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Data-Driven Nonsense

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Dear Deborah,

You seem to believe that I was chastising "the poor" for their lack of manners. Not at all! We live in an age when manners, self-discipline, respect for others, civility, and courtesy are in short supply in all parts of society. Like you, I have encountered many children from comfortable, middle-class, and affluent backgrounds who were spoiled, undisciplined, selfish, and disrespectful of others. I agree that no social class has a monopoly on manners and behavior.

The subject came up in the context of David Brooks' column about "The Harlem Miracle." Brooks made the point that the results of this school "vindicate an emerging model for low-income students." He went on to laud the "no excuses" schools where lower-class children are taught in schools with a "disciplined, orderly, and demanding counterculture" that teaches "middle-class values." In distinction to Brooks, I said that all children—not just the children of the poor—should learn the values of self-discipline, respect for others, courtesy, civility, etc.

It is amazing to me that this idea should come as some sort of revelation, or as a prescription for the children of the poor. I went to public schools in Houston and all my teachers insisted on good behavior and other civic virtues. It would not have been possible to run an orderly school without everyone paying attention and behaving in a civil manner.

You are right to take issue with Brooks for treating the "miracle school" as a vindication of Joel Klein and Al Sharpton's Education Equality Project. EEP insists that schools alone—with no support from other institutions—can close the achievement gap. This is claptrap. The Broader Bolder Agenda (which we both signed) has steadfastly maintained that the gap won't close without addressing the need of children for improvements in health care and the well-being of their families. The Harlem Children's Zone was created to address these needs, and to place schooling in the context of families and communities.

Geoffrey Canada has vindicated not the cramped prescriptions of the Rev. Al Sharpton and Chancellor Klein, but rather the vision of BBA.

Regarding accountability, I am on board with your suspicion about the use and mis-use of high-stakes testing. One of the virtues of NAEP is that it is low stakes. I would even say that it is no-stakes. No child, student, or teacher has ever suffered the consequences of doing poorly because of NAEP because the assessment does not identify individual students, teachers, or schools. It gives results for the nation, states, and some cities (that volunteered).

I think our society is in dangerous territory on this subject of accountability. The so-called "reformers," the guys (yes, guys) who call themselves the Education Equality Project, would have the world believe that accountability is the key to improving American education. They think it can be done fast, not incrementally. They think the key to improvement is punishing the bad students, the bad teachers, and the bad schools. Their latest formula, as enunciated by U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, is to close down 5,000 schools and re-open them. I wonder where he plans to find 5,000 new principals and thousands of new teachers, or does he just intend to reshuffle the deck?

This approach rests squarely on the high-stakes use of testing. One only wishes that the proponents of this mean-spirited approach might themselves be subjected to a high-stakes test about their understanding of children and education! I predict that every one of them would fail and be severely punished.

We agree that a better approach is needed to assess how well students are learning what they are taught. We agree that current standardized tests are not adequate to the task of determining the fate—whether they should be rewarded or punished—of children, teachers, and their schools.

I think that testing is important and can be valuable, as it helps to spotlight problems and individuals in need of help. But the determinative word here is "help." The so-called reformers want to use accountability to find people in need of termination and schools in need of closure. Let's hope this punishment-obsessed crowd is never put in charge of hospitals!

Unfortunately, events are not breaking in the direction we both prefer. The stimulus bill includes millions so that every state can create a data system. This system will track the test scores of every student, from pre-K to college, and attribute their test score gains (or lack thereof) to their teachers. When the information is available, it will be used and misused. Every teacher (at least those who teach the tested subjects) will have a public record detailing whether his or her students made gains or not. This information will be used to establish calibrated merit pay schemes, so that each teacher will get more or fewer dollars depending on the scores of the year. Is this piecework?

The federal government seems ready to impose a Dr. Strangelove approach on our schools to turn them into "data-driven systems." Not, as you suggest, "data-informed" systems, but data-driven systems. Teachers will certainly teach to the tests, since nothing else matters. The only missing ingredient from this grand data-driven scheme will be education.

Remember when we used to debate "what knowledge is of most worth?" Those were the days.

Diane

23 Comments

Both of you make important points, but hidden behind personally defined nomenclature, we often view our educational challenges as "black & white". Seriously can't we all agree that there are polite and rude people in all classes and neighborhoods? And can't we also agree that the 3rd "D"—Decision-Making (the analysis and action to be taken) was left out of the Data-Driven tag. I don't think that any reasonable, thinking adult can say that this is where our arguments should be debated. Yes, let's ferret out our biases geographical, racial, economic, cultural, gender-based, general appearance... What will allow us to prepare our children for a very exciting but complex future? How can we personalize their learning experiences and allow them to be strong contributors to a well-connected, global community? Let agree to rid ourselves of distractions. Perhaps we should center ourselves from time to time and remember this is about the children and their learning experiences and not about our adult agendas.

Both of you make important points, but hidden behind personally defined nomenclature, we often view our educational challenges as "black & white". Seriously can't we all agree that there are polite and rude people in all classes and neighborhoods? And can't we also agree that the 3rd "D"—Decision-Making (the analysis and action to be taken) was left out of the Data-Driven tag. I don't think that any reasonable, thinking adult can say that this is where our arguments should be debated. Yes, let's ferret out our biases geographical, racial, economic, cultural, gender-based, general appearance... What will allow us to prepare our children for a very exciting but complex future? How can we personalize their learning experiences and allow them to be strong contributors to a well-connected, global community? Let agree to rid ourselves of distractions. Perhaps we should center ourselves from time to time and remember this is about the children and their learning experiences and not about our adult agendas.

The Broader Bolder Agenda (which we both signed) has steadfastly maintained that the gap won't close without addressing the need of children for improvements in health care and the well-being of their families.

Improving health care etc. is a good idea, but there is really zero evidence that making such improvements causes the achievement gap to go away. (Don't bother bringing up all the correlational studies showing that poor kids do worse in school: yes, they do, but that in no way whatsoever shows that more welfare programs will make them do better in school.)

I think kids need a reason to do well in school. Poverty keeps them from those reasons. Poverty numbs hopes and dreams. Poverty shows you how unfair our country is. Poverty shows you that all the hard work in the world won't get you anything unless you are white, or have white, middle class values. The impoverished don't have these values. How could they?

Welfare won't close the gap, and neither will standards based curricula, closing schools, lengthening the school day, shoving kids into after school programs, giving them breakfast (though that's at least a start), providing academic interventions, or any other "silver bullet" nonsense.

We must eliminate poverty and classism, and we need to return autonomy to teachers so they can do what they do best--teach kids.

"One only wishes that the proponents of this mean-spirited approach might themselves be subjected to a high-stakes test about their understanding of children and education!"

This echoes thoughts I've had for years. I always said it more or less tongue in cheek, but maybe we could bring some reality to it. How about creating such a test, and posting it online for people to take as they please and receive scores and feedback? Base it on good solid research, and include a bit of extra info on each question with the feedback? And then we could challlenge the powers that be to take it and make their scores public. If we could do that in a high-profile enough way, the least it could do is help make more people more well-informed about testing and kids, and perhaps get some public accountability going for some of those powers-that-be.

Diane, methought I had nothing to add; we were just goin 'round in circles. Yet now cometh tft to show exactly why we need 'accountability', some firings, maybe even fresh starts at entire schools--and certainly help from outside the groupthink that is big government education.

Tft wants us to eliminate poverty. Tft says poverty numbs hopes and dreams among schoolkids.

This is the type of remarkably self-fulfilling teaching we need to exorcise from the classroom, in any way we can.

I ask you all: can we pull tft's license right now for breach of faith with these students? (I'm teasing, tft, we're all here to learn, but it doesn't mean I don't shudder at the thought you might be in a hs social studies classroom!)

Is this the basic meme we are spreading in our classrooms in NY, Detroit, DC, Chicago? That we must eliminate poverty before urban males can graduate at something over 15%? That African Americans are doomed to be substantially behind white Americans until the day comes when 'poverty' is ended?

How do we define the end of poverty?

Lets go back to 1799 and ask a worthy "middle class" person then what the end of poverty might look like. Obviously she'd point at the bellies of some of the kids in the street, stretched thin from want. Now, look around. See many such bellies in the US today? Or is our major nutrition problem rather too much fat and too much simple refined carbs, leading to obese children?

She might point to cholera and smallpox and other epidemic disease. (Though I doubt she'd associate that with anything called 'poverty'. In fact, even then, most people would think themselves fairly well off here.) See any cholera or smallpox? Much dysentery?

The poverty of the day had much to do with a lack of public health in cities; and doctors of any kind at the frontier (here in Ohio). Ben Franklin was among those spending the years 1750-1755 working toward opening the Pennsylvania Hospital, to serve the poor and infirmed; and also toward cleaner streets. Himself born fairly poor, and arriving in Philly with little more than enough change for some bread, it's hard to imagine Franklin saying his hopes and dreams were numbed. Or tolerating the teaching of said idea.

Would Jefferson have looked out upon the population and said, 'they can't learn until they get better health care?'

'Poverty' is and always will be a moving marker. Today's welfare recipient has more basic resources than most kings of old.

---

There is another relevant fact here: the race gap between the children of educated parents is worse than the gap among those without degree'd parents!

Let's review that: If all black parents were college graduates, and all white parents were college graduates, and the trend stayed as is,...the overall race gap would be greater than it is now!

What can we glean from this? Perhaps that it is not public health that is at the root of the race gap, but rather ideas, ideas that seem to propagate on college campuses.

I recognize this is just one of many factors, some of which are intractable. Yet here is a factor easily fixable, so let's here and now repair it!

I often agree with Ed Jones. And concerning his response to the post by tft, it seems the time to say so. When I first read tft's post I read it as simple rhetoric, to be easily dismissed. But Ed takes it more seriously, and on a bit of reflection I think we should also. Ed says,

"Is this the basic meme we are spreading in our classrooms in NY, Detroit, DC, Chicago? That we must eliminate poverty before urban males can graduate at something over 15%? That African Americans are doomed to be substantially behind white Americans until the day comes when 'poverty' is ended?"

I had not thought of tft spreading that idea in the classroom. Should we think about it? Now that I do think about it, I would like to think that tft would reject it, would assure us that he/she does not spread that idea. Wouldn't schools like the Harlem Promise Academy, and many others, want to vigorously refute that idea?

I totally agree with Ed that " 'Poverty' is and always will be a moving marker". This doesn't mean we don't care about poverty. But we care about other things too. We care about overcoming poverty, which is not a new or strange idea in America. We care about learning and achievement, to which poverty is a hindrance, but not a boundary. We care about quality of life, again to which poverty is a hindrance, but not a boundary. We care about values and character. We care about responsibility and obligations. We care about opportunity. We care about progress.

People may certainly disagree about the best means to these ends. I am a libertarian. I believe the free market, in both goods and ideas, is a basic foundation of all that we value. I believe capitalism is the engine of prosperity. I believe one of the basic and important "lessons of civilization" is respect for property. I am not an anarchist. I believe some regulation, some rule of law, must be imposed in many areas of life. But regulation is a two edged sword. It can easily reach and exceed to point of diminishing returns.

I am often surprised that people talk about "ending poverty" as if it were a viable option, as if we simply haven't tried that yet, as if it only took a bit of political will and a few laws to accomplish. Haven't we learned anything from the 60's "war on poverty"? Haven't we learned anything from welfare as we knew it? I'm all for doing what we can to reduce poverty and to counteract its effects. But I don't think we are well served by undisciplined and unrealistic ideas about ending it. And we are especially poorly served by accepting poverty as an absolute limitation, and an all-purpose excuse.

We often say something to the effect that high expectations are good for children. Sometimes we go to far, thinking that high expectations are all we need. But surely we don't want to promote low expectations just for the sake of a bit of momentary rhetoric. How about realistic expectations? We know poverty is a hindrance to most anything we want to do. But it is certainly not an absolute limitation learning, accomplishment, and a good life.

So Ed, poverty has nothing to do with it? Do you think I don't teach my students?

Considering the gap has existed for so long, with no program having made any impact in decades, what makes you think you can just make kids learn?

And can we really compare today with 200 years ago? And few kids have whatever Ben Franklin had (genius) so the comparison seems a bit forced.

I ask you all: can we pull tft's license right now for breach of faith with these students? (I'm teasing, tft, we're all here to learn, but it doesn't mean I don't shudder at the thought you might be in a hs social studies classroom!)

Is this the basic meme we are spreading in our classrooms in NY, Detroit, DC, Chicago? That we must eliminate poverty before urban males can graduate at something over 15%? That African Americans are doomed to be substantially behind white Americans until the day comes when 'poverty' is ended?

You seem to be blaming teachers (me) for the gap by claiming that I teach it, or spread it? I think poverty existed before I got into a classroom.

I am saying we need to focus on the reason for the gap, and the reason is not teachers, it is poverty.

Oops. The paragraph under the italicized paragraph should also be italicized, as they are Ed's words...

Hi All... hope this finds everyone well.

"I think our society is in dangerous territory on this subject of accountability.
The so-called "reformers," the guys (yes, guys) who call themselves the Education Equality Project, would have the world believe that accountability is the key to improving American education. They think it can be done fast, not incrementally. They think the key to improvement is punishing the bad students, the bad teachers, and the bad schools." Diane

I believe both Diane and Deb are correct...that we are in very dangerous territory... Diane and Deb know that public schools need to be transformed... the issue is.... not reform...it is how best to go about reform and the value of a public school system in America.

Ed asks........
Is this the basic meme we are spreading in our classrooms in NY, Detroit, DC, Chicago? That we must eliminate poverty before urban males can graduate at something over 15%? That African Americans are doomed to be substantially behind white Americans until the day comes when 'poverty' is ended? (Ed Jones )

This statement takes me to the heart of my difficulty with many "reformers". Many do not know the "meme" that is happening in any of these schools because many never go into these places and spend any time!!!

The assumtions made by people about what is happening in urban education in our cities is scary.

I would suggest to anyone interested in truely understanding the complexity of school transformation in our large urban districts .... COME VISIT and STAY FOR A WHILE.

When people like Diane and Deb raise alarms.... it is time to step back and re-think what it is we are doing!!!

be well... mike


Hi All... some more thoughts on poverty and achievement. As NCLB likes to use the term "scientifically based"... maybe we should help each other look for decent research.

TEST SCORES, POVERTY AND ETHNICITY: THE NEW AMERICAN DILEMMA
Donald C. Orlich and Glenn Gifford
Washington State University
Pullman, WA 99164-4237

Executive Summary

The authors examined various studies and data sets relating to high-stakes tests and their
relationship to family income and ethnicity.

Poverty appears to play a major role in depressing
test scores with both state sponsored criterion-referenced and national norm-referenced tests.

Thus, it behooves any advocates
of high-stakes tests to at least ask, “What is the impact of student poverty on test scores as a
mechanism of sorting and classifying children?”

Alan Gottlieb (2002) discussed research commissioned by the
Piton Foundation. Results showed high concentrations of low-income children in Denver’s
neighborhood schools kept their achievement levels below what they should be. Data illustrated
that low-income elementary school children in Denver performed “. . . significantly better on
standardized tests when they attend schools where fewer than 50 percent of the students are
poor” (p. 1).

In a thought-provoking essay on the impact of poverty on test results and using data from
England, Wales and two American states, William A. Firestone and David Mayrowetz (2000)
conclude that we would be better served if we determined what constitutes good educational
practice rather than emphasizing incentives via high-stakes tests.

Craig Bolon (2001) reviewed mathematics tests scores from
academic high schools in metropolitan Boston. His conclusion follows.
` “The state is treating scores and ratings as though they were precise educational measures
of high significance. A review of tenth-grade mathematics test scores from academic high
schools in metropolitan Boston showed that statistically they are not. Community income
is strongly correlated with test scores and accounted for more than 80 percent of the
variance in average scores for a sample of Boston-area communities.


The ACT and SAT
Similar findings tend to be found when examining SAT scores (Fleming and Garcia,
1998; Adelman, 1999-2000; Nairn, 1980). Data published in 2004 regarding the SAT scores of
college bound high school seniors form a linear function in which there is a very strongly positive
correlation between parental income and students’ SAT scores (Fair Test Examiner, 2004).

The test data from the ACT and SAT illustrate an ethnic component related to achievement
on high-stakes tests. These data tend to indicate that scores of various ethnic groups most
probably are related also to socio-economic conditions. Poverty and ethnicity appear to be
Inextricably related.

More About the Path of Poverty.

On March 1, 2005, The United Nations released
Child Poverty in Rich Countries: 2005, The Innocenti Report Card No. 6.

The Nordic countries
had the lowest levels of child poverty in the “developed” countries of the world, primarily due to
very highly subsidized social benefits paid directly to families.

The United States of America
and Mexico had the world’s worst child poverty rates. For Mexico, the percentage was 27.7 and
for the USA it was 21.9.

Go here for the entire paper:
http://www.cha.wa.gov/english/documents/Highstakestesting_poverty_ethnicity.pdf

Feel free to add links to any research that you are finding......

be well... mike

Well--I don't share Diane's sense of alarm and doom at the building of improved data systems. Data has many uses beyond the ability to link teachers to the scores of their students. Financial data tracking to the building level (rather than the district level, where it can sometimes be maldistributed) is greatly to be desired. Discipline data, safety data, course-taking patterns, follow-up data on post-secondary options--these are all valuable indicators that are difficult to track meaningfully. Not to mention meaningful and comparable graduation rates. Others in other places have already drawn a parallel to Obama's abortion remarks and our need to work together as opposed to demonizing the opposition--and I find this approach to be apt.

Mike suggests that the reformers come visit some urban schools. I have, and likely will again. But, more important, let me suggest a study that is pertinent. http://www.tcrecord.org/Content.asp?ContentID=12895 This is a case history of two urban high schools on "probation," a Chicago precursor to NCLB sanctions. The researchers did in fact spend an extended time longitudinally in classroom observation and interviews and succeeded in developing a nuanced view of response to "sanctions" in moving towards school reform/improvement. Although much more detailed, one of their findings had to do with the necessity of leadership/teacher agreement with regard to "schema" or causes of failure. Where this was clearly identified and agreed to, they were more likely to be able to act on and maintain classroom reforms. The development or adherence to alternative schema (Senge calls these things "mental models" and refers to them as a potential "learning disability" in learning organizations) threw up various barriers to reform.

While one of the two schools was able to coalesce around an explanation of poor test scores, neither was able to respond cohesively to course failure. Even the school that succeeded in improving test scores did not see a connection to success in courses. Among the schema presented by both teachers and principles to account for course failures, moral and cultural failings were heavily implicated (instructional or academic problems appeared not to be widely accepted as causes). In some cases this led to "rationing" of resources (adapting material or coursework for those who "tried" or whose parents were perceived as supportive). This struck me because of the ongoing undercurrent of discussion regarding the role of "middle class values" in supporting school success. It occurs to me that what the "no excuses" schools do, is to coalesce around this particular schema. Rather than adapting to the perceived situation of something like poverty (lack of appropriate values or social abilities) with lowered expectations, they have chosen to organize a curriculum around explicitly teaching these things (how to pay attention, for instance).

Now--I have mixed feelings about this stuff. I find some of the culture of these schools to be militaristic, perhaps demeaning. But it also occurs to me--as I see them succeeding--that my own biases, or filters may be engaged. And perhaps the success of the KIPP (or other) school culture is not that it is providing something that is "missing" from student's home culture, but rather something that clearly reinforces students' "home training." Adults are clearly in charge. I certainly hope that the whole world (or even the whole urban world) of education does not begin to look like KIPP. But I think that we do need to pay attention to things that appear to be successful.

One more study to throw into the mix of
poverty vs schools in determining whether or how well kids learn. http://blackboysreport.org/otlwebsite/national/summary The Schott Foundation has some information on "opportunity to learn." I am not clear yet on how they separated out the "well-resourced, successful" schools. But, according to their evaluation, race figures more heavily than poverty (a lot more heavily) in determining access.

Margo/Mom.... hope this finds you well and thanks for the links.

I do not put myself in the camp of not wanting data. Data is critical to asking good questions. My problem is using test data to jump to conclusions and to only focus on test data. There are, as you already have listed, many forms of data that can provide very useful information to schools and there communities.

"Although much more detailed, one of their findings had to do with the necessity of leadership/teacher agreement with regard to "schema" or causes of failure. Where this was clearly identified and agreed to, they were more likely to be able to act on and maintain classroom reforms."
( Margo)
This seems to fall in the area of perceptual data...which to me is an extremely important data set to look at with teachers, parents, students and community members.

" I do agree with Diane on this point:
They think the key to improvement is punishing the bad students, the bad teachers, and the bad schools. " Diane

This is not the way to do school transformation.

be well... mike

Mike,

Right back at ya.

Punishing bad students, teachers, and schools was a page out of Bush's legacy on NCLB. It proved to be backward and ineffective.

I could be naive but I believe Obama will use test results differently. He and Duncan will use this data as a means of improving the performance of all involved. They'll use the test data to help students in need of remediation. They will also incorporate due process for teachers and schools to allow them the opportunity to improve their methods. I could be wrong but I don't see Obama repeating the mistakes of the previous administration.

You be well too, big buddy.

Paul Hoss

Paul... hope this finds you well.

"I could be naive but I believe Obama will use test results differently."Paul

I have seen nothing on the ground that appears different or creative. Here is some guidence from the Fed's.

American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009:
Using ARRA Funds to Drive School Reform and Improvement
April 24, 2009

ARRA identifies four core reforms that will help the nation meet that goal: (1) adopting rigorous college- and career-ready standards and high-quality assessments; (2) establishing data systems and using data for improvement; (3) increasing teacher effectiveness and equitable distribution of effective teachers; and (4) turning around the lowest-performing schools.

Secretary Arne Duncan Testifies Before the House Education and Labor Committee
To receive their money, states must make four commitments that are essential to reforming our K-12 schools. They will improve the effectiveness of teachers and make sure the best teachers are in the schools that need them the most. They will promise to improve the quality of their academic standards so that they lead students down a path that prepares them for college and the workforce and global competitiveness. These standards need to be aligned with strong assessments. In addition, states must work to ensure that these assessments accurately measure the achievement of English language learners and students with disabilities.

Under the third assurance, states must commit to fixing their lowest-performing schools. Finally, states must build data systems that can track student performance from one year to the next, from one school to another, so that those students and their parents know when they are making progress and when they need extra attention. This information must also be put in the hands of educators so they can use it to improve instruction. Right now, according to the Data Quality Campaign (DQC), Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware, Florida, Louisiana, and Utah are the only states that are reporting to have comprehensive data systems meeting the basic elements of a good system. With $250 million in the stimulus and another $65 million in our annual budget for fiscal year 2009 and again in fiscal year 2010, we expect these numbers to continue to grow, which is vital for reform.

wondering what you have seen so far that makes you optimistic?

wonder what you see that is very different?

be well... mike


Mike,

Right back at ya.

How about number two from above; "Establishing data systems and using data for improvement?" "For improvement" implies to me not in a punitive manner. Again, I honestly believe this president has an entirely different mindset than his predecessor. In addition, I think he's got more intelligence in his little toe than Bush had in his entire body. He's not an idiot. He's not going to roll something out that's going to make him look ridiculous several years down the road.

Hang in there.

Paul Hoss

Perhaps I'm too optimistic but I'm siding with Paul on this one and thinking that Mike (and Diane and Deb) may be too pessimistic. Words are important, and Obama's and Duncan's precise words are fine. Their lyrics seem closer to the EEP. But Alexander Russo just got back from the New Venture Fund in California and pointed out that the extreme accountability hawks like Rhee and Klein are less visible. I'm tending to think that Russo is right in saying "Even with all the RTTT money and the pipeline into the USDE, the edupreneurs and innovations folks still seem to be working at the margins and still seem weak on the political / real-world fronts."

Real world, I still think we'd usually be a lot better off if we just listen to both sides on most arguments, and split the difference. In my local school politics, my goal isn't "winning," if for no other reason than I worry about the unintended effects of my proposals. The most imperfect of compromises still turn out better, most of the time.

To me, Obama exemplifes the wisdom of Learn Hand that the spirit of democracy is not so convinced that one side or another is correct.

My intuition tells me Diane is right about data-mania: it's leading us down the wrong path. I keep thinking about a well-cooked meal versus food in boxes with the nutritional data printed on the side. The former is usually better aesthetically and nutritionally, but the latter pleases the inspectors who want to know the US RDA stats. Data-mania is compelling the good "cooks" to give up their craft and start making food products that have x amount of "Vitamin A", and y amount of "protein". The result tastes bad and manages to be nutritionally sound only in the most reductionistic way, but it'll leave everyone crowing "Success"!

I have to respectfully disagree with Diane on the "data-mania" phenomena. It's out there to get the attention of all but its reality will be more bark than bite.

Again, Obama is more of a carrot (character) individual than a stick wielding lunatic. He genuinely wants to improve our schools and all their students but he'll do it in a much more pragmatic way than Bush and all his cronies could have ever imagined.

"At this moment, change has come to America," (Barack Obama, election night, 2008) to me has a positive connotation based on its origin.

Ben F. I like your analogy. It may be true that an analogy can not prove anything, but it certainly can prompt valuable thought. I would extend the analogy just a bit. I have long maintained that there are no junk foods, but there certainly are junk diets. Refined sugar is not good as the mainstay of a diet, but it can be very good as an ingredient. It is up to a cook to take a variety of ingredients and turn them into a good food. Similarly it is up to a teacher to take the many available ingredients of a lesson and choose a combination that is right for the subject and the students at hand. Many educational practices should be thought of only as ingredients. Within broad limits they are not good or bad in themselves, but can be good or poor choices only in the context of a particular setting, and in relation to a particular goal. Is NCLB, and the type of thinking it exemplifies, doing harm by directing our attention to the ingredients, like the nutrition data on the box, at the expense of some higher end? I think it is, but that is not the sort of thing that can be easily proven, or even demonstrated.

I keep getting back to the "parental model" for education. This is often interpreted as letting teachers do anything they want. My view is that except for a few really bad apples in the field of teaching, we are probably best served by doing something very close to that. Neither good cooks nor good teachers do their best with micromanagement. Indeed, I would go so far as to argue that the same is true of mediocre cooks and mediocre teachers. Is there a place in teaching for the equivalent of a fast food assembly line? Perhaps, but I don't know just what that would be. Should we expect culinary progress from the fast food assembly line? Should be expect educational progress by micromanaging teachers? I wouldn't know how to prove it, but I personally don't think so.

I'm late on this, but I'm noticing that commentators equate ending poverty with more welfare programs. Those comments demonstrate ignorance of the fact that government policies create inequity, and they have the power to decrease poverty as well. I'm talking about housing, transportation, tax, and health policy. It's not welfare. It's government.

The issue is not whether education is this era's civil rights crusade, but whether we can get it right this time. Throwing blacks and whites together -- whether because of forced busing or well-intentioned policymakers -- hasn't helped blacks because, as MLK predicted, we left the job of educating black kids in the hands of an essentially racist and patronizing system. Charters, vouchers, and rigorous curriculum are a start -- a necessary start to helping free African Americans from a system that has done them little good in the last 50 years.

Sorry, I replied to the wrong essay above.... As to poverty, education is the only sensible and practical way out. For one thing, education, despite what union leaders say, is impervious to recession and poverty. Andrew Carnegie knew that when he endowed all those "schools of the street."

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The opinions expressed in Bridging Differences are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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