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My Momma Told Me

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We interrupt our scheduled presentation of standards to bring you this breaking news: It’s all bunk! At least, according to a recent study commissioned by NBPTS from educational number-cruncher William L. Sanders which shows, as reported in Education Week, that board certified teachers’ students do not score better on standardized tests than other kids.

NBPTS is not thrilled with this news and offers reasons why this study might be invalid, while one blogger, Andrew Rotherham of Eduwonk, suggests they seem to be sitting on the results, more or less in the hopes that: a) they will just go away or b) the board can figure out how to spin it.

My take on all this? Glad you asked, loyal readers. There’s one teeny wheensy little thing that politicians, wonks, pundits and all the others who make their living off education but rarely set foot in the classroom just don’t get: KIDS AREN’T NUMBERS.

Call me naive. Rejecting test scores as the primary indicators of student achievement places me in the dubious company of Alfie Kohn and other pie-in-the-sky dreamers (thanks for the decimal system, Mr. Dewey, now go back and roll over in your grave). And I know that even NBPTS itself doesn’t try to pretend that numbers don’t matter. They run on a rich diet of educational research, most of which supports their success roundly.

After all, what do I know? I’m only the TEACHER. For fifteen years of my life, in classrooms and out, I’ve been working directly with kids ranging in age from K to college and in “ability” from special needs to gifted. Plus a bunch who are “at risk,” just to keep it interesting.

In my bones I know, as much of a pain in the pants as all the documenting and the hoop-jumping is, that the stuff NBPTS asks me about teaching is real. It’s what good teachers do, or try to, and on our best days we magically float through the classroom meeting all 16 standards without breaking a sweat.

So, in conclusion, I have this to say to Mr. Sanders (who somehow measures whether the board’s seal of approval “adds value” to people like me), and while I’m at it, to the politicians who pontificate about closing “under-performing” schools, and the test-makers who have made a fortune on the rising tide of accountability over the past decade, and, and... the whole lot of you:

Happy Mother’s Day.

Mine taught me what to do if I didn’t have anything nice to say at a particular moment, and I’m doing it. I bet yours taught you some important things, too. Like be good in school and always, always listen to the teacher.



16 Comments

Well said!!! Well Said!!! I am a rising junior in college, and I am studying to be a teacher. I have four children, three that are school-aged. Ever since this accountability in the classroom and these stupid tests called "bench marks" I have been studying these tests since my oldest has had to take them, and they are worthless. A child is not a number, and it is by far the dumbest thing Bush and his people have come up with. I know a lot of teachers who do feel the same way. Teachers are put under way too much pressure, and administration, including all the people mentioned above who are making moeny off of this are not backing them up. So, again I say, well said!!!

Emmet,
I've enjoyed catching up on your Blog! It looks to me like you are really managing to eat this elephant one bite at a time.

One of the most profound benchmarks of my career has been NAtional Board Certification. It does not surprise me that one study couldn't find the difference using those dreaded tests. They are using the wrong measure of our worth. We are diamonds that must be measured using clariy, cut and carat, not just weight!

"thanks for the decimal system, Mr. Dewey, now go back and roll over in your grave"
What in the world does this comment mean?

Happy Mother's Day?

Please cite any qualitative or quantitative research that concludes that celebrating Mother's Day actually makes mothers happy?

If not, why celebrate this day without any research that supports that Mothers Day actually does make mothers happy? Is that a worthwhile process? :-)

Perhaps those in the ivory tower away from classrooms thinking deep thoughts can analyze your wishes to them.....

In all seriousness, I enjoy reading your blog and please keep up the excellent work. I wish you the best with your continuing analysis and reflection. And as you chomp away slowly at Entry 4, remember what Freud said, "Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar." So, as you reflect on the supposed deeper nature of documenented accomplishments and parent collaboration, sometimes it's really just........

-Patrick from your Orientation Class......

Awesome response! Perhaps if we print it onto pizza boxes and fortune cookies, the politicians will realize this and take heed?

Awww, who am I kidding?????

I like everything Mr. Rosenfeld has to say - but please note: Melvil Dewey did the Dewey Decimal system; John Dewey was the education specialist we studied in our history/philosophy of education class.

First, Diane, I assume the Dewey Decimal reference is an allusion to Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird and its scathing portrayal of education through the eyes of hungry-to-learn Scout, who sees the world of Big-E education as full of socially useless processes like units and Dewey Decimal system and stupid stories about "Clever Little Kittens" to farm kids while ignoring ignorance and its by-product prejudice -- both of which are alive and well and living right in town.

Yes, I too read the study with a jaundiced eye. No one factor makes you a "better" teacher than another person -- not a masters, not NBC, not being purple, obsequious, and clairvoyant. Rather, good teachers are a gestalt of good practices, hunger to learn, need to help, and plain old humanity. Although pursuing and attaining National Board was a very significant and helpful process in my quest, it is not the panacea of all-that-must-be-fixed-in-education. Good teaching cannot be reduced to single, identifiable variables because it is a personal thing, done by persons, for persons. What a piece of work is a man!! So, rock on. Even though we have a very serious job, we cannot take anything anyone says about it too seriously.

Priscilla:

Well stated - teaching is indeed an art, not a science. Anyone can learn brush techniques, color balance and perspective, but that doen't make them an artist. Anyone can write a lesson plan, lay out a classroom or discuss content, but it doesn't make them a teacher. I've never seen a great artist graded on a standardized test of his/her product - what makes it possible to grade teachers on one?

I'm continually dismayed by teachers who prop themselves up and can't get results. Teaching is both an art AND a science. If National Board Teachers are not improving the outcome, I see that they're busy, but what's the point? Please stop excusing the teaching profession from being accountable. I AM a teacher, and if my student's scores go down on my own tests or national tests, I feel responsible to do better. I checked out this blog for an honest discussion about National Certification, not blind support.

Angie,

I too checked this blog out for serious reactions to National certification. Before I invest my $2300 on this, I want to know how it is going to benefit me. As for the original essay, I thought it was cleverly written but not living up to the by-line that was given.

While I totally agree that scores from standardized tests do not reveal very much at all about student capabilities or about teacher efficacy, I would like to address the issue of the meaning of Board Certification and teacher excellence. Right off the bat let me make it very clear that I am basing these remarks on my observations of one teacher who recently completed this process. This teacher has a Masters Degree in Early Literacy and has taught for several years with great care and dedication. She worked long and hard to receive National Board Certification. These are impressive credentials.

That being said, in my observation of her classroom I saw heavy-handed behavioral controls emplaced to keep student attention focused entirely on her as the center of the classroom. She asked close-ended questions of her students almost exclusively and expected them to raise their hands and guess what she had in mind. If students didn't get the correct answer, she only responded with: "no, that's not it. Nope." No feedback about the answers or encouragement to expand thinking. No questions to the students about what they were thinking that prompted their answer. During a lesson on using the dictionary, she designated all the words to be looked up, read the definitions aloud herself and expressed her own thoughts about the word under consideration. She did not solicit any input from her students beyond the yes-no, correct answer format. The point is, in my observations, she never asked the students for their thoughts or offered them agency to participate in an activity other than the specific, discrete tasks she herself assigned. Were you to walk into her classroom, you would see children sitting fairly quietly at their desks. Were you to look closer, you would see that many were not involved.

I am disappointed that a teacher with such extensive background training and Board Certification teaches in such a way that her students remain almost completely intellectually passive. I question how much learning is really going on in her classroom. And I therefore question what it means to be Board Certified if you can fulfill the qualifications for this designation and yet continue to teach as though the teacher's thoughts are of paramount importance and that dynamic interaction with students is not required. What does this say about the connection between the depth of understanding the learning process and credentials?

Wow - you said it, Emmet! Best to you in your pursuit of NBC. The process alone will make you a better teacher - not a single test score, bubble sheet, or politician will ever measure your worth the way you will this year. I got mine in '99 and have never doubted that it was all worth it. :) ~ a fellow pie-in-the-sky dreamer ~

Angie:

I'm not dismissing test results as a necessary measure, rather my target is current statewide testing programs and the "one size fits all" mentality. The science of the classroom deals with the mind and developmental stages - we preach multiple intelligences, stress the need for alternative assessment guidelines, and look for ways to reach all students - then put a cookie cutter multiple choice test in front of them and expect to leave no child behind? My students know what to expect when I test - a rigorous, thoughtful reflection on the lessons that gives evidence of real learning, not a process that allows them to invoke test tricks and guessing strategies to skew my ability to assess if they learned.

I am not a fan of Mr. Sanders nor a believer in his methods. I was really surprised when I learned that NBPTS had commissioned a study from him. Perhaps then, the lack of "added value" from certification simply validates my suspicion that he's just blowing smoke. Or maybe the majority of teachers are really good, but a few of us are National Board Certified while most of us are not. And maybe a really good, effective teacher can fail to be National Board Certified....

Right on! WORD to everything you wrote.

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  • Beth: Right on! WORD to everything you wrote. read more
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