Dear Deb, No, I don't think the dilemmas you describe are as omnipresent in all of life's vocations as they are in teaching. I don't have the classroom experience that you have. I have taught mainly graduate students in my life as a professor and have spent most of my time as a historian and writer about education. In many ways, maybe most ways, that puts me at a disadvantage in comparison to you. But the great advantage that I have had in my own career has been that I have been free from the kinds of dictates and mandates ...

Dear Diane, Years ago—when I was teaching both 5-year-olds at PS 144 in Harlem and teachers at City College—adults said that, unlike me, they weren't allowed to do x and y. After ascertaining why they thought it was so important to do x or y, I'd ask: "and what will happen if you do?" There was always a pause. So we'd have a class discussion about the consequences of not following orders (usually none). I think this is an important exercise—for adults and kids. We can't always get our way; there can be consequences that follow....

Dear Deb, It's no big surprise that "standards" involve judgments. Only standards related to physical objects are fixed, like systems of weights and measurements (e.g., the metric system). But any standard that involves decision-making, real decision-making, means that human judgment is required. People make decisions about what is considered a passing score on the medical boards, on the law school admissions tests, even on the pass mark for the written test to get a driver's license. Some group of fallible human beings decides what constitutes the appropriate body of knowledge, and how much of that knowledge the applicant should ...

Dear Diane, I don't want to spend too much time on testing. But a few words! One: I'm arguing that tests are a poor way to assess schooling. I'm not arguing, as Paul Hoss suggested in a recent response, that given other concerns we can't focus as much on cognitive aims with poor kids. But I do agree with him that we need to provide a lot of support to poor families above and beyond schools so that we are not "distracted" by other issues. Diane, I don't view the word "politically" negatively. I like and believe in politics. And ...

Dear Deb, You make some good points about the distinction between norm-referenced tests and criterion-referenced tests, but I disagree with your characterization of the latter. The problem with norm-referenced tests, I think, is that you really never show much progress. If it is a test of fourth grade, half the children will be above the norm, and half are supposed to be below. It may be useful to know what the norm is, but it is misleading. I recall that for many years, the New York City Board of Education reported norm-referenced scores, and the newspaper headlines would scream that ...

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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