May 2008 Archives

Dear Diane, You didn't suggest that good medical care was test-prepping—that was my translation. But it does seem to me that in effect that's not a bad way of looking at it—most standardized tests rest on experiences that don't come to us from school, but from the prepping that life has offered us. It may even account for the interesting story I just read—more next week—on a Chicago study that demonstrates that actual test-prepping may hurt scores! As to testing itself: Yes, reviewing questions for bias and using judgment to determine "grade level" rather than...


Dear Deborah, I didn’t suggest that “good medical care” was “test-prepping.” Just goes to show how easily words are misunderstood, how important it is to teach grammar, syntax, spelling, etc. so as to improve the clarity of our expression. When I went to public school in Houston, our English teachers devoted half of every year in their classes to teaching correct grammar. It was never fun, but it was very valuable. I am reminded on a daily basis of the importance of good grammar and syntax; without them, we will all of us have trouble communicating what we mean. ...


Dear Diane, The notion of good medical care as "test prepping" is delightfully bizarre, but maybe no less so than traditional forms of test-prepping? Perhaps Richard Rothstein is correct that it would have a greater impact on test score gaps. Traditional psychometrics is filled with problems built into the excellent history you’ve offered us, Diane. It presumes that scores fit a curve, and that there is a norm, usually labeled 100 or expressed in percentiles with 50 percent below, 50 percent above grade or age “level”, with a particular cluster toward the center. All very precise. How come half ...


Dear Deborah, When I first read Murray and Herrnstein’s "The Bell Curve," I was unpersuaded. They argued on behalf of the heritability of IQ and the linkage between race and education. Richard Herrnstein has since died, but Charles Murray continues to write about the immutability of inherited intelligence and the futility of any efforts to improve intelligence by education. I was not persuaded then by their claims; I am still not persuaded. I do not understand how they could be so certain about how much of intelligence is genetic and how much is environmental. Is it 40 percent genetic ...


Dear Diane, We’ve both now had a chance to read Charles Murray’s recent essay. I’m of two minds: to ignore it (bury it) or to take it on. You’ve settled it. But I’m not sure I’ll be happy about it a week from now. First of all, it means I’m suggesting people read his essay! Ye Gods! He’s been a controversial figure for years in our circles—both of ours. He’s had no compunction about taking IQ as “the measure of the man” (close to the title of a wonderful attack...


Dear Deborah, I want to be first in line to shout "hosanna" to your call for courtesy. I place courtesy up there in a pantheon alongside the cultivation of character and civic responsibility, as virtues that are intertwined and that do indeed help to make possible a democratic society. Indeed, without courtesy, character, and civic responsibility, I don't see how a democratic society can emerge or survive. So, yes, let us agree that these are noble goals that should be embedded in the daily life of every school, because without them, schools cannot achieve any goals other than babysitting or ...


Dear Diane, The question may be: Which aspects of the Finnish “answer” are most pertinent? Maybe we should simplify our alphabetic system, maybe we should improve healthcare, maybe we should have a more homogeneous society, maybe a national curriculum. America’s “genius” has rested not on its fixed intellectual “tradition,” but on its enormous and equal respect for “practical smarts”—including thinking outside the box intellectually. We can force an artificial curricular consensus. But teachers forced to teach it, and students to learn it, will not succeed as well as they might in Finland—because their students are coming at...


Dear Deborah, Time to disagree. Finland is the answer. No, I don't mean that we should or can copy Finland, but that we can learn from the remarkable synthesis that Finland has achieved. Their schools meet all or most of your pedagogical criteria—they "focus on a playful and wonder-filled childhood," and they prize teacher autonomy and school autonomy. Yet they do so within the context of a specific and carefully wrought national core curriculum. What is essential for children in urban areas is also essential for children in the remote rural areas. Teachers are free to be creative and ...


Dear Diane, I agree, Finland is not the answer. That’s my point! There isn’t one. Or even two or three. We can learn from others, but in the end we are responsible for using what we learn in our own setting—place, time, history and, of course, values. It’s instructive—for me—to realize that the Finns focus on a playful and wonder-filled childhood, and postpone teaching reading until kids are 7 or older. It might be, as one blogger commented, that Finnish phonemes are simpler and thus one can learn to read faster there. Or it...


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