robertogreco + plthomas   13

Radical Eyes for Equity: Why Journalists Shouldn’t Write about Education | National Education Policy Center
"Over the past couple of days, I have watched almost universal praise for Dana Goldstein’s Why Kids Can’t Write*. Since those sharing this article have tended to be people and organizations that I respect, my own response has been tempered—even though I recognize in the overview of teaching writing the same problems with edujournalism I have been confronting for many years.

Other than Jim Horn’s challenge that Goldstein takes the “blame the teachers” route, many in the writing and teaching writing community have posted and shared this article without challenge, and several have added that Goldstein does a more than adequate job covering the landscape of teaching writing.

The irony here is that this article on the failures to teach students to write is a model for both typical mainstream journalism and everything wrong with mainstream journalism: the breezy recounting of a complex field within which the journalist has no real experience or expertise and the “both sides” coverage of complex issues that treats “sides” as somehow equally credible.

The key problems in this piece can be unpacked in a few claims made by Goldstein.

Early, Goldstein asserts (without any link to evidence):
Focusing on the fundamentals of grammar is one approach to teaching writing. But it’s by no means the dominant one. Many educators are concerned less with sentence-level mechanics than with helping students draw inspiration from their own lives and from literature.

What is profoundly garbled here is a conflating of what the field of teaching writing shows through research and what teachers actually do in their classrooms.

The reality of 2017 and how students are taught writing is best reflected in a comment by former NCTE president Lou LaBrant from 1947:
A brief consideration will indicate reasons for the considerable gap between the research currently available and the utilization of that research in school programs and methods. (p. 87)

Isolated grammar instruction has been shown to have almost no transfer into student writing, and George Hillocks (among others) detailed that traditional grammar exercises could even make student writing worse.

However, I invite Goldstein and others to visit classrooms and, better yet, simply read through the Connected Community’s Teaching and Learning Forum (NCTE) where weekly English teachers voice their continued commitment to “[f]ocusing on the fundamentals of grammar.”

I want to come back to this point with another example below, but next, Goldstein wanders into the fatal flaw of edujournalism with this splash of evidence:
Three-quarters of both 12th and 8th graders lack proficiency in writing, according to the most recent National Assessment of Educational Progress. And 40 percent of those who took the ACT writing exam in the high school class of 2016 lacked the reading and writing skills necessary to successfully complete a college-level English composition class, according to the company’s data.

Poor writing is nothing new, nor is concern about it. More than half of first-year students at Harvard failed an entrance exam in writing — in 1874. But the Common Core State Standards, now in use in more than two-thirds of the states, were supposed to change all this. By requiring students to learn three types of essay writing — argumentative, informational and narrative — the Core staked a claim for writing as central to the American curriculum. It represented a sea change after the era of No Child Left Behind, the 2002 federal law that largely overlooked writing in favor of reading comprehension assessed by standardized multiple-choice tests.

The relentless and uncritical faith in what standardized tests tell us is one of the great problems with edujournalism across all discussions of education, but with writing, this is particularly problematic since standardized testing of writing is universally horrible, lacking validity and itself providing the context for why the teaching of writing is in fact inadequate.

Again, Hillocks has carefully analyzed that one of the most negative influences on teaching students to write has been the high-stakes testing movement. Teachers and their students have become slaves to state-level and national tests of writing that make writing to prompts and conforming to anchor papers as well as rubrics supersede any authentic writing goals that were endorsed by important movements such as the National Writing Project (a key focus of Goldstein’s article).

As I noted earlier, the irony is that a professional journalist’s piece in the NYT fails to provide the sort of credible evidence that many would expect as essential to student writing."

"But, again, what is incredibly important about causality in Applebee and Langer’s analysis, and what is totally subsumed by Goldstein’s focus on teachers, is that the standards and high-stakes testing movement killed the path to authentic writing instruction begun by the National Writing Project in the late 1970s and early 1980s (I outline that phenomenon in a chapter on de-grading the writing classroom).

Teachers and their students are being held accountable for writing standards and high-stakes tests—and everything we know about teaching writing well be damned.

On balance, then, Goldstein fails to expose accurately why students can’t write by glossing over the field of teaching writing without the care and expertise that topic deserves and by depending on weak evidence at the exclusion of a wealth of evidence that powerfully addresses the exact problem she seeks to examine.

Writing and teaching writing are highly complex fields, but we have a great deal of research, we do know how to teach writing well, and the field of composition, like all vibrant fields, remains a living thing driving by debate and investigation.

If we need a simple statement, then, on why students can’t write, let me offer something to consider: Students can’t write well because teachers are blocked from teaching well, and thus, the wall that must be torn down so both can excel is the standards and high-stakes testing movement.

* Goldstein’s title alludes to one of the worst but also enduring works ever on literacy, Why Johnny Can’t Read. This book spurred the school-bashing movement and engrained some of the most negative attitudes about literacy still remaining in the U.S. See Revisiting Content and Direct Instruction."
education  journalism  writing  2017  reporting  danagoldstein  katewalsh  testing  standardizedtesting  reform  schoolreform  learning  teaching  howweteach  literacy  media  standardization  commoncore  data  assessment  pedagogy  lolabrant  1947  georgehillocks  ncte  nationalwritingproject  instruction  grammar  arthurapplebee  judithlanger  1970s  1980s  rudolfflesch  policy  plthomas  paulthomas  high-stakestesting 
august 2017 by robertogreco
Formal Schooling and the Death of Literacy — Medium
"My privilege is easily identified in my being white and male, but it is the story of my life that better reveals my enormous privilege established by my mother when I was a child.

I entered formal schooling with such a relatively high level of literacy and numeracy that from those first days I was labeled “smart” — a misnomer for that privilege.

From Green Eggs and Ham to Hop on Pop, from canasta to spades, from Chinese checkers to Scrabble — games with my mother and often my father were my schooling until I entered first grade. And none of that ever seemed to be a chore, and none of that involved worksheets, reading levels, or tests.

Formal schooling was always easy for me because of those roots, but formal schooling was also often tedious and so much that had to be tolerated to do the things I truly enjoyed — such as collecting, reading, and drawing from thousands of comic books throughout my middle and late teens. I was also voraciously reading science fiction and never once highlighting the literary techniques or identifying the themes or tone.

During my spring semester, I spend a great deal of time observing pre-service English/ELA teachers, and recently I had an exchange on Twitter about the dangers of grade retention, notably connected to third-grade high-stakes testing.

And from those, I have been musing more than usual about how formal school — how English/ELA teachers specifically — destroy literacy, even when we have the best of intentions.

From the first years of K-3 until the last years of high school, students have their experiences of literacy murdered by a blind faith in and complete abdication to labeling text by grade levels and narrow approaches to literary analysis grounded in New Criticism and what I call the “literary technique hunt.”

Misreading the Importance of Third-Grade Reading

As I have addressed often, reading legislation across the U.S. is trapped in a simplistic crisis mode connected to research identifying the strong correlation between so-called third-grade reading proficiency and later academic success.

Let’s unpack that by addressing the embedded claims that rarely see the light of day.

The first claim is that labeling a text as a grade level is as valid as assigning a number appears. While it is quite easy to identify a text by grade level (most simply calculate measurables such as syllables per word and words per sentence), those calculations entirely gloss over the relationship between counting word/ sentence elements and how a human draws meaning from text — key issues such as prior knowledge and literal versus figurative language.

A key question, then, is asking in whose interest is this cult of measuring reading levels — and the answer is definitely not the student.

This technocratic approach to literacy can facilitate a certain level of efficiency and veneer of objectivity for the work of a teacher; it is certainly less messy.

But the real reason the cult of measuring reading levels exists is the needs of textbook companies who both create and perpetuate the need for measuring students’ reading levels and matching that to the products they sell.

Reading levels are a market metric that are harmful to both students and teaching/learning. And they aren’t even very good metrics in terms of how well the levels match any semblance of reading or learning to read.

The fact is that all humans are at some level of literacy and can benefit from structured purposeful instruction to develop that level of literacy. In that respect, everyone is remedial and no one is proficient.

Those facts, however, do not match well the teaching and learning industry that is the textbook scam that drains our formal schools of funding better used elsewhere — almost anywhere else.

Remaining shackled to measuring and labeling text and students murders literacy among our students; it is inexcusable, and is a root cause of the punitive reading policies grounded in high-stakes testing and grade retention.

The Literary Technique Hunt

By middle and high school — although we continue to focus on whether or not students are reading at grade level — we gradually shift our approach to text away from labeling students/ texts and toward training students in the subtle allure of literary analysis: mining text for technique.

Like reading levels, New Criticism’s focus on text in isolation and authoritative meaning culled from calculating how techniques produce a fixed meaning benefits from the veneer of objectivity, lending itself to selected-response testing.

And thus, the great technique hunt, again, benefits not students, but teachers and the inseparable textbook and testing industries.

The literary technique hunt, however, slices the throat of everything that matters about text — best represented by Flannery O’Connor:
I prefer to talk about the meaning in a story rather than the theme of a story. People talk about the theme of a story as if the theme were like the string that a sack of chicken feed is tied with. They think that if you can pick out the theme, the way you pick the right thread in the chicken-feed sack, you can rip the story open and feed the chickens. But this is not the way meaning works in fiction.

When you can state the theme of a story, when you can separate it from the story itself, then you can be sure the story is not a very good one. The meaning of a story has to be embodied in it, has to be made concrete in it. A story is a way to say something that can’t be said any other way, and it takes every word in the story to say what the meaning is. You tell a story because a statement would be inadequate. When anybody asks what a story is about, the only proper thing is to tell him to read the story. The meaning of fiction is not abstract meaning but experienced meaning, and the purpose of making statements about the meaning of a story is only to help you experience that meaning more fully.

In other words, “A poem should not mean/But be,” as Archibald MacLeish explains.

Texts of all genres and forms are about human expression, about the aesthetic possibilities of creativity.

No writer, like no visual artist, writes in order to have the words or artwork replaced by the reductive act of a technocratic calculating of meaning through the algebra of New Criticism.

To continue the hokum that is “reading level” and to continue mining text for techniques — these are murderous practices that leave literacy moribund and students uninspired and verbally bankrupt.

The very best and most effective literacy instruction requires no textbooks, no programs, and no punitive reading policies.

Literacy is an ever-evolving human facility; it grows from reading, being read to, and writing — all by choice, with passion, and in the presence of others more dexterous than you are.

Access to authentic text, a community or readers and writers, and a literacy mentor — these are where our time and funds should be spent instead of the cult of efficiency being sold by textbook and testing companies."
paulthomas  liteacy  reading  education  technocracy  flanneryo'connor  archibaldmacleish  readinglevels  schools  schooling  schooliness  thirdgrade  textbooks  metrics  measurement  literaryanalysis  plthomas 
may 2016 by robertogreco
Writing, Unteachable or Mistaught? | the becoming radical
"This experience has highlighted for me two important points:

1. Most people (students and academics/teachers included) are not writers, but people who occasionally write (and then, that occasion is often under some compelling requirement and not the “choice” of the person writing).
2. Especially people who occasionally write, and then most often under that compelling reason or situation, suffer from an inordinate sense of paralysis (I am going to argue further below) because they have been mistaught how to write (predominantly by template and prompt).

Since most teachers of English/ELA and any discipline in which the teacher must teach writing are themselves not writers, the default approach to writing is at least informed by if not couched in Mike’s view of writing—one that has been fostered by template and prompted writing instruction (the authoritarian nod in Vonnegut invoking God above).

And this is my big picture philosophical and pedagogical problem with depending on the five-paragraph essay as the primary way in which we teach students to write: Visual art classes that aim to teach students to paint do not use paint-by-numbers to prepare novices to be artists, and I would argue, that is because those teachers are themselves artists (not teachers who occasionally paint).

However, most teachers of writing in all disciplines are themselves not writers, but teachers who occasionally (or in the past occasionally) write (wrote).

Why Scripts, Templates, and Prompts Fail Students and Writing

In a graduate summer course for English/ELA teachers, I had the students read a commentary by Mike Royko (syndicated columnist) on flag burning. I asked them to mark the parts of the essay and underline the thesis as they read.

And these students who were also teachers dutifully did so.

Royko’s piece in most ways does not conform to the five-paragraph essay, but the teachers marked and labeled an introduction, body, and conclusion—underlining a sentence as the thesis. They immediately imposed onto the essay the script they taught their students (the script they were taught).

When we shared, they noticed differences in their labeling and marking. Most notable was the thesis: Royko’s piece is a snarky, sarcastic commentary that directly states support for flag burning laws but in fact rejects flag burning laws by sarcastic implication.

As a consequence, no direct thesis exists—although we can fairly paraphrase one.

I continue to use examples such as this with first-year students to investigate and challenge templates for essays they have been taught (for example, essays by Barbara Kingsolver) in order to work toward what Johns calls “genre awareness” instead of “genre acquisition.”

Yes, essays have openings that tend to focus the reader, but most openings are primarily concerned with grabbing and maintaining the reader’s interest. And openings are typically far more than one paragraph (essays have paragraphs of many different lengths as well, some as brief as one word or sentence).

Essays then proceed in many different ways—although guided by concepts such as cohesion and purpose.

And then, essays end some way, a way I would argue that is not “restate your introduction in different words” (the Kingsolver essay linked above frames the essay on attitudes toward children with an opening and then closing personal narrative about Spain).

Ultimately, the five-paragraph essay allows both teachers and students to avoid the messy and complicated business that is writing—many dozens of choices with purpose and intent.

Scripts, templates, and prompts do most of the work for student—leaving them almost no opportunities to experiment with the writer’s craft, whether that be in the service of history, science, or any other discipline. Without purposeful practice in the business of writing (making purposeful decisions while implementing the writer’s genre awareness against the constraints of the writing expectations), students (and even academics) are often left in some degree of paralysis when asked to perform authentically as writers.

As Zach Weiner’s comic succinctly illustrates, the five-paragraph template/script and writing prompt serve greater ease in assigning and grading writing (absolving the writing teacher of having expertise and experience as a writer, in fact), but as the student in the comic declares: “Suddenly I hate writing.”

And as Jennifer Gray details:
[M]any of [the students] checked out of the writing process and merely performed for the teacher. Their descriptions about their writing lack enthusiasm and engagement; instead, they reflect obedience and resignation. That is not the kind of writer I want in my classes; I want to see students actively engaged with their work, finding value and importance in the work.

As much as I love Vonnegut, I disagree about writing being unteachable. And his own role as mainly a writer who occasionally taught writing presents another lesson:
Nothing is known about helping real writers to write better. I have discovered almost nothing about it during the past two years. I now make to my successor at Iowa a gift of the one rule that seemed to work for me: Leave real writers alone.

Well, yes, we do know quite a great deal about teaching writing—and we have for many decades. So if “leave them alone” means do not use artificial scripts, I am all in, but certainly developing writers of all ages can be fostered directly by the teacher.

I am left to worry, then, that the main problem we have with teaching writing is that for too long, we have mistaught it as people who occasionally write, and not as writers and as teachers.

This is a herculean ask, of course, that we be writers and teachers.

But for the many who do not now consider themselves writers but must teach writing, it is the opportunity to begin the journey to being a writer with students by committing to genre awareness instead of genre acquisition.

Awareness comes from investigating the form you wish to produce (not imposing a template onto a form or genre). Investigate poetry in order to write poetry; investigate essays in order to write essays.

But set artificial and simplistic templates and scripts aside so that you and your students can see the form you wish to write.

Kingsolver’s warning about child rearing also serves us well as teachers lured by the Siren’s song of the five-paragraph essay: “Be careful what you give children, or don’t, for sooner or later you will always get it back.”"
teaching  writing  teachingwriting  education  2015  plthomas  fiveparagraphessays  vonnegut  jennifergray  zachweiner  mikeroyko  kurtvonnegut  paulthomas 
june 2015 by robertogreco
Education Needs a Collaboration (Non-Competitive) Pact | the becoming radical
"“The propagandist’s purpose is to make one set of people forget that certain other sets of people are human.” —Huxley, Aldous. The Olive Tree. 1936.

While watching a documentary on schools recently, I felt that same uncomfortable feeling I do whenever I watch or read about this or that school “excelling”—notably the principal, but teachers as well, expressing how they have something different that is driving the school’s success.

Of course that claim caries the implication that other schools, teachers, and students are not doing that something different (hint: trying hard enough, demanding enough).

In this particular documentary, that something different included publicly identifying, labeling, and displaying students by test scores.

And while I have a great deal of compassion and collegial support for educators fighting the standardized testing craze corrupting U.S. public education, I feel compelled to note that many of those same educators turn right around and practice the same sort of tyranny with students—or quickly wave the testing data flag when their school seems to look good (although these claims of “miracles” are almost always mirages).

So here is a test we should all take.

Check all that apply: As a teacher or administrator in a school, do you …

[ ] use test scores to rank, compare, motivate, and/or shame students into working “harder”?

[ ] use test scores to rank, compare, motivate, and/or shame teachers within a department, grade level, or school into working “harder”?

[ ] use test scores to brag about your department, grade level, or school to parents or the media?

If any of these are checked, you have a decision: either stop complaining about high-stakes uses of test scores or stop doing all of the above.

If test scores are a flawed way to evaluate teachers and schools, they are a flawed way to evaluate teachers, schools, and students—and even when they work in your favor.

Thus, I recommend the latter choice above because education needs a collaboration (non-competitive) pact if we are to save the soul of our profession."
plthomas  2015  collaboration  competition  education  excellence  elitism  schools  publiceducation  standardizedtesting  high-stakestesting  non-competetitive  comparison  motivation  shaming  ranking  rankings  teaching  howweteach  evaluation  assessment  aldoushuxley  paulthomas 
april 2015 by robertogreco
I Swear: On “Grit,” Adult Hypocrisy, and Privilege | the becoming radical
"If we accept that “grit” includes “perseverance and passion for long-term goals” (such as achieving more education), I find the above details about Duckworth more evidence of the adult hypocrisy I experienced while growing up. Is her cavalier attitude and profanity any different than the attitude she is condemning among teens?

So my concerns are not personal, or personal attacks—because Duckworth is certainly not alone in her good intentions behind “grit” research or practices.

And my concerns are grounded in Paul Gorski’s scholarship in which he shares his own self-reflection, as have I, as I continue to do. Gorski explains:
Unfortunately, my experience and a growing body of scholarship on intercultural education and related fields (such as multicultural education, intercultural communication, anti-bias education, and so on) reveal a troubling trend: despite overwhelmingly good intentions, most of what passes for intercultural education practice, particularly in the US, accentuates rather than undermines existing social and political hierarchies (Aikman 1997; Diaz-Rico 1998; Gorski 2006; Hidalgo, Chávez-Chávez, and Ramage 1996; Jackson 2003; Lustig 1997; Nieto 2000, 1995; Schick and St. Denis 2005; Sleeter 1991; Ulichny 1996). (p. 516)

Further, I remain guided in my criticism of “grit” by Gorski’s questions:
The questions are plenty: do we advocate and practice intercultural education so long as it does not disturb the existing sociopolitical order?; so long as it does not require us to problematize our own privilege?; so long as we can celebrate diversity, meanwhile excusing ourselves from the messy work of social reconstruction?

Can we practice an intercultural education that does not insist first and foremost on social reconstruction for equity and justice without rendering ourselves complicit to existing inequity and injustice? In other words, if we are not battling explicitly against the prevailing social order with intercultural education, are we not, by inaction, supporting it?

Such questions cannot be answered through a simple review of teaching and learning theory or an assessment of educational programs. Instead, they oblige all of us who would call ourselves intercultural educators to re-examine the philosophies, motivations, and world views that underlie our consciousnesses and work. Because the most destructive thing we can do is to disenfranchise people in the name of intercultural education. (p. 516)

I am not, then, being a petty prude. (Want to listen to my CAKE or Ben Folds/Five mix CDs?)

I am not stooping to ad hominem, and this has nothing to do with who I like or dislike (as I don’t know Duckworth, and the other key “grit” advocates). I suspect, actually, they are good and descent people dedicated to doing the right thing.

This is about the hypocrisy of adult demands aided by the technocratic use of “grit” as a veneer for privilege.

I remain convinced that the appeal of the “grit” narrative is mostly a failure to do what Gorski notes above: “Such questions…oblige all of us who would call ourselves intercultural educators to re-examine the philosophies, motivations, and world views that underlie our consciousnesses and work.”

So when an award-winning researcher tells me poor and minority children simply lack “grit” or a New York Times pundit explains the moral shortcomings of the poor, I hear Ben Folds singing, “Let me tell y’all what it’s like/ Being male, middle class and white/ It’s a bitch”—except Folds in his profanity is being satirical and his work is mostly harmless entertainment."
plthomas  grit  angeladuckworth  2015  education  inequality  technocracy  paulthomas 
march 2015 by robertogreco
George Orwell: Why Socialists Don't Believe In Fun
"The inability of mankind to imagine happiness except in the form of relief, either from effort or pain, presents Socialists with a serious problem. Dickens can describe a poverty-stricken family tucking into a roast goose, and can make them appear happy; on the other hand, the inhabitants of perfect universes seem to have no spontaneous gaiety and are usually somewhat repulsive into the bargain. But clearly we are not aiming at the kind of world Dickens described, nor, probably, at any world he was capable of imagining. The Socialist objective is not a society where everything comes right in the end, because kind old gentlemen give away turkeys. What are we aiming at, if not a society in which ‘charity’ would be unnecessary? We want a world where Scrooge, with his dividends, and Tiny Tim, with his tuberculous leg, would both be unthinkable. But does that mean we are aiming at some painless, effortless Utopia? At the risk of saying something which the editors of Tribune may not endorse, I suggest that the real objective of Socialism is not happiness. Happiness hitherto has been a by-product, and for all we know it may always remain so. The real objective of Socialism is human brotherhood. This is widely felt to be the case, though it is not usually said, or not said loudly enough. Men use up their lives in heart-breaking political struggles, or get themselves killed in civil wars, or tortured in the secret prisons of the Gestapo, not in order to establish some central-heated, air-conditioned, strip-lighted Paradise, but because they want a world in which human beings love one another instead of swindling and murdering one another. And they want that world as a first step. Where they go from there is not so certain, and the attempt to foresee it in detail merely confuses the issue."

[Also available here: ]

[See also commentary: ]
georgeorwell  socialism  happiness  charity  fun  1943  humanism  charlesdickens  society  plthomas  paulthomas 
march 2015 by robertogreco
Death to Common Core! Long Live Failed Education Policy! | the becoming radical
The problem for education reform, then, is not specifically Common Core, but that the evidence base shows standards-based reform has not and will not address issues of equity or achievement.

As a parallel example of how most of the current education reform commitments simply do not and cannot address the fundamental problems facing education, consider that New Orleans has now replaced the entire public school system with charter schools; the result?:
White students disproportionately attend the best charter schools, while the worst are almost exclusively populated by African American students. Activists in New Orleans joined with others in Detroit and Newark last month to file a federal civil rights complaint, alleging that the city’s best-performing schools have admissions policies that exclude African American children. Those schools are overseen by the separate Orleans Parish School Board, and they don’t participate in OneApp, the city’s centralized school enrollment lottery.

The partisan political backlash against Common Core, then, is not reason to celebrate because the essential political commitments to misguided education reform policy (such as accountability built on standards and testing, charter schools, Teach For America, and value-added methods of teacher evaluation) remain robust below the partisan posturing against Common Core as a uniquely flawed set of standards.

Adopting and implementing Common Core and the related high-stakes testing and accountability mechanisms are tremendous wastes of time and money that we cannot afford. Yes, let’s stop Common Core, but as a key step to stopping the entire flawed education reform movement built on ever-new standards and tests."
plthomas  education  commoncore  standards  poverty  schools  us  politics  policy  edreform  standardization  accountability  testing  standardizedtesting  neworleans  paulthomas  nola  charterschools  high-stakestesting 
june 2014 by robertogreco
What’s Really Wrong with Advanced Placement Courses and College Board? | the becoming radical
"While not unique to the program, A.P. ultimately fails the broader promise of universal public education in the following ways:

• The A.P. program is grounded in gatekeeping (historically hard gatekeeping metrics as well as lingering soft gatekeeping dynamics) and tracking [2], both of which are counter to goals of equity in public schooling. As a result, A.P. scores share with SAT (and ACT) scores the power to perpetuate privilege and establish inequitable schools-within-schools.

• The A.P. program is one example of the popular and political fetish for “top students”—a fabricated crisis that speaks to and perpetuates privilege [3].

• A.P. tests further reinforce the reduction of learning and merit to single test scores generated from one testing session. As well, the importance of the A.P. score as a potential ticket to earning college credit (and the claim that this process can save students and their parents money) can and often reduces A.P. courses to teaching-to-the-tests.

• Through the aura of being an “elite” program and by their selective nature, A.P. courses erode efforts to create educational settings that are equitable for all students. [The A.P. program was built on the allure of being elite, and regardless of the College Board's claims for seeking equity and diversity, the A.P. program benefits from elitism and selectivity.]

• The concept of “earning college credit while in high school” distorts and marginalizes the value of both student intellectual development and instructional time spent in courses. While I disagree in some respects with Tierney’s claim that A.P. course are rarely comparable to college-level courses (some A.P. Literature and A.P. Language courses are far more demanding than freshman composition courses), I would pose that it is essentially impossible to capture a college experience in a high school classroom—and there is no reason to seek that goal as well.

• Thus, A.P. courses draw too much focus on attaining certain content and away form valuing the entire learning experience that is greater than content acquisition.

• A.P. courses and programs are a secondary and additional financial drain on families (often indirectly) and public funding, yet another source of expenses (time and funding) for materials, tests, and training that would be better spent elsewhere.

• Another part of the allure of the A.P. program is similar to the promise embedded in the Common Core—establishing a standard curriculum across the U.S. However, if the A.P. program shows us anything, it is that the goal of standardization is both misguided and impossible to attain. In this respect, the A.P. program may not be quite a scam, but it is a mirage.

• And as Schneider emphasizes, A.P. courses suggest that all we need to do it get what is taught, how it is taught, and how it is tested right and then all will be well. Among almost all the current calls for in-school-only education reform, A.P. courses are distractions from needed social reform and in-school reform seeking equity."
ap  apclasses  apcourses  2014  plthomas  johntierney  collegeboard  sat  gatekeeping  tracking  privilege  selectivity  highschool  teaching  learning  education  admissions  colleges  universities  jackschneider  aps  paulthomas 
may 2014 by robertogreco
Two-Headed Dragon of Education Policy | the becoming radical
"Recently, I posted a chart highlighting that current “No Excuses” Reform (NER) claims and policies are no different than traditional problems and policies in public education.*

The great ironies of NER include that NER perpetuates the inequities of society and the current education system and that NER does not seek a reformed and revolutionary public education system but a dismantling of public schools for private interests (See Ravitch, Flanagan, and Cody).

The problem in education reform parallels the problem in our two-party system: While the competing ideologies and policies have successfully masked their being different sides of the same corporate coin, the many and varied alternatives outside the either/or norm remain hidden and silenced.

Part of the success of NER, historically (before such a phrase as “no excuses” was in vogue) and currently, lies in falsely positioning progressive education as widely implemented and failed (see Kohn) and falsely positioning status quo policies as “reform.”

So let me offer another chart I use with my introductory education course that builds on the parallels (and minor differences) between traditional and progressive agendas** while including a critical alternative to the two-party education reform agenda. This chart examines the need to change theoretical and philosophical assumptions about a wide range of aspects in teaching, learning, and public education if our reform agendas seek to revitalize a public good (universal public education) for goals that include democracy, equity, and agency:

[chart comparing traditional practices (behaviorism), progressive suggestions (constructivism), and critical lens (critical pedagogy) here]

NER narratives argue that school-based reform alone can somehow revolutionize U.S. society, that social inequity can be overcome by the force of public education.

That narrative is false on two fronts: (1) We have no evidence public schools have ever been revolutionary (see Traub), (2) because public schools traditionally and currently have reflected and perpetuated the inequitable norms of the society they serve.

The privileged will never lead the revolution because the privileged benefit from the status quo."

[Also posted here: ]
education  inequality  inequity  2013  2012  paulthomas  criticalpedagogy  pedagogy  behaviorism  constructivism  progressive  progressiveeducation  teaching  learning  schools  history  power  control  publiceducation  democracy  edreform  policy  plthomas 
february 2014 by robertogreco
the everyday motion of artifacts: the kindness school (beyond the archeology of white people, pt. 2)
"the kindness school (beyond the archeology of white people, pt. 2)

it simply happened one day
when the teachers decided
enough was enough

all the boys with OCD
spent the day playing drums
or riding their bicycles

and the introverts sat quietly
smiling periodically in the corners
while the extroverts laughed and laughed

and soon the pleasures became many
as varied as the children themselves
until one day a child stood to proclaim

after reading Hamlet all on her own
“I say, we will have no more tests”
to which there was thunderous cheering

yes it seemed simple and obvious enough
the founding of the kindness school
with open doors and children singing"

[Part 1 here: ]
poems  poetry  education  unschooling  deschooling  schooling  schools  teaching  learning  2013  tcsnmy  lcproject  openstudioproject  diversity  allsorts  plthomas  paulthomas 
february 2014 by robertogreco
Why Are We (Still) Failing Writing Instruction? | the becoming radical
"We have two recent commentaries that detail how schools and teachers fail students in the teaching of writing—one comes from a college student and the other, from a former teacher. While both reach the same conclusion about the teaching of writing, the reasons for those failures are in conflict, suggesting that we must consider whether schools and teachers are fumbling the teaching of writing, and then why.

Posted at Anthony Cody’s Living in Dialogue, a former Massachusetts student and current college student, Joan Brunetta, confronts the negative consequences of high-stakes accountability driven by standards and testing:
I am currently a student at Williams College, but I grew up in the public school system in Cambridge, MA and was among the first cohort of kids to have every single MCAS test administered, 3rd grade through 10th. Over the course of my years in the Cambridge public school system, I saw the scope of my education narrowed with increased testing, from a curriculum that valued student growth, experiences, and emotions, to one that was often cold and hard and moved on whether or not we were ready.

Brunetta’s experience should not be discounted as anecdotal since an analysis of twenty years of reform in her home state tends to reinforce her claim. As well, her message about how writing instruction distorted by standards and testing failed her is equally compelling:
In the years I attended high school, in which more focus was centered on testing, much more of our learning was directed toward tests. I wrote hardly anything but five-paragraph essays in high school English and history classes before 11th grade….

[upcoming paragraph!!!!!!]
Some students said that they actually remember more of what they learned in elementary school than of the material they had learned just the last semester in high school, because those pieces of history or literature were taught in a context and were talked about, not glossed over and memorized quickly. Others noted that they had actually read and written more in elementary school than high school….
Here’s a rubric that my 7th and 8th grade teachers used for evaluating our essays. This is what real rigor looks like to me. Our papers were looked at as true pieces of writing, with respect to our ideas, our structure, and our use of language. If you compare this to the rubric for an MCAS essay or an AP essay (both of which apparently test for a “higher” level of critical thinking), the juxtaposition is truly laughable. I would particularly like to point out the 7/8th grade criteria for good organization: “The paper has a thoughtful structure that surfaces from the ideas, more than the ideas feeling constrained by the structure. Paragraphs and examples connect with fluid transitions when necessary to make the relationships between ideas clear. The organization is not predictable but artful and interesting in the way it supports the ideas.” (emphasis my own)
To do this in writing is hard. It is a challenge. It is what real writers do when they write engaging essays, books, and articles. In MCAS essays and all the essays we wrote to prepare for MCAS essays, using an unpredictable structure was wrong. To do anything but constrain your ideas by the structure was very wrong. When we learned essay writing in high school, we were often handed a worksheet, already set up in five paragraphs, telling you exactly where to put the thesis, the topic sentences, and the “hook.” In my freshman history class, I was told that each paragraph should have 5-9 sentences, regardless of the ideas presented in the paragraph. The ideas didn’t matter–structure reigned supreme. There is nothing wrong with learning how to write in a structured and clear way–for many students, having certain structures to rely on or start with is very helpful. But when testing was involved, all of our writing was reduced to a single, simple, and restrictive structure–simply because that structure is simpler (and therefore cheaper) to grade. It is important to note here that I have heard multiple college professors specifically tell all their well-trained, test-ready students never to use this structure in their writing.
Furthermore, in elementary school, we were taught to edit our writing (a skill totally missing from any MCAS standards and tests and generally lacking from high school); we wrote at least 2 or 3 drafts each time. At the end of the year, we created a portfolio presentation, which we gave to parents, teachers, and community members about how we had grown over the year, what we still needed to work on, and what our goals were for next year. Almost all of my writing practices and skills that I use each day in college –and even more so, the ability to evaluate my own work and see what I need to do in the next draft or on the next paper–come from my middle school years in a school that was not following the guidelines and was refusing to prep us for tests.

Again, Brunetta’s experience is one student’s story that is typical of how high school instruction in the U.S. has been decimated by accountability, standards, and testing. Applebee and Langer, in fact, have compiled a powerful examination of the exact experiences Brunetta details: Despite teachers being aware of a growing body of research on how best to teach writing (in ways Brunetta experienced in elementary and middle school), there remains a “considerable gap between the research currently available and the utilization of that research in school programs and methods” (LaBrant, 1947, p. 87), notably in writing instruction in schools today."

[Post goes on. The passages above and the rest of the post are both rich with links to additional references.]
writing  teaching  teachingwriting  learning  education  standardization  howwewrite  schools  policy  paulthomas  2013  howweteach  plthomas  fiveparagraphessays 
february 2014 by robertogreco
New Criticism, Close Reading, and Failing Critical Literacy Again | the becoming radical
"When the Common Core debates drift toward advocacy or critiques of the standards themselves, I have refused, mostly, to engage with that conversation because I believe debating the quality of CC concedes too much. I remain opposed to CC regardless of the quality of the standards because of the following reasons: (1) CC cannot and will not be decoupled from the caustic influence of high-stakes testing, (2) all bureaucratic and mandated standards de-professionalize teaching, (3) accountability/standards/testing as a reform paradigm has failed and nothing about the CC iteration offers a different approach, except that this is called “national,” and (4) there is absolutely nothing in the CC agenda that addresses social or educational inequities such as disproportionate discipline policies, course access, and teacher assignment.

So with due trepidation, I now wade into the few but needed challenges being offered about how CC encourages “close reading” of texts."

First, let me highlight that my primary field of teaching writing offers a powerful and disturbing parallel model of how the accountability/standards/testing movement supplanted and destroyed evidence-based pedagogy.

I have detailed that the rise of best practice in the teaching of writing in the 1970s and 1980s was squelched by the accountability era begun in the 1980s; see Why Are We (Still) Failing Writing Instruction? [ ]

As well, Applebee and Langer offer a chilling refrain of best practice in writing wilting under the weight of standards and testing in their Writing Instruction That Works: Proven Methods for Middle and High School Classrooms. [ ]

Reading instruction and reading experiences for children, we must acknowledge, will suffer the same negative consequences under CC and the related high-stakes tests because there are no provisions for implementing CC that change how standards and tests are implemented (often each round of standards and tests are simply infused into the current practices) and, in reality, CC approaches to reading are new names for traditional (and flawed) reading practices.

Next, I strongly recommend the following pieces that essentially confront the central problem with CC’s focus on close reading (and as I’ll expand on below, how close reading continues the traditional view of text-based analysis grounded in New Criticism—and thus excluding critical literacy and the powerful contributions of marginalized writers and critics [1]):

Reading Without Understanding — Common Core Versus Abraham Lincoln, Alan Singer
[ ]

Martin Luther King Jr. and the Common Core: A critical reading of “close reading,” Daniel E. Ferguson

I want here, then, to add just a few more thoughts on why committing to CC and close reading fails against the gains we have made in understanding the complexity of responding to texts in the context of the words on the page, the intent and biography of the writer, the biography of the reader, and the multiple historical contexts that intersect when anyone reads any text.

Let me start with an example. …"
commoncore  ela  closereading  criticalliteracy  2014  standards  standardization  paulthomas  alansinger  danielferguson  davidcoleman  newcriticsm  reading  teaching  writing  literacy  learning  education  policy  plthomas 
february 2014 by robertogreco
Bill Maher’s “Real Time” education debate failure - The Answer Sheet - The Washington Post
"…a more important consideration of ranking and American exceptionalism may be the following data from David Morris about where the U.S. does rank No. 1:

• CEO pay compared to average worker pay.
• Income for top 0.1%
• Military spending
• Prisons per 100,000 population
• Murders per 100,000 population
• Health care costs as % of GDP
• Infant mortality per 1000 live births
• (As a reverse number one, meaning we are at the bottom) Social spending on families as % of GDP
• % children living in poverty, compared to like countries
• % experiencing homelessness from 1990-2006, compared to like countries

These are some of our exceptionalities because it is what we tolerate. To be blunt, we have corrosive and negative attitudes — as well as contradictory attitudes — about education because we do not want to face the fact of our country, the inequity and the real accountability that should be aimed at the top."
teaching  politics  policy  us  exceptionalism  2011  paulthomas  davidmorris  priorities  wealth  inequality  scapegoating  education  publicschools  poverty  plthomas  from delicious
may 2011 by robertogreco

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