Monday, May 14, 2007

Anti-NCLB Arguments

The following liberal talking points were hanging above the copy machine at school. I thought it would be fun to make a copy and post it here on my blog.

Click on the document to enlarge it so that you can read it easily.

These are the points raised by the Educator Roundtable against the No Child Left Behind Act. These are the very points a former Teacher of the Year merely questioned, thereby becoming persona non grata in her union.

There are 16 points. I thought it might be fun if we, my readers and I, each took two of them and demonstrated why the points are, to put it gently, not quite reasoned or reasonable.

Since it's my blog, I get to choose first. The competition was tough and the voting close, but I choose numbers 1 and 11.

#1. "Misdiagnoses the causes of poor educational development, blaming teachers and students for problems over which they have no control." Actually, it does nothing of the sort. It holds schools, which receive federal money, responsible for actually teaching children. It also requires that schools teach all children, and not let certain groups of kids (e.g. special ed, blacks) languish while the school looks good "on average".

No doubt the Education Roundtable believes that if there's a problem in education today, it's caused by insufficient funding. I don't accept that. There are many causes for our relatively poor performance on international measures: educational fads (implied in points 11 and 12), a culture that doesn't value education as much as other cultures do (and all its attendant problems), and teachers who'd rather "change the world" than actually teach--right there are three culprits among a multitude of others. But NCLB doesn't accept excuses; it insists that schools keep up their end of the bargain, even if the other participants (students and parents) don't. I'll agree that NCLB places all the responsibility on the schools, though, and that's a flaw I've discussed in other posts. But to say it misdiagnoses the problem? How?

No, complaint #1 doesn't pass the common sense test.

#11. "Neglects the teaching of higher order thinking skills which cannot be evaluated by machines." I assert that such skills cannot be evaluated by teachers, either, but let's start with a more basic response. You can't teach higher order thinking skills without some fundamental basis of knowledge. While that would seem intuitively obvious to most of my regular readers, it's a point of violent disagreement with plenty of people in the education community. I guess they think everyone should build the skyscraper before the foundation. Does it not occur to them that in every field of endeavor, we start with fundamentals before getting "creative"? When learning the piano, children learn Chopsticks before learning concertos. Doctors learn anatomy before they pioneer new procedures. People learn to swim before joining the Olympic swimming team. You start as an apprentice, work your way up to journeyman, and eventually become a master after much hard work. You earn a bachelor's degree before earning a doctorate.

OK, you may think I've misinterpreted #11. Perhaps #11 merely means that the tests themselves are bad. I disagree. While the tests do test the fundamental knowledge I've discussed above, and perhaps not higher order thinking skills--whatever those might be, and however those might be assessed--is that the fault of NCLB? No! The law allows states to choose their own tests. It's not the fault of the federal law if states choose poor testing instruments. Personally, I'm pleased that California has eliminated canned, off-the-shelf tests (like the ITBS, SAT-9, etc) and has moved to subject matter tests aligned to our state standards. Teach to the standards, and test to the standards; that sounds like a reasonable plan to me.

You know what all 16 of those points in the petition have in common? I'll tell you. Whoever wrote them committed a classic mistake--they didn't think, they felt. Read the list again; isn't it a bit whiny? Can you find any facts in it, or just assertions? Is there any logic or reason to it, or is it just a mishmash of unhappy emotion splattered on paper? Answer: the latter.

And that's part of why this list is so easy to mock.

OK, readers, find a pair of points you like and feel free to dissemble them in the comments =)

15 comments:

Lord Floppington said...

10. Emphasizes minimum content standards rather than maximum development of human potential.

This point seems to argue that we should not hold children responsible for even a minimum level of competency. What is wrong with being able to read, write, and calculate? What is so terrible about having some actual knowledge about the world we live in, and the people who live in it? How would being an ignorant oaf maximize anyone's potential, and what sort of cruel person would advocate perpetuating the ignorance of our youth? Who will be deciding what the maximum development of human potential means, and how do you measure that?

12. Applies standards to discrete subjects rather than to large goals such as insightful children, vibrant communities, and a healthy democracy.

Like number 10, this point also argues against standards in any area of learning that can be measured, and in favor of feel-good, impossible to evaluate dreamy-goals. Why not just complain that NCLB doesn't provide every child with a unicorn and a pillow made of marshmallow while they're at it?

Jetgirl said...

2. Assumes that competition is the primary motivator of human behavior and that market forces can cure all educational ills.

As a professional with a background in psychology, I can say with quite a bit of confidence that although competition may not be THE primary motivator of human behavior, it is at least in the top five. However, I am more bothered by the assumption that children will emerge from their schooling cocoon into a selfless, socialist society where they will never have to deal with competition and market forces.

The largest hamstring I see these days within my age group is precisely the inability to function when presented with real-world competition, and the crippling sense that they are always entitled to equality of outcome. If the world outside of schools is still a competitive, capitalist systems, shouldn’t schools be imparting students with the skills to deal with THAT world, as opposed to the world some educators wish was present?


9. Allows life-changing, institution-shaping decisions to hinge on single measures of performance.

Although from what I’ve been exposed to concerning NCLB, the use of the word “single” in the above complaint is inappropriate, I have an additional problem with the overall tone.

If we don’t base changes on measures of performance, what will we base them on? Feelings? Popularity? Tarot cards? Or shall we just not change to achieve better performance as it may upset someone’s life?

I’ve been a victim, shall we say, of “life-changing” mandates in education myself. Of course subjecting an entire cohort of young students to sweeping educational programs that have no functional basis in reality (but are so socially acceptable and higher-order!) and no measurable educational value, is completely different. You see, THAT’S developing human potential! That’s changing the social order! Though they can’t use common grammar or add fractions when they leave high school, we protected them from the humiliation of having their performance measured!

Matt Johnston said...

6. Places control of what is taught in corporate hands many times removed from students, teachers, paretns, local school boards, and communities.

If I were feeling charitable, I might call this hogwash, but in reality this is just B.S. Last time I checked, local school boards and states determined WHAT is taught in schools (i.e. the curriculum), NCLB simply establishes a FLOOR of minimum achievement (a standard). The fact that these so-called experts cannot distinguish between the two simply adds fuel to the notion that some "experts" have more of a political agenda than a professional one. Corporations have a stake in teh educaiton process (since they are going to be hiring the products of our schools) and some corporations even have products used by schools. This is simply socialisty tripe disguised as meaningful critique. Show me what corporation has profited by NCLB.

3. Mandates data driven instruction based on gamesmanship to undermine public confidence in our schools.

As opposed to what, data obfuscation (read gamesmanship) that permitted schools to post "positive gains" using aggreated data when the disaggregated data showed massive achievement gaps? Admittedly, the current regime needs some tweaking since gamesmanship is common or at least commonly possible. But the gamesmanship is not new under NCLB.

But for so long we have simply been lead to believe that nothing can be done about the factors over which teachers and students have no control (see item 1) yet many schools have been able to debunk that idea through data driven analysis. If your testing reveals weaknesses in students, then using that "data" enables a teacher to focus on the skills that need to be developed rather than wasting time trying to teach something else. Data driven instruction means to me that you have hard data driving your teaching programs, not just wishful thinking or guesses, which seemed to permeate decision making in schools for decades.

philip said...

You might read the research behind the petition instead of assuming there are "no facts" behind it and "no research" to support it. The comment "No doubt the Education [sic] Roundtable believes that if there's a problem in education today, it's caused by insufficient funding" is unsupported and base; you made it without even looking into our organization, and your unsubstantiated accusations betray a tiny mind looking for support from other tiny minds who believe the simplest answer must be the right one.

Your assumptions are tiring...There isn't 1 problem in education today, there are multiple problems, and diverting resources away from local communities while forcing everyone to think the same way about the same things at the same way does not bode well for the future of this country.

Let us know when you have read all of the research and you have critiqued each point, then come back to us with your "no doubts."

Philip Kovacs
Chair, Educator Roundtable

P.S. higher order thinking skills and intelligent behavior (since some of your readers, hopefully not teachers, don't seem to know), include, but are not limited to:

impulse control, metacognition, striving for accuracy and precision, responsible autonomy, questioning and problem posing, ingenuity, creativity, perserverance, resiliency, prescience, insight, foresight, and the abilities to: listen, analyize, evaluate, synthesize, design, and execute novel tasks/experiences, and to justify, revise and reattempt failed tasks/experiences, and to inquire, debate, reflect, and alter attitudes in a constant movement towards greater complexity of understanding and action.

Importantly, higher order thinking skills and intelligent behavior involve risk taking and help develop interpersonal skills. While readers of your blog may feel that academics reinforced by standardized tests are the key to success, many cognitive scientists show that academics play only a small role in "success" and that who you are, how you carry yourself, the chances you take in life, who you surround yourself with, and how you deal with adversity matter far more to a life of liberty and happiness than does memorization of facts unattached to experience.

Darren said...

Thank you, Philip, for pointing out that your organization doesn't think that more education funding is the panacea for what ails public education. I'm glad to learn that, and regret my incorrect assumption.

However, the rest of your post was nothing but bombastic huffiness of the "how dare you!" variety. At least I addressed your points and supported my points with some reason. You haven't done so here.

Honestly, I question the value of your "research" if it is so easily dissembled by me and my readers. I stand by my statement:

"Read the list again; isn't it a bit whiny? Can you find any facts in it, or just assertions? Is there any logic or reason to it, or is it just a mishmash of unhappy emotion splattered on paper?
...
And that's part of why this list is so easy to mock."

I appreciate your taking the time to respond. Obviously, though, I've struck a raw nerve with you. If you're *that* bent out of shape by our criticisms, could it be that your points aren't as strong as you like to think they are? If you want to be taken seriously here, please provide more reasoned discourse and less righteous indignation. You might start with why me and my commenters are mistaken rather than throwing the online version of a hissy-fit.

Darren said...

I've thought about this further.

I agree with your last paragraph above, Philip. However, I assert that my *primary* job as a math teacher is to teach math. I am not trained as a social scientist, and neither do I want to be a social scientist, so teaching students to be risk takers, teaching them who to surround themselves with, teaching them how to carry themselves, and teaching them all those other things you listed above--those are at best ancillary to my primary function of teaching them algebra 1, algebra 2, and trigonometry, topics which are wonderfully suited to standardized tests.

rightwingprof said...

"higher order thinking skills and intelligent behavior (since some of your readers, hopefully not teachers, don't seem to know), include, but are not limited to:

impulse control, metacognition, striving for accuracy and precision, responsible autonomy, questioning and problem posing, ingenuity, creativity, perserverance, resiliency, prescience, insight, foresight, and the abilities to: listen, analyize, evaluate, synthesize, design, and execute novel tasks/experiences, and to justify, revise and reattempt failed tasks/experiences, and to inquire, debate, reflect, and alter attitudes in a constant movement towards greater complexity of understanding and action."

Oh please. Perhaps being around postmodernist pseudo-intellectuals day in and day out who do nothing but spout meaningless drivel peppered with buzzwords has made me cynical, but this is surely one of the most semantically-empty loads of babble I think I have ever seen--and that's saying a great deal.

Here's a hint, Philip. Let us at the university worry about their "critical thinking," because that's what the university is for. You teach them to read and write and do math so they don't fail when we get them, because that's your job. We don't need you to do ours for us, nor do we need to be teaching them what you did not.

Thank you.

philip said...

Did you, or did you not, follow the link to the petition online and then click on the footnotes to each point that substantiate the claim?

I believe that document counts as "reasoned discourse."

Please read all of the links, as I asked you to do in my first post, and then accuse me and my organization of "righteous indignation."

You might read our bios too.

Darren said...

No,Philip, I haven't read your research. I've already derided your conclusions; how you got to them seems unnecessary at this point.

If you're here to complain that I've gored your sacred cow, I guess that's ok. If you're here to change my mind and convince me that you're right and I'm wrong, you're going to have to try something different--because stomping your feet even harder, and using even harsher name-calling and attacks, isn't going to work.

philip said...

YAWN.

1. rightwingprof...

I teach at a research 1 university and these are the exact qualities our science profs claim students lack. But I suppose I should ignore them and listen to you...

2. "No,Philip, I haven't read your research. I've already derided your conclusions; how you got to them seems unnecessary at this point."

In the original post you said we "felt" instead of thought. I directed you to the thinking behind the petition and now you won't read it?

AND YOU CALL YOURSELF A TEACHER?

The give and take ends sir, when you "mock" without giving the other side a chance to make its argument. The original document you posted lacks all of the research available on our website, which I asked you to visit and read. Furthermore, your commenters suggested that there wasn't a single corporation that makes money from NCLB. We refute that fact, as would a simple google search on Reading First, which is one of the programs mandated for Title 1 Funds...

FYI, I could care less if you agree or disagree with the document. I hit google search once a week just to see what is out there. At present the majority of responses to our petition have been positive. I have been to California, Georgia, and Alabama to defend it, and will be meeting with the State Superintendent of Schools in Utah (can't believe they bough my "liberal" talking points) to discuss alternatives to the legislation.

What burns me is the fact that you call yourself a teacher without examining evidence. That makes you and indoctrinator, not a teacher.

Maybe that's a good thing...

What we need, really, are more students who refuse to read research b/c they don't agree with the conclusions...I'm glad there is someone out there preparing them to be future voters who won't read research b/c they don't agree with the conclusions.

Brilliant.

Darren said...

You just keep upping the "how dare you" factor. You came here voluntarily, not at my invitation, and I give you an opportunity to defend yourself against the (very reasonable) points brought up here, but you just get more and more indignant. I fear for your blood pressure if you come back again.

How professional do you view yourself, Philip, when you resort to name-calling and condescension to make your point? I do it a lot here, but I don't represent any professional organization. If your attitude is at all indicative of those on the Educator Roundtable, then I wonder how open-minded its members are and what kind of echo chamber they operate in.

rightwingprof said...

The problem with the "research" cited is that it isn't research in any sense. It's drivel, as is 99% of such "research." "Metacognition" is an untestable, unverifiable abstraction, and no research can be done on it, for example. When you want to put together a list of hard, empirical research with published data, let me know. Until then, I won't take you or your silly "petition" seriously.

allen said...

Dang, you come to the party a little late and all the ice cream's eaten. Oh well, I guess I'll have to make due with what's left.

4. Uses pseudo-science and media manipulation to justify pro-corporate policies and programs, including diverting taxes away from communities and into corporate coffers.

Uh, yeah. I'm sure that's just what Ted Kennedy had in mind when he co-sponsored the bill. That running dog lackey of the Wall Street exploiters. Oh yeah, John Kerry and Hillary Clinton also voted for NCLB.

When you're through throwing damp scats through the bars perhaps you could make some modest effort to substantiate those charges.

5. Ignores the proven inadequacies, inefficiencies, and problems associated with centralized, "top-down" control.

Well, sort of. In fact, NCLB doesn't make much in the way of demands on anything but results, measured and measurable results. If those results can be had within the current, centralized, "top-down" management structure which is the bane of every school district in the country, fine. If a sprinkling of pixie-dust gets the job done then, it's the results that matter.

7. Requires the use of materials and procedures more likely to produce a passive, compliant workforce then creative, resilient, inquiring, critical, compassionate, engaged members of our democracy.

Well sure, there's nothing like being forced to go where someone else thinks you ought to be at the time of their choosing, for as long as they say, while sitting in rows and columns being counted like parts in an inventory, subject to a schedule that has everything to do with organizational convenience and nothing to do with learning, submerging your individuality in a "student body" and being forced into a pecking-order which makes little sense except that you're at the bottom to produce creative, resilient, inquiring, critical, compassionate, engaged members of our democracy.

8. Reflects and perpetuates massive distrust of the skill and professionalism of educators.

Then when you buy a pound of burger the scale reflects and perpetuates massive distrust of the skill and professionalism of butchers. Somehow those butchers soldier on in spite of the massive distrust. Perhaps the skill and professionalism of educators shouldn't be quite so delicate that its mere measurement is threatening. It works for the butchers.

11. Neglects the teaching of higher order thinking skills which cannot be evaluated by machine.

Should there be a "that" to replace the "which"? Not sure.

Perhaps NCLB doesn't neglect the teaching of higher order thinking skill that can be evaluated by machine. That would be worthwhile, wouldn't it? At least you'd have some evaluation of higher order thinking skills of a, presumably, objective nature, machines not being notable for their passionate opinions.

Who's to say which higher order thinking skills are more important? The higher order thinking skills that can be evaluated by machine or those that can be evaluated by human beings? Simply assuming one is superior to the other hardly seems to be an objective way of determining relative value.

13. Forces schools to adhere to a testing regime, with no provision for innovating, adapting to social change, encouraging creativity, or respecting student and community individuality, nuance and difference.

It's called prioritizing and there are some benighted individuals who think the ability to read is important enough that innovating, adapting to social change, encouraging creativity, or respecting student and community individuality, nuance and difference aren't an adequate substitute.

A lot of people are funny that way. Someone's illiterate and right away they're assumed to be poorly educated when they're terrific at innovating, adapting to social change, encouraging creativity, or respecting student and community individuality, nuance and difference. Probably, they're also stuffed to the gills with higher order thinking skills as well. The kind that can't be evaluated by machine.

I've got to do other things but it's fortunate that this sort of sausage-stuffing is no longer selling with quite the briskness it once did. I suspect it won't be more attractive, or convincing, a year from now then it is today.

Matthew K. Tabor said...

Excellent post - it reminds me of walking into a high school language department a few months ago and seeing screed after anti-Bush screed posted on the wall. The stance isn't what got to me, it was the illogical, fallacious parts that were problematic.

cmoney said...

"I agree with your last paragraph above, Philip. However, I assert that my *primary* job as a math teacher is to teach math. I am not trained as a social scientist, and neither do I want to be a social scientist, so teaching students to be risk takers, teaching them who to surround themselves with, teaching them how to carry themselves, and teaching them all those other things you listed above--those are at best ancillary to my primary function of teaching them algebra 1, algebra 2, and trigonometry, topics which are wonderfully suited to standardized tests."

Wonderfully put Darren. Most of the items in Philip's contrived, excessively wordy list of "higher order thinking skills and intelligent behavior" aren't academic at all. Others are just hogwash. The rest are actually things that are taught and/or fostered in most schools.