May 22, 2006

Over the Wall


Edwonk is taking Secretary Spellings to task over an op-ed piece the Secretary authored. Edwonk makes his favorite argument--we can't improve student achievement without parental support and motivated students. In the comments Edwonk makes a nice little World War I analogy:
Spellings and her Gang of well-fed, well paid politically appointed EduCrats remind me of certain British Officers of the First World War.

While evading actual front-line service themselves, they would sit well behind the front lines, in relative comfort, and while toasting one another with claret order their troops to repeatedly charge machine gun emplacements.

When the front-line troops didn't achieve the expected results, those soldiers were threatened with courts martial. To the generals, the troops weren't trying hard enough.

Similarly, teachers aren't given the tools to get the job done by our rear-area dwelling EduCratic generals but are being held 100% accountable for achieving the expected results.

...

I would love to see how the Madame Secretary handles a child who refuses to attempt homework or a parent who refuses to discuss their child's academic needs with the school.
I really like this analogy. But, I think there is the rather large chink in the armor of Edwonk's argument.

Let's sort out the players first.

The British Generals are Spellings and the Dept. of Ed. The Generals give sufficient supplies and orders to ...

The Hapless troops who are teachers, like Edwonk, who are supposed to use the supplies and follow the Generals' orders (complaining the entire time if they want) to beat ...

The Germans who are the students and parents.

Presumably, the Germans (students) will be beaten (educated) when the troops (teachers) defeat (educate) them.

According to Edwonk, the students and parents are in their trenches firing machine guns at the teachers (resisting schools effects to educate) who are sitting in the trenches afraid to go over the wall as the Generals are ordering them to do.

Edwonk's argument is that the Germans can't be defeated until they stop shooting at the troops. In effect, he's looking for the support of the Germans to win the war. Great if you can get it. The argument is that the opposing generals (parents) should order the enemy troops (students) to stop shooting machine guns (do homework and pay attention in class) at the troops, so the troops we can beat (educate) them. Until then we're not budging, no matter what the Generals say, until the other side stops shooting. talk about entrenchment.

In the beginning years of WWI, Edwonk's argument was valid. The machine gun was a serious problem that was a major factor leading to the trench warfare stalemate in WWI. At first there was no effective countermeasure to the submachine gun. During this time Edwonk's analogy holds up well. Sending troops over the wall during this time was suicide for the troops.

But, then the tank came along. The tank finally changed the balance of power and reduced the effectiveness of the machine gun. This is our present situation. Tanks (effective instructional programs) have been developed. It is no longer suicide to go over the trench wall. It's still going to be hard work, and we'll lose a few troops, but with the aid of the tank the war can be won.

In effect, General Spellings is ordering the troops to go over the wall and use the tanks to charge and defeat the other side. The Germans will still be shooting back, but the tank will make their shots much less effective.

Edwonk and other educators want no part of that. They want to stay in the safe confines of the trenches (teacher lounges?) which they've come to enjoy. Instead of charging the enemy, educators are still refusing to follow the Generals' orders, even though their excuse is no longer valid.

So the Generals have taken out the bayonets (NCLB) in an effort to prod the educators out of the trenches. "Use our tanks, or use your own, but the war is now winnable. It's time to get out of the trenches and start educating the other side."

Educators have responded to the bayonet in two predictable ways.
  1. There is no tank. Er, yes there is. At least one, and

  2. Even if there is a tank, we don't like it. We want to continue doing what we've always done and that means the machine guns will mow us down, so we're not budging until they stop shooting at us. Er, that's why you're not a General.
So the tank (effective instructional programs) is the gaping chink in Edwonk's armor. Edwonk needs to fix this chink if he wants to keep using his favorite (parental and student support) argument. He needs to explain to us why effective instructional programs (which don't require parental support) aren't the answer--he needs to explain why the tank won't work, despite all the evidence that says it will.

He better find it soon or else Spellings might put him in front of the firing squad.

Update: Edwonk stops by and gives us a history lesson in the comments. (Do they even teach military history in high school any more?) He also continues to dodge my Project Follow Through evidence. I'll get it out of him yet.

15 comments:

McKreck said...

Awesome post.

When NCLB was first passed I led a training session on the PSAE for teachers at school just south of Chicago (the PSAE is the Illinois state test, and includes the ACT). The area was rural but developing fast into an exurb of Chicago. The administration wanted to be proactive about their test scores, as their students in previous years were just below the state average.

When I was finished, the administrator approached me and thanked for my my presentation. Then she said, "I think we're all a little scared and confused by NCLB."

I overcame the urrge to say, "Fear and confusion are more or less the point, because it's come to that to make sure teahcers do their jobs."

Bayonets indeed.

EdWonk said...

Hi Ken,

Thanks for visiting our place and linking one of our entries.

Firstly, at no time did I insinuate or indicate in the original post that I consider our students and parents to be opponents, much less enemies.

On point of fact, I've indicated on my site that I consider parents to be my employers and have, multiple times, said as much to parents during conferences and open house.

As an actively serving classroom teacher, I take (and advocate) a "customer service" approach in my relationships with parents.

The analogy was used to demonstrate a well-known instance in which people-in-charge who would never think of serving in the front-lines themselves didn't hesitate to send others into a hopeless situation in which achieving the stated objectives were all but impossible.

As for the historical facts:

1. In the first World War, soldiers on both sides referred to attacking enemy trenches as "going over the top," and not as "going over the wall."

2. It is true that the tank was developed in the First World War. However, it's use was very limited in that the tactical doctrine of the day (expounded by those claret-drinking generals) continued to rely on infanty attacking opposing trenches in waves right up until the very end of the war.

Battles such as the Somme, Verdun, Pachendale, Ypres, and the German offensives in 1918 were all infantry battles that featured attack after attack upon enemy trenches for gains that were often measured in fractions of a mile.

These battles resulted in the death of millions on both sides.

The troops were well aware that their generals were sending them into a hopeless sitution. The French army mutinied in 1917, the Russian Army refused to fight (Germans) from September 1917 onward, and the resentment of British troops toward the cavalier attitude of their own generals is very well expressed in the poetry of Siegfried Sasson (Sassoon was so reckless in battle that he earned the nickname "Mad Jack," and was awarded the Military Cross. In late 1917, he tossed his medal into the Mersey river and denounced the war as a pointless wastage of men. Sassoon was committed to a psychiatric hospital for this denounciation.) and Wilfred Owen, who died in combat (during an infantry attack) the last week of the war.

From the German point of view, we have former front-line infantryman Erich Maria's Remarque's immortal book, All Quiet on the Western Front, which I heartily recommend that all high school students read.

3. Tanks did achieve one breakthrough when they were first introduced in WWI. It happened during the Battle of Cambrai in November 1917. But because their tactical use wasn't fully understood, the breach in the line that was forged by the tanks was not exploited as the machines lacked the infantry support needed in order to consolidate their initial gains.

The tank's potential as a decisive battlefield weapon wasn't realized by it's British inventors at all, but by the Germans in the inter-war years who developed a very keen grasp of it's potential for achieving the type of breakthrough that would be needed in order to avoid the senseless slaughter that was WWI trench warfare.

The Germans developed the concept of Blitzkrieg (or "lightning war") in which armor, mechanized infantry, and close air support, worked together in order to quickly shock, demoralize, and defeat an enemy.

The tank did indeed play a decisive role in the Polish Campaign of 1939 and France in 1940.

The leading exponents of this new use of armor were German generals "Hurrying Heinz" Guderian and Irwin Rommel.

But Germans weren't the only ones who learned to effectively use tanks. The American general George Patton and any number of Russion Field Marshalls (most notably Georgi Zukhov and Ivan Konev) also had a thorough grasp of the tank's use in modern warfare.

5. A member of Washington's well-heeled EduCracy such as Spellings would never use a bayonet. Any World War I front-line soldier would tell you that "a bayonet is a weapon with a worker at both ends." :-)

6. You are essentially correct. Tanks made all the difference, but during a latter war when the generals were able to change their way of thinking.

If Spellings wants better results, we who are in the front-line need to have the tools to get the job done. Give teachers the tanks (disciplinary and instructional tools) that we need in order to achieve these high expectations.

Don't expect us to achieve them with the same worn-out and obsolete tools that we currently have.

KDeRosa said...

Hi Edwonk.

Firstly, at no time did I insinuate or indicate in the original post that I consider our students and parents to be opponents, much less enemies.

Hopefully, no one one read that interpretation into my analogyamd realizes that I was only speaking metaphorically.

The analogy was used to demonstrate a well-known instance in which people-in-charge who would never think of serving in the front-lines themselves didn't hesitate to send others into a hopeless situation in which achieving the stated objectives were all but impossible.

Understood. But realize that my too-cute-by-half analogy was to demonstrate that the situation is not hopeless, the objectives are achieveable if we start using the right tools, and those in charge are supposed to be leading and setting policy but not necessarily doing.

soldiers on both sides referred to attacking enemy trenches as "going over the top," and not as "going over the wall."

I knew that sounded wrong, but was too lazy to google the right term. Plus I was on a roll.

It is true that the tank was developed in the First World War. However, it's use was very limited in that the tactical doctrine of the day (expounded by those claret-drinking generals) continued to rely on infanty attacking opposing trenches in waves right up until the very end of the war.

All this and what follows is true; however, the introduction of the tank was the beginning of the end of trench warfare. WWI ended too quickly with the US entering the war for the tank to dominate, as it would in the next war. Nonetheless, the breaking through the German line during Cambrai was a significant event.

Tanks made all the difference, but during a latter war when the generals were able to change their way of thinking.

This may be where our analogies finally break down. I'd argue that in education, the generals have gotten it largely right (even if unwittingly) and the troops need to change their way of thinking.

If Spellings wants better results, we who are in the front-line need to have the tools to get the job done. Give teachers the tanks (disciplinary and instructional tools) that we need in order to achieve these high expectations.

Ok, now you're dodging my argument. My position is that we currently do have the tools to achieve the high expectations but educators are failing to employ them.

This is the crux of our disagreement. And, I'd suggest that I'm winning the battle with my Project Follow Through evidence which no one has successfully rebutted yet.

Thanks for stopping by Edwonk.

Anonymous said...

I wonder what other disciplinary tools does edwonk think he needs?

SteveH said...

Teachers think that the problem with education is only what walks into their classroom. They think the solution is to do whatever it takes to make their life easier. But what walks into their classroom is not just based on external forces. It is also the summation of all previous school years of teaching methods, curricula, low expectations, and social promotion. Can a middle school or high school teacher look at their students and know the real cause of the problem? If a 7th grader doesn't know the times table, is it because they are lazy, because the parents are not involved, or because the lower grades didn't care? Actually, the simple answer is that students should not be in 7th grade math if they don't know the times table.

It's not just parental involvement. It's not just that parents don't get their kids to school on time, check their homework, and go to 15 minute (hello-goodbye) parent-teacher conferences. It's not just attitude or atmosphere. Actually, in our neck of the woods, it's the other way around. the only way a student can expect a decent (K-8) education is if the parents make up for what the school does not provide in high expectations, content knowledge, and mastery of skills.

Teachers should applaud what Ken is doing. He is trying to solve the problem, not looking for excuses. One may not like Direct Instruction philosophically, but you can't avoid the issues. Ken is trying to make sure that the students who walk into a classroom are properly prepared.

Ken takes a more direct approach to the problem than I do. For our public schools, Direct Instruction is a nonstarter. One could argue about it, but the real problem is educational philosophy. Our schools (with great atmosphere and no external excuses) are very progressive: full-inclusion, child-centered group learning, fuzzy, spiraling curricula, differentiated learning, and absolutely no tracking by ability up through 8th grade. Students can't even get a proper course in algebra in 8th grade - on purpose.

The high school teachers see the results and there is nothing they can do. At best, then can go to the lower schools and advise. However, there is a big philosophical and curriculum wall (and gap) between 8th and 9th grade. Our lower schools think that everything is OK because our kids "hold their own". (compared to low expectation kids from the next town) Our town was supposed to restart a Citizen's Curriculum Committee, but they didn't do it and decided to continue to use MathLand, even though it was trashed by all and dumped by its publisher years before. They want parental involvement, but only on their own terms.

There are big problems with education that have nothing to do with external forces.

Mr. Person said...

Teachers should applaud what Ken is doing. He is trying to solve the problem, not looking for excuses. One may not like Direct Instruction philosophically, but you can't avoid the issues. Ken is trying to make sure that the students who walk into a classroom are properly prepared.

WHOA! Hold on there, Chavez! Your boyfriend is, to my mind, just moving the "excuses" to a different arena--in his mind (actually, external forces have never really been to blame in this issue)--and when did bitch-blogging about schools become positive activism?

SteveH said...

j.d.

You should stick to your own blog where you can, and do, cut off discussion when things don't go your own way. Also, being rude and nonsensical does not help your cause, whatever it is.

KDeRosa said...

You've gone off your meds again J.D.

My position is simply that schools shouldn't be making any kind of excuses so long as they aren't teaching very well. That's not moving excuses, that's preventing schools from trying to shift the blame (with your support).

Have you seen the latest study which basically confirms my position?

How exactly does an uneducated parent compensate when the school fails to use effective practices and fails to teach their child how to read?

Just out of curiosity, did you field test your new parental involvement math book with some low SES parents who don't know much math themselves? How effective was their teaching? It's not like math people like you and I are going to be the ones giving the parental support to the low SES kids with all the most serious math problems.

Mr. Person said...

Steve,

Don't take it personally. I cut you off because you and your friend were preaching, not commenting. I offered you the chance to continue the discussion via E-mail, but, lo and behold, I received nothing from you.

Your lack of positive response was expected, sir. No worries.

How exactly does an uneducated parent compensate when the school fails to use effective practices and fails to teach their child how to read?

I'm resisting the temptation to bring up the extrema argument that you so readily employ, but the short answer is they can't--EXCEPT to encourage their children's schooling, get on them when grades are low, instill in them the value of an education (think immigrants), reinforce a work ethic as it involves school, etc.

This is ALL parent involvement, and I'm sure that most teachers would say (wrong or right) that such involvement is NOT there from many families.

Although you are inclined to not believe me, I have not found a single study that tested the effects of increased parent involvement to yield a negative influence--NOT ONE.

There are some that show no significant effect, but the rest show positive results.

This doesn't mean that increased parent involvement is the strategy now pursued by every district in the U.S., and to the extent that it is, they're wrong. It is not a cure-all.

But neither is a system-wide change. At least right now. I am the first to jump on the bandwagon of any argument that suggests total systemic change from the education industry, but I'm also aware enough to know that's not happening now.

And, to be frank, I have some misgivings about turning teachers into robots reading from an Englemann script, no matter how effective it is in the short term. We're not Singapore or Japan, and test scores, no matter what the Feds say, are not the end-all and be-all of education. The system of education in this country was, in small part, designed to reduce the influence of such "King Georgeism."

What we have right now is a system that doesn't work to the best of its ability. So parents (you know, the ones who bore their offspring and allegedly have some kind of investment in their future) can either do something about it or sit on the sidelines like a bunch of screaming nags and bitch about how everything is wrong.

I'll be the first to say that I think we can do both.

KDeRosa said...

This is ALL parent involvement, and I'm sure that most teachers would say (wrong or right) that such involvement is NOT there from many families.

I'm sure it's not there for a significant portion of low-SES families. One hallmark of low-SES people is that they tend to make bad decisions like this. But we knew this going into the game. The question remains though, what should we do when these kids show up at the school house door?

I think your position is that we expend resources trying to get this elusive parental involvement in the hope that we get the small but positive effect size we see in the research (giving the benefit of the doubt that research is valid).

Problem is, we need large effect sizes to get most of these kids up to grade level. Parental involvement will help at the margin for some kids, but we need much than that to solve our problems.

I think we both agree that the "that" is much better classroom instruction. And, what I've been saying is that the effect size is sufficiently large when you make the instruction more effective, that the parental involvement component is not a significant factor anymore. Again, great if you can get it, but it isn't necessary and the lack of it would only affect a very small percentage of kids at the margin.

All the examples of parental involvement you've listed (encourage their children's schooling, get on them when grades are low, instill in them the value of an education ..., reinforce a work ethic as it involves school, etc.) are motivational. First, all of these things should already be part of a competent classroom management system directed toward disciplining and motivating students, reducing the need for motivation at home and second, all this motivation is for naught anyway when the kids are getting the constant negative feedback when they are not learning caused by a curriculum that is sufficiently lousy that.

Although you are inclined to not believe me, I have not found a single study that tested the effects of increased parent involvement to yield a negative influence--NOT ONE.

I would expect to see such results: good parental involvement resembles teaching which tends to have a positive effect.

But this is Ed research we're talking about. Most of it isn't valid because the design of the studies are flawed. Did you weed out the bad research first? I'm also certain that the research does not say that "parental involvement" in the global sense, but rather that the specific kind of parental support, given under specific conditions, may have a positive effect. This is what the research tells us, but this is not what you've been arguing.

This doesn't mean that increased parent involvement is the strategy now pursued by every district in the U.S., and to the extent that it is, they're wrong. It is not a cure-all.

There's nothing wrong, per se, with schools trying to get more parental support. It just shouldn't be used as an excuse not to pursue other more effective things and sthe failure of some parents not to play along shouldn't be an excuse.

But neither is a system-wide change. At least right now.

Changing the curriculum is not a system-wide change. Schools do it all the time with little complaint. Are you saying that we shouldn't try other changes until if we see if increased parental involvement works? I'm sure even your research doesn't show the effect sizes needed to sufficiently improve student achievement.

And, to be frank, I have some misgivings about turning teachers into robots reading from an Englemann script, no matter how effective it is in the short term.

What do you call teachers when they read from their own lesson plans aka scripts? Are they robots too? There wouldn't be a need for scripts if Ed schools did a better job teaching teachers how to effectively instruct students. There also is some evidence that it is equally effective in the long term.

We're not Singapore or Japan, and test scores, no matter what the Feds say, are not the end-all and be-all of education.

Of course not, but when test scores are showing a problem, like they currently do, you fix it. You can have high test scores and all the other stuff too.

The system of education in this country was, in small part, designed to reduce the influence of such "King Georgeism."

The original system perhaps, but then we installed a public education system which all but guaranted it.

o parents can either do something about it or sit on the sidelines like a bunch of screaming nags and bitch about how everything is wrong.

As long as educators are denying there is a problem, claiming that they're doing their best already (we just need more help from the parents), using bad instructional programs, denying that they're not bad, refusing to change, and generally making all sorts of ridiculous claims; there is a value to pointing out the problems and proposing alternate solutions. I suppose you'll be torching the newspapers and other media outlets later today that basically serve the same function.

And how is this any worse than the apologist education blogs which make excuses for the shortcoming of the education system, you know, like when some parents don't provide adequate support?

Catherine Johnson said...

I just came up with a raft of Parent-Involvement-In-The-School studies yesterday, then my browser crashed.

What's striking to me about the parental involvement research is that nobody seems to boil the whole thing down to the "Basic Principle," as Temple Grandin would say.

As far as I can see, the EduWorld considers parental involvement to be critical. Nothing can be achieved without it.

Well, what is parental involvement?

In my own school parental involvement means the parents remediate the school's many deficiencies. The parents do the informal assessming, the parents do the reteaching, the parents do the reassessing.

The parents do all this, or they hire tutors to do it.

The parents do the school's job.

Parental Involvement in my own school also means, in line with Ken's parents-as-Germans analogy, that when parents send their kids over the wall they stand up with their machine guns and open up with covering fire.

I'm serious about this....will get a post written about it soon.

SteveH said...

"Your lack of positive response was expected, sir. No worries."

Meaning that I didn't agree with you. It's nice to see that in addition to being flippant, you are struggling to explain what you really mean.


"What we have right now is a system that doesn't work to the best of its ability."

I think it's more like structural and philosophical failure.


"We're not Singapore or Japan, and test scores, no matter what the Feds say, are not the end-all and be-all of education."

Boy, that says a lot. This is one of my main points - educational assumptions, curricula, and expectations. Hopefully, parental involvement includes that area too.

Laura said...

Teachers think that the problem with education is only what walks into their classroom.

Who are these teachers of whom you speak? Any teacher I know acknowledges this as part of the problem, not as the single solitary problem.

They think the solution is to do whatever it takes to make their life easier.

It's not about us, you say over and over. So must you insult us?

But what walks into their classroom is not just based on external forces. It is also the summation of all previous school years of teaching methods, curricula, low expectations, and social promotion.

What do you call those if not external forces?

Can a middle school or high school teacher look at their students and know the real cause of the problem?

Sometimes, sometimes. That's what smaller class sizes allow for--getting to know the students and their needs. And really, the precise point of origin of any given academic problem is not always necessary for a way around it to be found.

If a 7th grader doesn't know the times table, is it because they are lazy, because the parents are not involved, or because the lower grades didn't care? Actually, the simple answer is that students should not be in 7th grade math if they don't know the times table.

If they can remember it long enough for the precious tests, they get passed on, whatever grade the teacher gives.

It's not just parental involvement. It's not just that parents don't get their kids to school on time, check their homework, and go to 15 minute (hello-goodbye) parent-teacher conferences. It's not just attitude or atmosphere.

No, but these things all make it even harder for already disadvantaged students. Just as parents should not have to compensate for inept schools, schools should not be responsible for feeding children and teaching them morals and motivation. If there are no expectations or regard for knowledge the other 17 hours per day of a student's life, how is anyone supposed to combat that in 35 per week?

Clearly the situation you described is at the opposite end of the spectrum from the situation where I teach.

There are big problems with education that have nothing to do with external forces.

I feel I could agree or disagree with this better if I saw where external began in your definition and where internal ended.

KDeRosa said...

It is also the summation of all previous school years of teaching methods, curricula, low expectations, and social promotion.

What do you call those if not external forces?


No, these things are all internal to the school, just external to your particular classroom. The school is the educational entity we're concerned with.

Sometimes, sometimes. That's what smaller class sizes allow for--getting to know the students and their needs.

Good slip in of the small class size argument. Surely, better record keeping can achieve the same benefit moe cheaply.

If they can remember it long enough for the precious tests, they get passed on, whatever grade the teacher gives.

Social promotion has been with us a lot longer than NCLB.

No, but these things all make it even harder for already disadvantaged students. Just as parents should not have to compensate for inept schools, schools should not be responsible for feeding children and teaching them morals and motivation. If there are no expectations or regard for knowledge the other 17 hours per day of a student's life, how is anyone supposed to combat that in 35 per week?

You're sounding like a mean old Republican now, Laura.

We've always fed kids in school. And ample money is provided to feed the pooe one.

Motivation is easy too. Just teach them well and motivation will follow.

Isn't six hours a day enough for kids to worry about academics. Sure, I'd like them to work harder too, but six hours should be a sufficient minimum.

SteveH said...

"Who are these teachers of whom you speak? Any teacher I know acknowledges this as part of the problem, not as the single solitary problem."

It seems to be the only problem I hear about lately from many teachers, especially those who complain about getting ill-prepared students ready for testing, or ask for more parental involvement. Many teachers think the solution is to reduce the importance of testing (kill the messenger), rather than fix the system.

This is not an insult. It is a criticism. Many teachers have a very narrow and limited focus on what will help students. Perhaps this comes from a pragmatic view of what they think they can do, given many educational assumptions, workplace structure, unions, and curricula.

I have mentioned before the story of a high school math teacher who solved the problem of poor lower school math by setting up stronger remedial math courses in high school. This is a solution given all of their constraints, but it is not a real solution. I've talked with this teacher. If she thinks that the real issue is pathetically poor lower school math curricula, she is keeping it quite hidden.

I would be interested to hear what you think these other issues are. Ocassionally, I hear older teachers talk about issues of social promotion, low expectations, and poor curricula. I don't hear those complaints from younger teachers.



Can a middle school or high school teacher look at their students and know the real cause of the problem?

"Sometimes, sometimes. That's what smaller class sizes allow for--getting to know the students and their needs. And really, the precise point of origin of any given academic problem is not always necessary for a way around it to be found."

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. And you are not even going to try to figure out how to prevent the problems in the first place? Again, you only seem to worry about solving the problems that walk into your classroom.


"If they can remember it long enough for the precious tests, they get passed on, whatever grade the teacher gives."

I'm not sure what you are saying here - that it is OK for 7th graders not to know their times table? ... that any knowledge shown on a test is not valid? ... that testing is meaningless?


"You're sounding like a mean old Republican now, Laura."

You know, as a life-long liberal (at least I thought so), I've had this exact same reaction lately.

"If there are no expectations or regard for knowledge the other 17 hours per day of a student's life, how is anyone supposed to combat that in 35 per week?"

That's what this is all about, isn't it? How did you come to this judgment? Are you going to tell individual parents in a poor school district that there is little you can do for their children with 6+ hours a day, 180 days a year, and 12 years of schooling? Once again, it's the external forces excuse to not even try.