologist we met on Mfangano, one of the islands off the coast of Mbita, told us in straightforward language “the fishermen are killing these people.” Mfangano, where Charles had done his graduate research, has a population of 20,000 and a HIV/AIDS infection rate of 30 percent.

Though Kenyans everywhere are embracing the concept of “education for all” most schools charge annual fees for enrollment. This is to say  nothing of purchasing uniforms and the other pieces of education.

Because one is rarely ignorant of his own culture, parents of girls here will pay fees for their daughters to get a basic education, but stop because they determine it to be an unwise investment. If she gets pregnant, then all those years of fees are money down the drain.

Boys (and their subsequent inability to have children) are a smarter bet.

Toward the end of the meeting, when I asked about the district’s goals for the future, he said plainly, “We must empower the girl-child.”

Amen.

Educational Taylorism

One of the favored arguments for the the increase in testing, standards and the like is the need to prepare our students to be workers. While I’m quick to make the citizens-over-workers argument, I’ll play your little worker game.

I’ve been reading The Future Arrived Yesterday by Michael Malone as of late. I pushed through the overly ironic title to find some good suff.

Malone’s overall thesis is that today’s corporations are on their way to becoming what he terms “Protean Corporations” or dying. (Hello, GM?) While that’s all well and good and likely to lead to its own post, I want to point to Malone’s outlining of the evolutionary stages modern corporations have gone through to get to the precipice on which they now teater.

Notably stuck in my craw is Taylorism.

Malone writes:

At its most obsessive, Taylor’s time-motion studies broke tasks down to less than a second per step, to the point twhere he and his adherents could determine how a worker should best place his feet, how far his arm should move on a task and how much he should turn to pick up the next component. And it worked: at progressive companies like Ford, workers achieve unprecedented levels of efficiency and productiviy.

Awesome, right? Familiar too?

In most Philadelphia schools, teachers follow a core curriculum dictating when, say, a 9th grade English teacher teaches a certain standard/material. As of this year, those same Philadelphia high schools have been giving their students weekly, 10-question multiple-choice tests in math and English to check up on students’ progress.

Again, awesome, right?

Malone also points out:

…[I]n almost every lace – from Bethlehem Steel to the American Society of Mechanical Engineers – where Taylor personally implemented his theory, the result was usually internal dissension followed by Taylor being fired. And while other companies did successfully implement the Taylor Plan, often to great competitive advantage [KIPP?], these new systems not only didn’t quell labor strife, they actually seemed to exacerbate it.

I know, I was shocked at that last point too. Seems our Educational Taylorism might not be the best direction in which to head.

Not to fear, Malone explains:

Taylor had made the most common error of scientists and technologist: he had treated human beings as just one more component in the production process.

It seems, we’re not only attempting to prepare our students for an approach to work that is in its last throes, but we’re using a management approach that has led to strikes, congressional hearings and general unrest.

If only the corporate world could do more than show the folly of our ways and supply us with a better way of doing things at the same time. Oh, wait:

During those long war years, [HP co-founder Dave] Packard, running the company almost alone, had discovered the incrediblepower of letting the cmployees themselves make decisions, to assume control over their own careers, and to take it upon themselves to keep the company healthy and successful…Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard seemed to understand, almost intuitively, and years before anyone else, that in a world of constant change, the old rules had been turned inside out.

More than anything else, I want our schools to start looking to the HPs of education for direction. SLA understands these tenets. My last school, Phoenix Academy in Sarasota, FL, understood them as well. I was amazed each time I went to then-principal Steve Cantees with some unorthodox idea on how to get the school’s recruited population of our district’s lowest achieving students to improve their writing. Each time, Cantees would listen, ask questions and then sign off on the idea.

At some point, I commented on how surprised I was each time he agreed. “Zac, these kids have had school the usual way, and we know it didn’t work. It’s time to try something new.”

Chris Lehmann is the same way. My fear is we have fewer and fewer examples of the kind of progressive pedagogical practice to which we can point and say, “See that, that’s what the world needs.”

The ‘why nots’ are easy: It’s messy. It requires a comfort with failure.

There is no silver bullet. We have to be comfortable with failure, and trust, like Hewlitt and Packard, that teachers will “take it upon themselves to keep the ‘company’ healthy and successful.”

image credit: http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3149/2588347668_a1006846fa.jpg?v=0