November 10, 2008

Whose National Standards

Diane Ravitch is touting National Standards again. So is KIPP's Michael Feinberg.

I don't understand the love for standards, especially the national variety.

Imagine your ideological enemies being the ones in power drafting the standards. Now imagine that they, as they are wont to do, draft standards that not only favor their ideological brethren, but also might preclude you from practicing your favored ideological method. You can be certain they won't disfavor or handicap themselves.

Spend five minutes thinking about what you think are the best education outcomes and methods. Now spend another five minutes devising ways to disfavor those outcomes and methods. It's alarmingly easy to do.

Now tell me that you're still for a national standard that will apply to each and every state. They'll be no escape, unless you move to Canada. Or Mexico.

81 comments:

Dick Schutz said...

The cruel joke is treating the rhetoric that passes for "standards" seriously. There isn't a person or organization in the universe who can take the state standards individually and/or collectively and lay out a scenario of the time and substance of the instruction for accomplishing them. In large part there is no way to know "if or when" the aspiration has been accomplished.

Couple this with the chicanery of the mandated testing apparatus and the joke becomes inhumane.

Greenberg had the courage to say, "I was wrong in trusting my model" (words to that effect.) Who's going to have the courage to confess that the "standards and accountability" model was, and is, misguided?

KDeRosa said...

Right you are, Dick.

The state standards are awful and the tests are not well aligned thereto. Same is true when we convene expert panels, such as the NRP and the NMP, which have not exactly churned out useable standards either.

I'd like to see one of the standards advocates propose some actual suggested standards and testing instruments before we decide on whether we should even go down that path on the national level.

Dick Schutz said...

What's missing between the "standards" and the "tests" is the instruction that reliably accomplishes the aspiration. That matter was badly botched following the report of the Reading Panel and hasn't yet been addressed for the Math Panel.

The standards-accountability model presumes that "qualified teachers" can fill the gap. The flaws in that assumption are now (or should be) evident.

The DI camp and a few others recognize that the D in R&D is more important, effortful, and consequential than the R. But that's not the way the ed world is currently tilting.

Anonymous said...

I wonder if the problem in education is too much funding rather than too little funding?

What if government did not fund education at all?

There would be a huge market for basic skills instruction. Parents would purchase it from whomever offered the best results for the lowest cost.

National standards would not be necessary. The free market would set the standards. I expect most parents would want their children to be able read and compute at the college level before the age of 18.

That's fairly easy to measure, right?

Dick Schutz said...

"There would be a huge market for basic skills instruction. Parents would purchase it from whomever offered the best results for the lowest cost."

Two things (at least) wrong with that. One, income inequity among parents. Two. Learn from Alan Greenspan's mistake: The "free market" cannot and does not control itself.

Although we don't need "standards" we do need what "standards" purport to provide--a scenario for reliably delivering specified instructional aspirations. Those are currently in very short supply.

You're right about measuring results. It IS "easy" to determine when a child can read and can do various math computations. But that's not what the convoluted, arcane tests now in use do. The prevailing testing paraphernalia is deeply embedded in the fabric of education throughout the el-hi enterprise. Modifying that modus operandi is ANYTHING BUT "easy."

Parry Graham said...

Not sure I agree that it is fairly easy to measure the level of reading and math computation (not to mention content knowledge associated with other disciplines) we would expect from an 18-year-old. In reading, for example, one can relatively simply measure the mechanics of reading with assessments such as DIBELS or running records, but that only gets you up to about 2nd or 3rd grade. The more complex skills associated with sophisticated reading comprehension, critical analysis, etc. are much more difficult to accurately measure. And, of course, the first step in measurement is defining what it is you want to measure, which leads to standards.

As a thought experiment, define at a high level what reading skills you think an 18-year-old should have. Then start to break down those high-level skills into the sub-skills, mastery of which is necessary to attain those end-point reading skills. Then sequence those in the levels of complexity one would acquire them. Then think about how one would devise a means of specific activities to help students eventually master those skills. If you can do all of that in a way that is simple to state, teach, and measure, start your own education company and make millions of dollars.

KDeRosa said...

Here is the problem in a nutshell.

The desire is for students to possess general reading ability -- the ability to pick up any text and be able to a) decode the text accurately and b) comprehend the decoded text.

The decoding part is easy to measure, test, and teach.

The comprehension part not so much. Comprehension is dependent upon the general information and vocabulary knowledge possessed by the reader. Basically, the reader has to know a lot of stuff to be a good general reader. (I'm assuming the reader has learned how to decode proficienctly).

Knowing a lot of stuff is very IQ dependent. What we wind up with is just another proxy for IQ. By about fifth grade a child's IQ seems to become mostly fixed and our ability to stuff all the ifnormation they need to know to become a proficient general reader becomes constrained by IQ. Coincidently, reading tests start focusing more on comprehensiona and less on decoding ability and we see the famous slide down of reading test scores to what the child's IQ would predict in the absence of whatever superior teaching the child has received and continues to receive.

I see this as the primary onstacle facing education and I don't see any solution with our current technology save perhaps for a KIPP style expansion of the amount of time devoted to learning which is not without its own problems.

Dick Schutz said...

The "comprehension" dilemma is created by the definition of "reading." If you define it as encompassing all the background information that a child has acquired informally and via formal schooling, you DO get the results Ken acknowledges--measures that correlate as highly with general ability as the reliabilities of the tests permit. The tests are sensitive to SES differences, but not to instructional difference.

But it's really dumb to ding a kid for not being able to understand something written that the kid wouldn't understand were the communication spoken.

The terms and concepts that the kid hasn't yet acquired need to be taught. Structuring that instruction entails a different development endeavor than one that seeks to teach kids to read any text with understanding equal to that were the communication spoken.

E. D. Hirsch has recognized this distinction and has pursued one architecture for teaching the substantive info. There are other feasible architectures, and the matter warrants much more attention than it's received to date.

Terming the substantive info "comprehension" and treating it as a component of "reading" impedes reading instruction and measurement as well as instruction and measurement of other teachable academic expertise.

"Reading" is more than a matter of "decoding" or "phonics." The Alphabetic Code is foundational, but at the time Zig et al did the initial development of DI, the Code had not yet been compiled. There are a host of other relevant linguistic considerations as well as a whole nother body of relevant
psychology of learning considerations.

Zig's architecture is one legitimate means for reliably teaching kids to read. There are a handful of other legitimate ways.

One encounters an analogous situation in math--with "applications" the rough analog to "comprehension. "Applications" are very situation-specific. a person who can handle computation through algebra has the capability to learn/be taught the "applications" relevant to a given endeavor.

Current reading and math tests inter-correlate as highly as the reliabilities of the tests permit.
This should be a sufficient clue that the testing clock is striking 13.

Eric said...

define at a high level what reading skills you think an 18-year-old should have. ...

Ken, how big is the gap between the easiest LSAT questions and the highest Reasoning and Writing - Level F?

How credible are the DI endorsements? For example, "I have parents hugging me, giving me praise with tears of pride in their eyes. ... Direct Instruction programs can also take some of the credit"

Anonymous said...

"By about fifth grade a child's IQ seems to become mostly fixed and our ability to stuff all the information they need to know to become a proficient general reader becomes constrained by IQ."

Do you have any evidence to support this assertion?

Why is a high IQ needed to "stuff all the information"?

Perhaps you are confusing IQ with memory...?

IQ predicts the ability to solve abstract problems and understand highly abstract concepts. Like e=mc2.

Being a proficient general reader only requires lots of factual knowledge and knowledge of some SIMPLE concepts.

Direct instruction in decoding, critical reasoning, vocabulary and "core" knowledge should enable students with fairly low IQs to comprehend at grade level. (It will likely raise their IQs as well.)

I have never seen evidence that low IQ students can not learn large amounts of information... If such evidence exists, please share it.

Anonymous said...

"There would be a huge market for basic skills instruction. Parents would purchase it from whomever offered the best results for the lowest cost."

>>>Two things (at least) wrong with that. One, income inequity among parents. Two. Learn from Alan Greenspan's mistake: The "free market" cannot and does not control itself.<<<<

Dick, with all respect, income inequity would not prevent the existence of a huge market for basic skills education. It also would not prevent parents from seeking the best results for the lowest cost. In fact, low income parents would be particularly concerned about the cost of education.

Right now, huge amounts of money are wasted in education and almost nothing is spent on R&D.

Cost conscious consumers (including many low income consumers) would drive a free market to cut costs and reduce waste. Quality conscious consumers would drive a free market to invest in R&D to improve quality.

Free markets DO control themselves in these respects. That's why they are called "free."

For example, we do not need national standards for menus at Italian restaurants. Rather than argue about such standards ("decent wine list, bread served warm, lots of tomato sauce on the spaghetti dishes," etc) we simply let consumer choice determine the standards.

Also, in thriving free market, the standards are always rising due to innovation and competition. One problem with national standards is they wouldn't automatically rise every year.

In a free market, the "standard" reading level of a new high school graduate would always be a moving target due to steady improvements in instructional practices.

Alan Greenspan's quote is not really relevant.

The Social Reformer said...

very well said

KDeRosa said...

Do you have any evidence to support this assertion?

There is plenty in the archives of this blog, such as the Minnesota Transracial Adoption study and the Colorado Adoption Project.

Why is a high IQ needed to "stuff all the information"?

Because IQ limits the rate at which information is capable of being learned. If you learn less you will know less.

Perhaps you are confusing IQ with memory...?

I'm not but retention of knowledge is another problem that is affected by IQ.

IQ predicts the ability to solve abstract problems and understand highly abstract concepts. Like e=mc2.

This is one of many things it predicts more accurately than any other easily measured trait.

Being a proficient general reader only requires lots of factual knowledge and knowledge of some SIMPLE concepts.

Don't forget about decoding skills which is quite a puzzle for the English language, as opposed to say Finnish or Italian.

The correlation between IQ and general knowledge is over 0.8 for the reasons I've set forth above.

Learning simple facts and concepts may be easy, but learning and retaining lots of them are not.

Direct instruction in decoding, critical reasoning, vocabulary and "core" knowledge should enable students with fairly low IQs to comprehend at grade level. (It will likely raise their IQs as well.)

You would think but the evidence has not been forthcoming. We have good results up until third grade, but then the slide back down the the IQ predicted baseline begins. At best, we can say that we think we might be able to significantly improve the comprehension of fifth graders, but we continue to lack the evidence.


I have never seen evidence that low IQ students can not learn large amounts of information... If such evidence exists, please share it.

No one knows the causation, but the correlation is very high.

See Incorporating General Intelligence into Epidemiology and the Social Sciences.

Dick Schutz said...

The Nov released Policy Brief, "What Do We Know About the Outcomes of KIPP Schools?"

http://epicpolicy.org/files/PB-Henig-KIPP-FINALwc.pdf

is even-handed.

There is a much larger literature showing that the exuberance of educational "free-market" ideologs is unwarranted.

The thing is, in this matter, as throughout the el-hi enterprise, the measures and methodology employed in the studies are insensitive to detecting reliable instructional determinants. Chasing "gains" and "differences with the comparison group" using whatever shelf-item standardized test is convenient is ( ). I'd say the keyed response for the blank is "stupid," but there are other possible ways to fill the blank.

Anonymous said...

The Nov released Policy Brief, "What Do We Know About the Outcomes of KIPP Schools?"

http://epicpolicy.org/files/PB-Henig-KIPP-FINALwc.pdf

is even-handed.

There is a much larger literature showing that the exuberance of educational "free-market" ideologs is unwarranted.<<<<<<

Dick,

Thanks for the excellent link. The author is on faculty as one of the country's most liberal schools of education, but even he agrees there is strong evidence for the effectiveness of KIPP schools.

Your claim that a large amount of literature exists that "shows" free enterprise to be incapable of transforming the education sector needs to be backed with evidence. Be prepared for many of us to quibble with that evidence if you try to provide it.

I sense that your views are not rooted in an objective review of the available evidence, so rather than try to argue with reason let me try another tack.

I suggest that you spend one week driving a car that was produced by a government monopoly. (These are still available in Eastern Europe.) During that week, only eat meals prepared by a government monopoly. (I suggest school lunches!) And only use technology devices (computers, televisions) and prescription drugs if they were developed and manufactured by government monopolies--actually, don't take the drugs, as you would be putting your health at too much risk.

In fact, deny yourself all the fruits of our free enterprise system for even a single day. Then pay your cell phone bill for that day at government monopoly rates.

Hopefully this will open your eyes to the obvious.

Condemning children to schooling by a government monopoly is as cruel and ignorant as subjecting them to Cuba's health care system.

Anonymous said...

Why is a high IQ needed to "stuff all the information"?

Because IQ limits the rate at which information is capable of being learned. If you learn less you will know less.<<<<

KD--

Let's break down your argument.

1) Your Premise: IQ limits the rate at which information is capable of being learned.

You do not provide any evidence to support this premise. I'd sincerely be interested in seeing some.

As I stated, IQ is a measure of abstract problem solving ability. It is not a measure of the rate at which students can memorize factual information. Isn't it possible to have a low IQ and a photographic memory?

2) Claim: If you learn less you will know less.

This claim doesn't follow from your premise. Just because someone jogs at a slow rate doesn't mean they can only job short distances.

Put another way, there is no evidence that low IQ students are unable to learn the information needed to read proficiently. The information needed isn't highly abstract, so it isn't difficult for low IQ students to learn.

There may be some evidence that low IQ students will acquire this knowledge at a slower rate than high IQ students. (I'm asking you to provide it.) But even if this is true--so what? They can still learn all the relevant knowledge, it just takes a little longer.

If low income students receive intensive, direct instruction in vocabulary and core knowledge there is no reason to believe that they can't read at grade level.

The fact that IQ correlates with reading proficiency in many studies is irrelevant for two reasons.

One: The low IQ students studied most likely never received direct instruction in vocabulary and core knowledge needed to read proficiently.

Two: Good instruction raises IQ, which throws everything off.

Note: I didn't mention decoding skills because your blog indicates you are already aware of the mass of evidence that low IQ students can master decoding skills.

Dick Schutz said...

I don't think we'll get anywhere arguing ideology, Anon.

I can provide citations to the larger lit on evidence re the accomplishments of Charter Schools. It doesn't provide any evidence for the ideology-based claims.

It's the Instruction, not the Charter. Even with the insensitive tests and weak methodology, it's evidence is that the aggregate charter schools are not sufficiently more effective than the aggregate public schools to make the cake worth the candle.

If anyone reads the lit differently, that might be worth talking about.

My crystal ball says we'll have an increase in the number of Charter Schools, because it's a political escape valve for local school authorities.

The proposal that makes most sense to me is to use each Charter School as an N=1 experiment to illuminate the determinants of instruction that lead to reliable instructional accomplishments. But neither LEA's or Charters and interested in that--at least not at the moment.

Even with KIPP, "each school is different." When that's the modus operandi, the "success" isn't sustainable and it's not generalizable.

Former NYC Math Teacher said...

The 6th grade math standards in NYS include adding and subtracting fractions and equivalent fractions. Interestingly, though, LCM and GCF aren't there...they are in the 7th grade standards. I taught them anyway, as they are crucial to the aforesaid fraction standards.

Former NYC Math Teacher said...

Ummm...if it wasn't clear (and it wasn't), I used to teach 6th grade math.

Parry Graham said...

If K-12 were left up to the free market, there'd be a lot of kids out there getting the equivalent of a Big Mac education.

Is that what we want?

KDeRosa said...

You do not provide any evidence to support this premise. I'd sincerely be interested in seeing some.

You didn't ask originally.

Here's one.

As I stated, IQ is a measure of abstract problem solving ability.

That is only one of many measures of IQ. Vocabulary acquisition is very g loaded, it's not just a memorizing a bunch of facts.

Isn't it possible to have a low IQ and a photographic memory?

It most likely is. These correlations are not 1 and there are outliers like autistics.

This claim doesn't follow from your premise. Just because someone jogs at a slow rate doesn't mean they can only job short distances.

The implicit assumption is that there is only a fixed amount of time for learning -- the school day and the school year.

Put another way, there is no evidence that low IQ students are unable to learn the information needed to read proficiently. The information needed isn't highly abstract, so it isn't difficult for low IQ students to learn.

IQ is the best predictor of reading ability (Lohnes and Gray 1972). And vocabulary acquisition and the underlying concept knowledge appears to be the problem. See Teaching Reading and Language to the Disadvantaged—What We Have Learned from Research by Wes Becker

If low income students receive intensive, direct instruction in vocabulary and core knowledge there is no reason to believe that they can't read at grade level.

Except that there is no evidence that they do past the third grade or so when comprehension becomes the focus of reading tests. I'm currently reading NIFDI's September 2008 research for its Baltimore project. After 5 years of Direct Instruction provided by NIFDI, the average 5th grader is performing at about the 54th percentile. These are great results but indicates that a sizable portion of the bottom of the class is reading below grade level. And this is the state of the art and probably the best results that anyone has ever obtained with inner city students.

Two: Good instruction raises IQ, which throws everything off.

There is no evidence that this is the case by the time the student is ten years old or so. All the studies that raised student IQ were conducted on younger children, usually P-3 with the results fading by age 10-12.

KDeRosa said...

Parry, I wouldn't assume that the free market results are going to be the Big Mac of education.

I'd be more likely to think that the results would be similar to what the market is providing in medical care where someone else is picking up the tab -- platinum medical care.

Also, even if the education market settled on the Big Mac of education it would be a large step up from the government cafeteria quality food that is currently being served at exorbitant prices in most large cities.

Dick Schutz said...

I happened to stumble on to this on Roger Schank's blog:

http://educationoutrage.blogspot.com
August 13, 2008

...standardistas are always wrongheaded and evil. Why? Let me count the ways in which standards are a disaster.

1. They tell you what you must teach and therefore allow no possibility of doing things differently.
2. They are always testing-oriented.
3. They always say what the student must understand and must know and must be able to explain which is a code for we will tell him this and then he will tell it back to us.
4. They invariably do not allow for freedom on the part of the student to get interested in one thing while not being interested in another.
5. They are made by a committee that always insists on listing all the things any person in that field must know without realizing that knowledge comes after doing not before.

Can anyone here refute any of these contentions?

jh said...

here's a way to create standards that are easy to write and mean something .. .

state simple tasks, and a level of proficiency (i.e., items accomplished per minute)

So, for example, number of single digit math problems completed correctly per minute. You also specify the "channel". For the math problems it would be "see/write" (see the problem and write the answer).

These are called fluency standards, and could be at least used at the elementary level, although I haven't thought about them beyond that.

Here's a great paper on the benefits of fluency:

http://tiny.cc/xFHdg

Anonymous said...

Dick:

You keep referring to charter schools in the aggregate.

Again, this is not how free markets work. The real is issue is: Are the best charter schools gaining enrollment while the least effective charter schools and monopoly schools lose enrollment?

Overtime, this will result in charter schools performing better than public schools in the aggregate. But as with the car and airline industries, this can take 25 years or more and most charter schools are less than ten years old.

Can someone else get Dick to see this?

If not, it looks like it will take another ten or twenty years before he is convinced.

Anonymous said...

KD:

There is much evidence that you are overestimating the degree to which IQ restricts the potential of children.

For example, some chess masters possess below average IQs, and mastering chess at the international level certainly requires memorizing much more content than is needed to read proficiently.

I suggest you check out the current bestseller "Talent is Overrated" and review it on your blog.

The Baltimore DI schools did not teach high frequency vocabulary and core knowledge. These skills are not covered by any of the DI programs. The DI program only cover decoding and reasoning skills and a minimal amount of vocabulary. One reason for this is the emphasis Zig puts on multiple repetitions of new information; it restricts the amount of vocabulary his programs are able to cover.

Dick Schutz said...

Anon contends that the best charter schools are gaining enrollment while the worst are losing enrollment. I haven't seen data to that effect.

Take the Kipp Executive Brief, for example. There is a great deal of variability in the schools. The "best" have staff that is not replicable and "the best" are not likely to be sustainable.

My understanding is that this was essentially the same history of the Edison schools.

My understanding is also that in the aggregate there is a good deal of transfer back and forth from charter to public schools.

If I'm "off" in my understanding, please point me to corrective links.

Even the "best" charter schools are not that much better than comparison schools. Very few charters who staart with kids who start with struggling readers (in these times, those who are below the cut score labeled "proficiency") teach the kids to read (get them to "advanced proficiency.)

It's the Instruction, not the Charter. This holds for particular schools as well as aggregate schools. When this is taken seriously we'll be able to make transparent gains in instructional accomplishments. So long as we continue to rely on ideology and rhetoric, schools in particular and in the aggregate will continue to be out of control and dependent on the whims of the personnel involved.

Parry Graham said...

My Big Mac comment wasn't meant to suggest that all students would receive a McDonald's quality education, but rather that many likely would. In a free market, high-end products are available to those with high-end financial resources, and low-end products are available to those with low-end financial resources. I have yet to see a persuasive argument that turning K-12 education over to the free market would result in improvements for most students. And I'm not sure health care is a good example -- how many million children living in poverty are not currently covered by health insurance?

Dick, I would agree that the process by which state standards are created appears to be problematic in many instances (creation by committee), but I'm not sure I understand how the rest of your list qualifies as "disastrous". Take #1, for example: "[Standards] tell you what you must teach and therefore allow no possibility of doing things differently". In the absence of common standards specified by the state (or some multi-state or federal body), it is up to individual districts, schools, or teachers to determine what should be taught. Do you believe that your average 22-year-old teaching 3rd grade for the first time has any idea what skills, knowledge, and competencies an 8-year-old should possess in Reading, Math, Social Studies, and Science? And if there were no common standards (as was true prior to the standards movement), the outcome is incredible inconsistency across classrooms, schools, and districts in terms of what is taught and learned.

How is that an improvement?

Dick Schutz said...

The way "standards" have been operationalized in el-hi, they are little more than rhetorical "wish-lists." They're ambiguous; overlapping; many are not teachable; and no thought is given to the time or means for best teaching them. They're promulgated, but few read them (they're tough to swallow); and they are not modified on the basis of performance feedback.

In other sectors of life such as the construction trades "standards" are clearly achievable at the time they are promulgated, and they are periodically updated. In the info tech area "standards" are agreed-upon conventions that producers agree upon with confidence that can be fabricated within the current state of the art.

What's an alternative in el-hi? The orientation I tout is an extension of "Business Intelligence"--with concern on the current status of Key Performance Indicators--a set of 5-11 measures that mark the scenario from the beginning to the end of a specified aspiration.

In the corporate world the specified aspiration is always some form of $$$. In instruction, the "bottom line" has to be created. For example, in reading--read any text with understanding equal to that were the communication spoken. In spelling--spell any word the student wants to use in a composition, with the use of an outside resource when not confident of the spelling of the word.

Math is easier, due to it's logical structure.

Other domains are tougher, but still tractable. Usually, they require more complexly structured experiences. See, for example, the work of Roger Schrank at the high school level.

www.engines4ed.org/about/additional_curricula_ideas.cfm

The thing is, this orientation focuses on Instruction and Instructional Accomplishments. The choices involve are real, note rhetorical. Conventional considerations: reliability of effect, time, and cost can be brought to bear. "Financial savings" and "increased productivity can be treated transparently rather than metaphorically.

This is what "standards and accountability" sought to do. In the mid-80's, early 90's it wasn't the best conceived notion in the universe, but it was plausible. With the failure of Goals 2000 and NCLB, it's indefensible. But the top of the EdChain is very resistant to change and insensitive to empirical data.

Parry Graham said...

Dick,

I have to be honest—your response really didn’t make much sense to me. In your opening paragraph you say:

“The way "standards" have been operationalized in el-hi, they are little more than rhetorical "wish-lists." They're ambiguous; overlapping; many are not teachable; and no thought is given to the time or means for best teaching them. They're promulgated, but few read them (they're tough to swallow); and they are not modified on the basis of performance feedback.”

Do you have any evidence to back up any of those claims? I work in North Carolina, and in NC the standards are far more than rhetorical wish-lists—they are operationalized, specific articulations of exactly what students are expected to know and be able to do, and on which students are tested, beginning in 3rd grade. In some cases they are ambiguous, but they are usually incredibly specific, and the state provides examples of what demonstration of the standards would look like. Tremendous amounts of energy and time are devoted to how best to teach them. In fact, the county in which I work, Wake County, has developed detailed pacing guides that align with the standards and specify multiple ways in which the standards can be taught. I would bet that 95% of the educators in North Carolina have read the standards in the subject areas and grades for which they are responsible, because those standards define the curriculum and are what students are tested on. Finally, the standards for each subject area are modified on a cyclical schedule, with input from educators across the state.

You mention “Key Performance Indicators”, which are intended to “mark the scenario from the beginning to the end of a specified aspiration.” How is what you describe in any way different from curriculum standards? Curriculum standards are indicators that identify what students are supposed to know and be able to do from the beginning of Kindergarten through the end of 12th grade. All you have done is used a different term to describe exactly the same thing.

Finally, you provide an example of a “specified aspiration” in reading: “read any text with understanding equal to that were the communication spoken.” That’s a really, really bad example. How does one measure the understanding? Why should the comprehension of a written text be evaluated against comprehension of a spoken text? Wouldn’t a 12th grader reading “Run, Spot, Run”, who then listened to a friend read the text out loud to him with equal comprehension, meet your specified aspiration?

But the problems with your example aside, your example is still nothing more than an attempt at a curriculum standard, you’ve just called it by a different name. Here’s an example of a high-level standard for a high school English I course in North Carolina, with some specific objectives that go along with the standard:

Competency Goal 1: The learner will express reflections and reactions to print and non-print text and personal experiences.
1.01 Narrate personal experiences that offer an audience:
• scenes and incidents located effectively in time and place.
• vivid impressions of being in a setting and a sense of engagement in the events occurring.
• appreciation for the significance of the account.
• a sense of the narrator’s personal voice.
1.02 Respond reflectively (individually and in groups) to a variety of expressive texts (e.g., memoirs, vignettes, narratives, diaries, monologues, personal responses) in a way that offers an audience:
• an understanding of the student’s personal reaction to the text.
• a sense of how the reaction results from a careful consideration of the text.
• an awareness of how personal and cultural influences affect the
• response.

How does that not meet the criteria of a “specified aspiration”?

The rest of what you wrote—“Financial savings and increased productivity can be treated transparently rather than metaphorically”—made no sense to me. You seem to be suggesting that, if states would only create “specified aspirations”, they could focus their energies in ways that would create cost savings and increase the productivity of teachers. But they have done that—that is exactly what curriculum standards are. And districts and schools have focused their energy around helping students meet those “specified aspirations”, and states have ostensibly (some much better than others) tied state testing to measurements of the extent to which students have met those “specified aspirations”.

I think one can make a credible argument that states have gone overboard with standards, creating far more than could conceivably be covered in the course of a year. I think one can make a credible argument that the creation of so many standards has led to a “mile wide, inch deep” situation in which curricula sacrifice deep understanding of a small number of foundational concepts for coverage of a zillion little concepts. I think one can make a credible argument that current state testing programs provide an incomplete measurement of student knowledge, and are too focused on factual information without enough focus on application of information.

I think one can make any of those arguments, but I read your argument as essentially “do what the states are already doing, just change the names to things like ‘key performance indicators’ or ‘specified aspirations’”.

Dick Schutz said...

Well, I certainly didn't reliably communicate what I intended in my last post.

I re-read the post, and it says what I meant to say (except for a typo that added an "e" to "not"-- SpellCheck isn't yet perfect). I'm not sure I can do any better the second time around, but I'll try.

I have to admit that I hadn't looked at the NC "Standard Course of Study." If anyone can show me any teacher who has read and can "retell" the whole thing, I'll do "age appropriate" penance. I'm sure aggregate teachers have read the statements for their grade or subject, but comprehending the 13 "curriculum areas" is an incomprehensible task.

To provide a common basis for trying to bridge the communication gulf, I printed out the “Goals and Standards” for “English Language Arts” for grades K, 1 and 2 to take a look at them. Looking at the standards a screen at a time is tough going. (NC does sell print formats, by the way, which would be easier to deal with.)

www.dpi.state.nc.us/curriculum/ncscos

The standards were promulgated in 1999 and “revised” in 2004, but the “revisions” amounted to adding a few trivial exemplars to very few of the “competencies” (and the correction of a typo in grade 2, where the word “spelling” was initially misspelled as “pelling.” That it took 5 years to correct the typo is provocative.)

1999 was pre National Reading Panel and NCLB. 2004 was post. So much for the influence of either “research” or “legislation.”

I focused on the K-2 standards because it’s here that kids can be reliably taught to read any text with understanding equal to that were the communication spoken. The NC Standards are about as far removed from Key Performance Indicators (“a set of 5-11 measures that mark the scenario from the beginning to the end of a specified aspiration) as the man in the moon.

What you get is a “Strand”—“Oral Language, Written Language, and Other Media/Technology” There is only one strand for Eng Lang Arts K-2. But there are lots of additional (metaphorical) strands elsewhere in the Course of Study.

Below the Strand are 5 “Competency Goals.”

Goal 1, “The learner will develop and apply enabling strategies and skill to read and write” covers what parents and citizenry view as “literacy.” But this is neither the starting nor the ending point.

There are 4 additional Competency Goals:
--develop and apply strategies and skills to comprehend text that is read, heard, and viewed (Can anyone enlighten me on the difference between reading and viewing text? See E. D. Hirsch for the vaccuousness of “comprehension strategies.”
--make connections through the use of oral language, written language, and media/technology (???)
--apply strategies and skill to create oral, written, and visual texts (Anyone ever seen or heard of an “oral text?)
--apply grammar and language conventions to communicate effectively (In reading, the grammar and language conventions have been “applied” to the text; the learner doesn’t have to apply them.

The same 5 “Competency Goals are repeated for each grade K-2. The grades are distinguished by numbered “sub-standards.” But if you removed the numbers and asked anyone to sort them back into competencies and grades, you’d find no agreement.

The fatal flaw with respect to reading instruction is that the standards reflect no understanding of the substance and structure of the Alphabetic Code that links written and spoken language. The standards trivialize the Code as the “alphabetic principle.” That’s akin to treating the Periodic Table or the Genetic Code as “principles, generalities, regularities and irregularities.” All sorts of mis-instruction flow from this ignorance.

The thing about the “high level competency” example,

(“The learner will express reflections and reactions to print and non-print text and personal
experiences.)

is that it could as reasonably be placed at K-2 as at high school. Distinguishing between print and non-print text (whatever non-print text may be) and personal experience begs the question

What is missing is the scenario for achieving this (poorly framed) “Competency Goal”—“the set of 5-11 measures that mark the scenario from the beginning to the end of the specified aspiration.”

The NC “standards” are no better or worse than the standards of other states. If you go back as early as the 1920s you can find “Curriculum Frameworks” that reflect the same logic. The difference was that teachers could ignore the frameworks. Today teachers are being battered by tests that are allegedly “aligned" to the standards.

I’d be curious to see the measure of this example that is included on the NC mandated standardized achievement test.

When examined closely, the “standards-accountability” details are flawed beyond repair. The good news is that a better alternative is much simpler and economical.

The crux of the alternative is not the “specified aspirations,” but the 5-11 markers that can be used to transparently define and acknowledge the cumulative acquisition of the expertise so specified.

Parry Graham said...

Dick,

Thanks for the follow up. I think we are likely far more in agreement than in disagreement. The points that you make that I wholeheartedly agree with are clarity of language, measurability, and brevity. Standards should be written in the simplest and most comprehensible language possible, they should be written in a way that can be readily assessed, and they should be limited to as few as are absolutely necessary (the term “power standards” is often used to refer to those standards that truly matter).

In theory this sounds simple, but in practice I have found it to be remarkably difficult. North Carolina is in the process of attempting to entirely revamp its standards and accountability model to address many of these issues, but this is not an easy process. Defining what is most essential for students to know and be able to do at each grade level in each subject area is a remarkably complex and political endeavor, and my experience is that, in the past, states have simply responded with overkill: throwing in everything plus the kitchen sink.

In addition, when one moves beyond the lower grades (especially in reading, where the focus is on the mechanics of learning to read, as opposed to the process of reading to learn found beyond the primary grades) these competencies become even more problematic—are we talking about fact-based knowledge, abilities to apply skills to open-ended problems, creativity, teamwork capabilities, all of the above, etc.? Ultimately, we’re driving toward graduating young adults who are prepared for a complex and rapidly-changing world—what should that really look like? But if that’s our measurable end point, we have to start there and work backward.

If nothing else, the standards movement has pushed the education world towards attempts to identify specifically what it is that students should know and be able to do, and how to measure progress against those objectives. There is still a considerable amount of work to be done (and I think you point out multiple areas for improvement), but in the absence of a standards movement, we are left with directionless muddling that allows dramatically different and inconsistent definitions of learning and success to exist across states, districts, schools, and even individual classrooms.

Dick Schutz said...

I dunno Parry. I wish NC luck in revamping its standards, but it seems to me the revamp is out of the frying pan into the fire.

The thing is everything is always "formative." One "summative" statement leads into another. And declaring a goal "essential" doesn't provide any means for reliably delivering on the goal.

The "standards movement" didn't really "push the education world towards attempts to identify specifically what it is that students should know and be able to do, and how to measure progress against those objectives." EdLand has been trying to do this for several decades, we aren't much further along than when we started. The "formative" and "summative" distinction was coined in the 1960's and it hasn't led anywhere in the interim.

My contention is that more-than-15 years of experience indicates the "content standards and accountability by standardized tests" model/logic is fatally flawed. No amount of tinkering with standards statements and/or statistical manipulations termed "growth models" will ameliorate the flaws. Until we start focusing on the means for reliably accomplishing "goals/objectives/competencies/aspirations" and on transparent mechanisms for observing and reporting the instructional accomplishment, instruction will continue to run on rhetoric.

But the proof is in the pudding. NC is stretching the pudding-proofing to 2013 with no opportunity for self-correction along the way--the flow chart has been locked in. It's not clear to me what kids and teachers will be doing in the meanwhile. Some critical aspects rely on RFP's and Technical Advisory Committee reports that are entirely empty at this point. It's not a "business plan" that most investors would be comfortable with.

On the upside, I appreciate your flagging the initiative for us. The statement is a clear description of what NC is committed to doing. I'll watch the progress of the initiative with great interest.

Anonymous said...

Competency Goal 1: The learner will express reflections and reactions to print and non-print text and personal experiences.
1.01 Narrate personal experiences that offer an audience:
• scenes and incidents located effectively in time and place.
• vivid impressions of being in a setting and a sense of engagement in the events occurring.
• appreciation for the significance of the account.
• a sense of the narrator’s personal voice.
1.02 Respond reflectively (individually and in groups) to a variety of expressive texts (e.g., memoirs, vignettes, narratives, diaries, monologues, personal responses) in a way that offers an audience:
• an understanding of the student’s personal reaction to the text.
• a sense of how the reaction results from a careful consideration of the text.
• an awareness of how personal and cultural influences affect the
• response.<<<<<<


I would like to make a criticism of the above so-called standard that is seems pretty obvious to me.

My criticism is that the standard is not a standard in any meaningful sense of the word.

The state standards are designed to create the illusion of accountability where none exists.

Here is a real standard:

"All UPS delivery delivery drivers must be able to lift a 50 pound box onto a truck bed."

If the government monopoly school system folks were accountable to prepare children to be UPS drivers, they would write up a "fake" standard like this:

"All students will learn to elevate packages of various shapes and weights onto transportation platforms. They will show an appreciation for packages with different cultural contents. They will monitor their own level of physical exertion. They will show an ability to partake in refreshment both before and after elevating packages."

While there is lots of unnecessary verbiage in the fake standard that makes it longer, it is still missing a critical component of any standard: A specific measure. No where does the standard refer to "50 pounds."

As a result, the school system would try to pass off students who can't lift even ten pounds as having "achieved" the standard.

If the school system adopted real standards, it wouldn't need very many of them.

How about: "Student can correctly spell a random sample of 30 of the 10,000 most common English words with 90% accuracy."

Or how about this: "Student can complete fill in the blank exercises created from New York Times front page articles with 90% accuracy."

jh said...

all,

you need to include some type of time limit with each task

without time, you are not testing whether the student is "fluent" in the given skill

without fluency, you can not determine if the student will retain the skill

with fluency, you are virtually assured that they are able to perform the skill years from now, as fluency (performance per unit time) is critical to retention and other performance measurements

fluency is the gold standard of performance, not percent correct

Dick Schutz said...

Hey Anon, you've figured it out: Prevailing standards create the illusion of accountability where none exists.

As your examples for reading demonstrate, there are any number of ways to confirm if an individual "can read." The hard part, and the crux of instruction, is what to do if the individual "can't read"

Neither "standards" nor "tests" provide a clue for that. But the matter is not at all intractable.

If the individual has received failed instruction, it's a bailout matter. And that's the situation we face with the kids today who are termed "struggling readers" or who are alleged to have "specific learning difficulties." They have a good deal of un-learning to do because they have inadvertently been mis-taught and have acquired maladaptive ways to go about the task. Addressing the bailout instruction is straightforward, but it's too detailed to go into here.

The place to focus is on the kids who are entering K--whether the "school" is public, home, private, charter, virtual,or whatever. Children who can speak in complete sentences and participate in everyday conversation have to the prerequisites for beginning reading instruction. The question is the product/protocol for the instruction.

I hold that the best way to get a handle on the instruction is to generate 5-11 Key Performance Indicators that mark the scenario from beginning to end. This isn't easy to do, but it can be done. There isn't "one way" but neither are there an infinite number of ways. And if you can't do it, you're bluffing; you don't know how to teach kids to read.

The whole endeavor is easier for math. Yes, there are other matters in addition to reading and math to be concerned with. But parents and citizenry have been begging for decades, "Please, please teach our kids how to read and compute. If you can do anything else we'll be grateful, but we'll be satisfied with that."

Prevailing standards and tests do nothing more than create a dense fog of verbiage that provides a cover for treating an arbitrary cut score on an ungrounded statistical scale as "proficiency."

Parry Graham said...

Anon and Dick,

You both seem to be falling back on easy-to-measure examples to suggest that standards must be easily measurable. I like the UPS example, but how would you create simple UPS-like examples for World History, Chemistry, British Literature, or Ceramics?

In the early grades, students focus on far simpler and more measurable skills: reading rates, basic spelling, memorizing single-digit multiplication tables. But as students move into middle and high school, the learning objectives become much more complex (which is one of the reasons why I picked a high school example).

I also think it is illustrative, Anon, that you chose spelling and fill-in-the-blank examples. These are both simple measures of lower-level skills, but lower level skills are only the base level of what we want students to know and be able to do.

How about this as a challenge: What are the 5-11 Key Performance Indicators that you would recommend for a high school US History course, and the 5-11 Key Performance Indicators that you would recommend for 9th grade English (the English I from my original example)?

Dick Schutz said...

The thing is, if a kld can read and can compute arithmetic operations through fractions, this provides a foundation for enlarging the kid’s expertise. It opens the door to choice re what the kid wants to learn, guided and counseled by parents and teachers. It’s not at all simple to reliably deliver this foundational expertise, but it’s feasible. With the foundation “Grade” and “subject” are no longer the reasonable definitional considerations.

Let’s take your examples “World History, Chemistry, British Literature, and Ceramics” as a breadboard to work with. Chemistry and Ceramics are both amenable to the Key Performance Indicator treatment that I’ve sketched. This expertise is acquired in “how to/hands on/lab/experiential instruction.

“History” and “Literature” are examples of domains that involve interacting with an organized body of information defined as a “discipline.” It seems to me that a sequence of courses structured in terms of prerequisites and defined in terms the discipline is currently using is the best bet. More attention needs to be given to the template for an adequate “course description” than I’ve devoted to the matter, but it’s a straightforward matter.

What seems obvious to me is that the application of grade-subject standards doesn’t fit either category of instruction. “Capability certification” is what it’s about—with the capability transparent. It’s the orientation in the Info Tech sector and in many large corporations. You don’t need “standardized tests” and you don’t need “portfolios.” If there’s any doubt that the capability certified is lacking, it can readily and quickly probed.

I’ve alluded to the sort of structured experiences that Roger Shrank is prototyping.

www.engines4ed.org/about/additional_curricula_ideas.cfm

Such larger “experiential blocks” warrant a good deal more attention. With today’s streaming video technology instructional simulations of this nature are much more tractable.

All I’m trying to say is that there ARE alternatives to “Content Standards/Accountability via Standardized Tests.” Tinkering with either the standards and/or the tests won’t be productive. The claim that we’ll go “backward” if we drop the failed orientation is a straw man, or more aptly a scarecrow. The Standards orientation hasn’t taken us “forward.” We can continue to be concerned with the “usual” social and demographic categories of current interest and can hold not only teachers and schools accountable, but also publishers and educational officials at local and state levels.

Anonymous said...

I would like to see Dick give some examples of the key performance indicators for reading.

JH: I think adding a fluency requirement is a great suggestion. "You need to be able to lift ten 50 pound boxes onto a truck bed in 5 minutes."

Parry: Fill in the blank "maze assessments" require excellent reading comprehension.

As an example, please fill in the blank below from today's new york times front page:

Premier of Iraq Is Quietly Firing Fraud Monitors
By JAMES GLANZ and RIYADH MOHAMMED

The _________, which were confirmed by senior Iraqi and American government officials, come as estimates of Iraqi corruption soar.


As for history standards, do any of the state standards actually require students to know ANY specific dates in US history?

This is one of those critical low level easy to measure skills whose absence proves that the standards are designed to avoid accountability.

Tracy W said...

1. They tell you what you must teach and therefore allow no possibility of doing things differently.

This depends on the standard. An outcomes-based standard does not require a particular way of achieving a goal. A process-based standard does. The difference may be rational - eg for medical testing you need to meet certain process standards to know that the result is valid (eg control groups, double-blind, etc), but it would be stupid to prescibe an outcome. A school may use both sorts of standards - eg outcomes-based ones for skills like maths and English, process-based ones for standards of behaviour (eg ethical standards such as teachers must not have relationships with pupils, neither pupils nor staff should swear, etc.)

2. They are always testing-oriented.

How otherwise do you know if the standard has been achieved? Also, I note that process-based standards are not necessarily testing-orientated.

3. They always say what the student must understand and must know and must be able to explain which is a code for we will tell him this and then he will tell it back to us.

Well, not necessarily. For example, in NZ when I went through high school, the high school curriculum for academic subjects was effectively set by the external exams for entering university. One of the purposes of those external exams was to produce a range of marks that distinguished between students so the university departments such as medicine or vet or engineering could pick off the "brightest" applicants, and universities overall could not admit the least prepared. Therefore the exam questions would be a mix of straight-out recall of facts, straight-out application of skills, and questions that required some more understanding. For example the history exam for Bursary covered Elizabethan and Jacobian English history from 1558 to 1666, and would include an essay question that changed significantly from year-to-year. One essay question was "Was the inflation a good thing or a bad thing?" There was no right answer that inflation was good or that it was bad, what mattered was the historical accuracy of the arguments you mastered.

4. They invariably do not allow for freedom on the part of the student to get interested in one thing while not being interested in another.

This is not surprising as they are standards. And if standards are wisely written, then standards cover the things that people need to know to achieve some higher goal. For example, to be able to study engineering at university, it is necessary to know a good deal of preliminary maths, such as calculus. Even if a student is not interested in calculus for calculus's sake, it's sensible for an university engineering school to set a standard that every student they admit must be able to do it. Even if a lifeguard is not interested in being able to perform CPR, this is a skill they need to be qualified as a lifeguard as any employer would expect them to be able to perform CPR.

Of course standards may cover things that are not necessary for whatever the end goal is. But this is not invariable.
It's also possible for standards to allow for some alternative forms of study.

5. They are made by a committee that always insists on listing all the things any person in that field must know without realizing that knowledge comes after doing not before.

I am not sure about the relevance of this. The normal process I understand is that you teach the subject, the students practice the subject, and thus they gain the knowledge that comes from doing, and then an external party tests to see that this has all happened. This is of course not always perfectly possible, eg in the lifeguard case, ethics mean that life-saving skills like CPR and the Heimlich manevour can only be practiced on dummies, not on real people, so the real knowledge of what it is to save a human life cannot be taught. But I don't see what can be done about that under any real-life educational system.

There can be bad standards. But then anything complex can be done well or badly.

Tracy W said...

Parry Graham - reading your later comment, about what the key performance indicators are for higher-level subjects. My experience from studying at high school and university was that studying past exam questions was as important a way of grasping what was going on as the standards directly. My mother, when she was teaching high school, would always volunteer to be an exam marker, even though it was just before Xmas and thus a very busy time for a woman with young kids and a big family, so she could see what the examiners were looking for and what kind of mistakes students in her subject were making.

So for history, say, the examiners or standard setters, should be publishing examples of an A-level essay, a B-level essay, a C-level essay and a D-level essay that they expect of the students (this is easier in a system that has been going for years, so everyone has an idea of what that age-group of students is capable of for A-level work). And, as our history exams included analysis of original sources, sample questions on the analysis of original sources. These are a reasonably good guide to what sort of skills are expected to be displayed without specifying them exactly (jh, the time limit was, for scheduling reasons, 3 hours for each exam as a whole).
One then of course needs a system for inter-examiner reliability. The system used in NZ when I did this was as follows:
- the exam questions are publicly released immediately after the exam, and if a question is written badly, then it's frontpage news for the national newspapers.
- exams are marked by high school teachers in the subjects in question. (Students are identified by numbers, not by names, and the exams are sent to different parts of the country for marking to help preserve anonymity.) The teachers volunteer for this, and are paid extra if they do so.
- the markers get sample exam answers, and are formed into groups to discuss unexpected answers. The groups can refer difficult questions back to the central exam board.
- the marker draws a line through any unanswered question or blank section of the answer book, and the answers are then returned to students, who can appeal their marking for a price.

It works reasonably well in the sciences and history in that the students who you would expect to do well do so. I dumped English the moment I could, but I'm not sure how much of my disgust was due to a poor curriculum to start with and how much due to the bad luck of having a series of poor teachers.

The standards themselves for history cover a mix of subjects to be covered (the country, the time period, the list of issues (political, social, economic) and the skills. Eg at age 15/16 the essays were merely meant to be a coherent answer that covered the relevant facts, at age 17 they were expected to be a proper argument making a conclusion with supporting evidence.

Parry Graham said...

Tracy,

I like your point that one can infer standards from assessments—if you look at the exam questions asked at the end of a course, you can get a pretty reliable picture of what the expected learning outcomes were.

Building on several of Dick’s comments, one could extrapolate out to the standards/standardized testing model. Too see what a state really expects students to know and be able to do, look at their standardized tests, not their standards. (There was an interesting study done in the state of Washington, focusing on the extent to which Washington teachers taught to state standards or to state tests. The upshot was that teachers focused much more heavily on state tests as curriculum guidelines, as opposed to the written standards. If anyone is interested, I can find the citation.) This gets into the notion of triangular alignment between the written, tested, and taught curricula, which can be three very different things.

So, building on Tracy’s point, I will change my challenge question (which neither Dick nor Anon appear to have taken up yet): What are the 5-11 assessment questions or tasks that you would propose to determine whether or not a teenage student has mastered the Key Performance Indicators in Chemistry or US History (and with no regard to specific grade or age, per Dick’s point; i.e., what would any age teenager need to demonstrate to be considered “capability certified” in these subjects)? Or, if you wish, pick a different high school-appropriate subject or discipline.

Dick Schutz said...

Tracy W and I are using “Key Performance Standards” in very different ways. I’d agree that if you want to zero in on what’s likely to be involved on the next test, the best place to look is to previous such tests. This is “teaching to the test” and it’s what “test prep” outfits concentrate on doing. It’s also what contributes to “test score inflation” on standardized tests.

That’s much different than "5-11 measures that mark the scenario for delivering a significant specified instructional aspiration."

As for examples of KPIs for reading, it might be possible to do this for DI, but it would take someone more familiar with the nuts and bolts of the instruction than I am. Otherwise, the orientation to reading in the US is totally out of whack with the orientation. We don’t begin to test, until Grade 3, which is after instruction in the “how to” of reading is finished.

One has to go to the UK to look for examples. The UK government has adopted “Synthetic Phonics” with Instruction that begins in Reception (Kindergarten) and ends in Year (Grade 2). The instruction is defined in “Letters and Sounds,” which is “materials-free” government “Guidance.”

www.standards.dfes.gov.uk/local/clld/las.html

Phases 2-6 provide the basis for KPI’s.

Schools may choose to cobble the materials required to implement L&S or they may choose to use a “commercial program.”

L&S follows Jolly Phonics and JP clones (almost to the point of plagiarism), so the L&S phases are readily adapted to the L&S “Phases” and to KPI’s

www.jollylearning.co.uk

The 12 “Units” of Phonics International also provide the basis for KPI’s

www.phonicsinternational.com

The Reading Mastery Tests of BRI-ARI, published by Piper Books constitute the most fully fleshed out KPI’s at the present time

www.piperbooks.co.uk/documents/Performance_Indicators.pdf

I happen to have had a hand in constructing these, so obviously “I approve of these KPIs.” But I provide the link here to tout the alternative to “standards and standardized tests” rather than to tout BRI-ARI. Comparing program architectures is a whole nother story.

Tracy W said...

. I’d agree that if you want to zero in on what’s likely to be involved on the next test, the best place to look is to previous such tests.

Well, to look at the test answers as well. The questions on these tests were a mixture of multi-choice, short answer and long answer questions, which is why the marking system was so complicated. (In the maths exams there were a mix of the multi-choice questions and longer problems in which you got some marks if your working was right even if the end answer was wrong)

More generally, if you want every kid to learn a complex skill, like "writing a persuasive essay", I think giving specific examples of what successful applications of those skills look like can be a more transparent way to go than by trying to specify the abstract form.

As for Parry Graham's challenge, I am not an American, but from my knowledge of US history, which is probably awfully biased to outward views, I would say that KPI for a US history course should be something like:
1. Date the first American Indian settlements, the first European settlements, the American revolution, the writing of the American constitution, the American civil war, WWI and WWII, the Vietnam War, the American Civil Rights movement and the end of the Cold War to the right decades (except obviously for the start of the first American settlements, which is an answer liable to change anyway based on anthropological discoveries). This should give a framework to American history.
2. Be able to write a short answer - say 3 to 4 sentences, describing the above events. For example: "The American Revolution was when the existing colonies of North America overthrew the authority of the British King and formed independent self-governing states. The revolution started by a dispute over taxes in the 1770s. In response to protests, the British sent troops to try to enforce British authority. The troops were defeated by the colonists and the American constitution was formed in the 1780s.
3. Be able to write an essay describing the causes or effects of any of the above events. Include sample essays for A quality, B quality, C quality, D quality work.
4. Know the growth in GDP per capita in the uSA from the date of the American Revolution to 2000 AD to the nearest 100% of accuracy (not sure if I've gotten that wording right).
5. Be able to write an essay explaining theories of the causation of this growth. Again, sample essays.
6. Be able to write an essay laying out your views as to whether any of the above events were a good or bad thing, with supporting relevant historically-accurate evidence. Again sample essays.

Parry Graham said...

Bravo Tracy!

And whether one agrees or disagrees with Tracy's KPIs, my larger point is this: Now that we have our high-level indicators, we have to start to break each indicator down into sub-objectives. If students need to be able to write a short essay describing the civil rights movement, then they need to know X, Y, and Z about that movement. If students need to be able to describe the causes and effects of WWI, then they need to know X, Y, and Z about the situation in the world at that time.

These are what standards purport to be--a specific description of the knowledge and capabilities that students need to have to meet the larger goals of a course of study.

So back to what I think was my original question: Aren't these KPIs? Aren't they capability certifications? Aren't they standards?

Aren't these just semantic games, different ways of saying the exact same thing: Specifying what students should know and be able to do? And don't the KPIs, capability certifications, or standards become more complex and difficult to articulate/measure as we move into the upper grades?

Dick Schutz said...

“Aren't these KPIs? Aren't they capability certifications?”

Well, sorry, but they’re not. Here's why. They have the same flaws as “behavioral objectives” and “criterion tests.” They represent “just-noticeable differences” but not “inter-ocular differences”—differences that have any functional utility. Rather than seeking to define downward into smaller and smaller elements, “Educational Intelligence”—the counterpart to “Business Intelligence”—seeks to cumulatively build to a larger enablement.
For those who are psychometrically inclined, KPI’s constitute a Guttman-like scale—where performance on a measure subsumes performance on preceding measures. The Snellen eye chart used in driver’s license exams incorporates the notion.

And don't the KPIs, capability certifications…. become more complex and difficult to articulate/measure as we move into the upper grades?

Well, again, the answer is "not really." The contention holds only because there is currently no capability certification at lower grades to build on. Kids start “normally distributed” and they remain so until they graduate or drop out. Normal distributions are observed only when the determinants of the phenomenon are multiple and complex. In other words, the phenomenon is not “out of control.” That’s exactly what we have in instruction.

What we SHOULD be seeing in instruction is a distribution where the kids pile up at the low end of the curve at the onset of the instruction because they “can’t do it” and at the upper end, because they “can do it.”

The nature of capability certification DOES shift in the upper grades. With “little kids,” the focus is on foundational functions. Reading and arithmetic are the foremost, but composition, and both productive and receptive media capability are relevant to further academic instruction.

For middle “tweens” it makes sense to make provision for a wide range of possible “duffer” capabilities—largely at the kid’s choosing. This experience will roughly net what we now minimally “hope for” at the time of high school graduation. “High school” can then be a time either for college prep or for prep to enter the work force.

Beyond the “little kid” basics, well-formed course descriptions seem to me to be the reasonable template for conveying the instructional aspirations involved.

All I’ve been trying to say is that the claim, “Standards and standardized tests have their limitations but there is no other way. If we drop them, things will go to hell in a wheelbarrow” (words to that effect) just doesn’t hold water. There’s at least one other way, and likely others.

Parry Graham said...

Dick,

You've completely lost me. I thought I knew what you meant by KPIs and capability certifications, but clearly I did not.

Could you please provide some hard examples of KPIs and capability certifications for any subject matter, discipline, skill set, or course description at a middle or high school level?

Dick Schutz said...

Oops, I did it again, Parry. Sorry. The “certification of capability” logic is an alternative to “standards and accountability” logic. The two don’t mix and it’s hard to get on the alternative wave length.

“Grades” don’t have a lot to do with it. There are academic matters that lend themselves readily to KPI’s –reading and math being the most prominent. With these as foundational, one can move to larger definitional blocks—courses. Although there are some age-related considerations with respect to physical and psychological maturity, by and large the structure of courses isn’t age/grade governed.

I’ve proposed that a well-formed course description will clarify the following:

* Prerequisites—What capability accomplishments are required to begin the Course
* Certifiable Accomplishments—What will be learned
* Materials—What gear is entailed
* Personnel Requirements—Who will conduct the Course
* Relationship to other Courses—Direct lateral and hierarchical links

The whole matter is treated in an article:

www.tcrecord.org/content.asp?
contentid=11024

I don’t know where to find any example that meets these specs, and I haven’t personally pursued the matter. But my sense is that there are approximations around and that it wouldn’t be too tough to put a structure together. The crux is the last consideration—the structure of capabilities. It’s what is currently lacking in defining academic choices/routes.

The logic has been applied most extensively in the info tech sector and has been the basis for the education/training that built the sector. You can get some sense of how it works there from

www.microsoft.com/learning/mcp/certifications.mspx

It seems to me that the logic can be directly extrapolated to el-hi schooling and that it provides a way out of the failed logic of “standards.”

I recognize that the “consensus” is still trying to make "Standards" work. I just We've talked about what NC is doing. At the other extreme, a few members of the Texas State Board of Education, overnight, rewrote the State “English Language Arts and Reading” Standards which purport to define TX instruction for the next 8-10 years. The “new” TX standards are a lot like the old, and both bear all the kinds of flaws that NC is trying to eliminate. Go figure.

Tracy W said...

What's the difference between "Certifiable Accomplishments" and standards?

Dick Schutz said...

"Standards" are a list of statements, for the most part referencing content, arrayed by grade which represent "expectations."

"Certifiable Accomplishments" are statements of transparent specified capabilities, independent of grade, applied after rather the before the instruction. Each capability can be verified independently of a "test" if there is any uncertainty about the accomplishment.

Dick Schutz said...

Well, this isn’t dead-center “on topic,” but I cite it to show the emptiness of the “Standards and Accountability” route. The U.S. Dept of Ed yesterday released the Final Report of the 3-Year “Reading First Impact Study.”

www.abtassociates.com/reports/Reading_First_Final_Report_
11-06-08.pdf

“Non-impact” would be more apt. The Report’s closing sentence is a non-sequitur whimper:
“The study finds, on average, that after several years of funding the Reading First program, it has a consistent positive effect on reading instruction yet no statistically significant impact on student reading comprehension.”

That’s like saying, “The operation had a positive effect on the surgeon’s actions, yet the patient died.”

The “positive effect” is based on teachers’ self-reports of how much instructional they spent on the “5 essentials” (termed in the report “dimensions.”) But the examples given to illustrate the “essentials/pillars/dimensions” suggest that neither teachers nor researchers had much understanding of what makes for reliable instruction. Here are the two “phonics” examples”

A group of 16 students has assembled in front of the classroom blackboard. The teacher writes the letters oi on the board and says, “Ok, now today we’re going to be learning about words that have o,i in them. When you see these vowels together, they make the /oy/ sound. Here’s an example.” The teacher writes a sentence on the board: I want Roger to join my club. She underlines the letters oi in the word join. “This word is join. ‘I want Roger to join my club. See that oi? What sound does oi make?” [students respond, some of them incorrectly]. “Ok, listen carefully. Not /eye/… no, oi makes the /oy/ sound. Everyone try that: /oy/.” [students in unison say /oy/]. “Ok, good, now what’s this word [she points to join]?” The students pronounce join correctly. “Excellent, ok, let’s try another one.” She writes the word coin on the board. “Boys and girls, look at that oi in the word. Sound out this word for me.”

Six students are seated with a teacher. Each student has a set of individual magnetic letters and a metal tray. The teacher is asking students to form words that she dictates orally: “Ok, listen to the word, think about the sounds and what letters go with those sounds. Remember that we’ve been working with the /ō/ sound and its spellings. We know that one way to spell that is with o, a. Try to make the word using your letters. The first word is goat. Use your letters to make the word goat. Students assemble their letters and the teacher checks each student’s work. “Good. Everyone used o, a to spell goat. Ok, let’s try another word: float.” Students form the word with their letters. “Ok, good! You’re doing very well. Now, we also know another way to spell some words with the long /ō/ sound. Remember the silent e rule? It makes the vowel say its name. So, to spell the word tote, Arthur, tell me how we’d write tote?”
---------------------

Here are the “with Reading First” and “Without” percentages of kids “at or above grade level” on the Stanford 10 Comprehension Test:

Gr 1 46.0 41.8
Gr 2 38.7 37.8
Gr 3 38.7 38.8

The Stanford Comp test is an insensitive measure of reading expertise, but even taking that into consideration, there is a goodly proportion of kids who aren’t being reliably taught to read. And the best shot of Reading First doesn’t come much closer to the mark than “without.”

A “Decoding Skills” test was administered, but for reasons not provided, it was administered only at the end of the study and only at Grade 1. RF kids were at the 42nd %ile and “without” at the 35th %ile. Both groups are still below the mean, but the difference, while not “gee whiz” is the largest the study identified. Had the study used more appropriate measures and overall more appropriate methodology, who knows?

The thing is, RF was the best implementation of the “New Science of Reading” and “programs based on scientifically based research. The study methodology was the “gold standard. And “Standards and Accountability by Standardized Tests” was the horse that RF rode in on.

For understandable reasons, the Report was released quietly, and after the national election rather than before. Where’s “accountability” when we really need it?

Tracy W said...

Dick - sorry, I still don't see the difference. When I think about educational standards, I think of ones that are things that students should know after the teaching, which sounds to me just like your "Certifiable Accomplishments".

(Leaving aside of course process-standards, like "no swearing" and so forth).

Dick Schutz said...

Tracy W says: "When I think about educational standards, I think of ones that are things that students should know after the teaching."

Fair enough. The difference is subtle but highly consequential. The operative term here is "should know." "Certified Accomplishments," by contrast, are things that students "can do" after the teaching.

You can't build academic expertise on "shoulds." "Standards" just lead to metaphorical "strands" or into "higher order" abstractions that are unteachable. (That's overstated, but not by a lot.

A Certified Accomplishment is something that you can "take to the instructional bank," so to speak. That is, it's possible to use the student's expertise as a foundation for instruction on other Accomplishments that can then be certified. Each time, you have confidence that the student has the necessary prerequisites for the instruction; you have a scenario for the instruction that will deliver the accomplishment, and you have a transparent means of determining when the accomplishment has been delivered.

None of these "essentials" are present in prevailing el-hi instruction.

Parry Graham said...

Sort of along the lines of our discussion, here's an interesting blog post from a friend of mine who is a middle school language arts teacher. The post focuses on his frustration with dealing with, on a day-to-day basis, the kinds of issues we're discussing in the abstract.

Dick Schutz said...

Interesting blog and the comments are also interesting.

Your comment, Parry, makes sense:

"as a teacher you have:
-Thought through what it is you want students to learn from a given assignment, which may have even involved considering school, district, or state curriculum guidelines
-Turned that objective into language that makes sense to your students
-Explicitly told your students what you want them to accomplish"

But there are several sticking points in defining intentions at the "assignment" level

What do you do with kids who don't "get it"?

What are the lateral and hierarchical connections of the assignment?

If each teacher bends and adjusts the objectives, you get a kaleidoscopic endeavor.

I don't believe these obstacles can be overcome within "Content Standards" logic.

Tracy W said...

"Certified Accomplishments," by contrast, are things that students "can do" after the teaching.

What if the students can't do it?

I'm all in favour of an educational system that sets standards that are achievable and there's a research-based way of achieving them. But I find it hard to believe in a system that can, 100% of the time, churn out students that always achieve the "Certified Accomplishments". 95% of the time is plausible, 99% of the time perhaps if the school is really running efficiently. But there's always some messiness in life, so I think your "Certified Accomplishments" are the same as well-designed standards.

You can't build academic expertise on "shoulds." "Standards" just lead to metaphorical "strands" or into "higher order" abstractions that are unteachable.

I don't follow. When did, say, the standards I suggested for US history become unteachable? I was taught the history of WWII at high school, reasonably successfully I think.
And when did "higher order" abstractions become unteachable? Algebra is a higher-order abstraction of arithmetic, but I distinctly recall being taught that.
As for being unable to build academic ability on "shoulds", that's why you test at the end of the course to see if the students have actually achieved what they should have achieved. In the NZ system when I went through, one of the standards of entry to engineering school was a pass on the Mathematics with Calculus bursary exam. A student who could meet that standard had, presumably, a base for the engineering curriculum to build on academically (the engineering faculty might of course have made a mistake in their entry criteria).

I think we are using the words "standards" in subtly different ways.

Dick Schutz said...

Tracy W says: "I think we are using the words 'standards' in subtly different ways."

Precisely. That's exactly what I said, and I went on to try to explain why the differences are highly consequential.

Algebra is not a higher order abstraction of arithmetic. Not in the same sense that "higher order thinking skills," "problem solving skills" and such are. abstraction. Setting prerequisites, such as "calculus" is certainly reasonable, and is consistent with the Certified Accomplishments logic. But that's a far cry from the hundreds of "content standards" that prevail for each subject and grade in el-hi instruction.

By the way, if anyone wants to cut through the fog of "standards and accountability by standardized tests" for a few minutes, try looking at what one shoes-on-the-floor classroom teacher who has given some thought to the matter has to say about "Not Leaving the Children Behind."

http://www.pasadenastarnews.com/opinions/ci_11059555

Tracy W said...

Algebra is not a higher order abstraction of arithmetic. Not in the same sense that "higher order thinking skills," "problem solving skills" and such are. abstraction.

I don't get this. Algebra is an extremely useful problem solving skill. I personally use it several times a week to solve problems. And if it's not a higher-order abstraction of arithmetic, or a higher-order thinking skill, then what is it?

Also, you haven't answered my earlier questions. In particular:

Is it possible for a course to be taught and there still be a student who can't accomplish the "certified accomplishments"?

And, when did topics like "the history of WWII" become unteachable?

My guess is what is going on here is that you are arguing against some particular implmentation of standards. I don't think tht the problems with bad standards can be solved by creating something else that is called "Certifiable Accomplishments" - the same forces that cause governments to write bad standards will cause them to write bad "Certifiable Accomplishments".

As for the NCLB - that teacher's school is storing up problems for itself. Under the NCLB it is expected to bring nearly every kid up to proficiency in a few years' time (the exception being 1% who can be assesssed by alternative standards) . By neglecting the currently low-performing kids they're losing valuable time in figuring out how to educate every single kid to the levels of proficiency. But hey, why should us taxpayers expect teachers and school administrators to think about the long-term?

Dick Schutz said...

To respond to Tracy W’s questions.

Algebra is an important component of mathematics. Capability to perform arithmetic computations is a prerequisite for instruction in algebra. I’ve stated that it’s feasible and reasonable to teach algebra to students who have this prerequisite. The delivering of such students would represent a Certified Accomplishment.

“Is it possible for a course to be taught and there still be a student who can't accomplish the ‘certified accomplishments’?

Well, a Certified Accomplishment is singular rather than plural. With a well-formed course description, the accomplishment is transparent and any uncertainty as to its accomplishment can readily be eliminated. The focus is on the Accomplishments that HAVE been achieved.

I never contended that a well-formed course description of the “History of World War I” couldn’t be constructed.

I certainly didn’t mean to imply that I’d look to a “government to write Certifiable Accomplishments.” Such statements are neither “good” or ‘bad” They are statements of specified instructional aspirations that are accompanied by Key Performance Indicators that permit the accomplishment to be tracked and certified.

NCLB treats “proficiency” as cut scores on ungrounded tests and imposes a statistically unattainable “adequate yearly progress” mandate on teachers and schools. This is the situation the teacher is reflecting on.

Parry Graham said...

Dick,

Translating into edspeak, I believe you're talking about benchmarks and gateways. Student A demonstrates that she can accomplish tasks X, Y, and Z, therefore she is ready to move on to the next set of benchmarks in that subject area. After meeting certain benchmarks across multiple subject areas, she is ready to pass through a gateway on to a more sophisticated level of learning. Does that sound somewhat accurate?

Two questions. Are you okay with mixed-age classrooms, in which students of different ages are working toward the same benchmarks? How do you accomplish this structurally?

And one additional point. You said to Tracy that "Capability to perform arithmetic computations is a prerequisite for instruction in algebra". But don't you need to identify which specific arithmetic computations are a prerequisite for instruction in algebra? Simple addition and subtraction alone aren't enough. And doesn't that lead you back to something like standards, maybe just arranged within a framework of benchmarks and gateways?

Dick Schutz said...

Well, “benchmarks” and “gateways” are sorta in the ballpark. But they’re more convoluted. With the logic I’ve been trying to talk about, you want to keep the prerequisites as parsimonious as possible, and the Certifiable Accomplishment structure as simple as possible. The aim isn’t to constrain, but to open up student choices. Again, these are subtle differences, but again, they’re highly consequential. In el-hi ed we seem to have a penchant for making matters complex as possible rather than as simple as possible, and involving as many elements rather than as few as possible. The verbiage very quickly gets out of hand. People mouth it, but act on it “variously.”

Another point that may help clarify the difference in the orientations, is that the alternative logic is always concerned with the instructional wherewithal for reliably accomplishing the specified aspiration. This is pinned down in terms of “program” with tested reliability of effect, and time and cost considerations. The deliberation does not occur “before” or “apart from” the consideration of “instruction” and the “achievement testing” is transparent and not a third separate realm. “Alignment” of standards, instruction and measurement sounds good, but it is just not feasible. It hasn’t occurred in the past; isn’t occurring now; and won’t occur in the future.

Yes, I’m very much OK with “mixed age” classrooms. But it’s also possible to have “same age” at different points in the Key Performance Indicators. Physical development constraints aside, “age” has very little to do with instructional accomplishments.

And Yes, I was talking fast when I said that “Capability to perform arithmetic computations is a prerequisite for instruction in algebra.” But I wouldn’t go back into “standards, gateways, and such” in doing the additional work to clarify the instruction in arithmetic. I’d use the same logic that I’ve been talking about for reading. That work is much easier in math than in reading. It seems to me that the Report of the National Math Panel provides a good basis for the work, but I don’t see anyone doing anything with the Report. It’s quite possible there is activity I don’t know about.

Tracy W said...

Well "certified accomplishments", or "certified accomplishment"s sound just like outcome standards done well to me.

As for why I thought you were saying that the history of WWII was unteachable, I proposed a set of standards that included covering the history of WWII, and you later on wrote: ""Standards" just lead to metaphorical "strands" or into "higher order" abstractions that are unteachable."
I do not believe that standards just lead to things that are unteachable, as I was taught the history of WWII at high school. This is why I offered it as a counter-example to your blanket statement. There of course can be bad standards, but I don't believe that setting a standard automatically turns a subject into unteachable things.

Dick Schutz said...

Tracy W says" I don't believe that setting a standard automatically turns a subject into unteachable things.

I certainly don't believe that either.

However. A goodly number of the statements found in standards are unteachable, repeated from one grade to another, or included to satisfy some special interest.

State and local standards are formed by committee. They reflect consensus beliefs without any empirical coupling of time and materiel for teaching the standard.

Parry Graham said...

"State and local standards are formed by committee. They reflect consensus beliefs without any empirical coupling of time and materiel for teaching the standard."

Very true.

Who would be a better body to develop the KPIs and certifiable accomplishments (or standards, but I know you won't like that term)?

D said...

Parry asks: "Who would be a better body to develop the KPIs and certifiable accomplishments [than a committee]."

Well, the KPI's define a given certifiable accomplishment. It's really an individual intellectual task although certainly other individuals can contribute and help refine.

The task is to generate a scenario that describes how one would go about delivering the specified aspiration, using the prerequisites as the start and ending with the accomplishment specified. The KPI's are the 5-11 markers of the scenario.

You need some sort of a structure to bring to bear on the task. In reading, this is the Alphabetic Code. In math, it's the number system. In other domains. it's the structure of the discipline, where as I've indicated, well-formed course descriptions are appropriate means for certifying accomplishments.

The proof of the pudding is the reliable delivery of the "practically significant" academic capabilities. It's an empirical matter and it's an iterative matter.

There is no single scenario for delivering a certifiable accomplishment. But neither are there a very large number of reasonable and feasible alternatives.

It's conceivable that if a "Standards Committee" were forced to attach time and instructional scenario to each standards statement, the effort would evolve into KPIs. But this has never happened. The lateral and hierarchical links at the micro-level of standards statements are too numerous, too weak. To get the illusion of connections, metaphorical "strands" are introduced. But that's mere word play.

kelsey fisher said...

I think that standards are important. Without them our world would be in complete chaos. Especially in education. I think that without standards we would have no curriculum to set ways to determine when a student can move on to the next grade or how teachers should teach. Standards don't need to be strict, but i think that without at least a broad term for standards, nothing would get accomplished and the school system would fail.

Paul B said...

With respect to mathematics standards, through middle school...

Standards are (at least in my state, MA) wrapped up in pedagogical clothing, i.e. they don't reflect the hierarchical nature of the mathematical content. They reflect a desire to impart spiral, constructivist, grade level attributes to a discipline ideally unsuited for such treatment.

The only thing this accomplishes is to instill in the student an advanced state of learned helplessness and abject loathing of anything mathematical. I would submit that given the current belief system of the 'leaders' in math education, this is the sort of thing that would move to a national level and it would be a remarkably bad thing to do.

Sadly, Massachusetts standards are revered in some quarters. In our classrooms, not so much.

I have kids in my grade 7 classroom with accepted national testing scores (NWEA MAP) with a std deviation of about 1.5 years (so 4 sigma is six years). This is a spiral curriculum in action. 13 year olds are adding single digit numbers on their fingers under our standards!

Dick Schutz said...

Thank you, Paul. Mouthing "standards" doesn't keep kids from counting on their fingers if they're instructed in "discovering mathematics" but not in arithmetic.

Dick Schutz said...

What the President-elect and the new Secretary of Education will have to say about “Standards” and “NCLB” is anyone’s guess. Both are presently basking in pre-honeymoon media coverage.

For background on the new Secretary’s tenure in Chicago, the best source is the Internet site “District 299.”

www.district299.com

“Hosted by journalist Alexander Russo, District 299: The Chicago Schools Blog is a 24/7 gathering place for Chicago education news, official and otherwise.”

When it comes to reading instruction, Duncan was anything but a “reformer.” The substance of the “Chicago Reading Initiative” was formulated between 1999-2002—prior to NCLB. It hasn’t been changed since. The ”Chicago Miracle,” like the “Texas Miracle,” was miraculous only in press releases.

www.intranet.cps.k12.il.us/Universal/II_Stories/Reading_Initiative/reading_initiative.html

I happen to believe(for what that’s worth)that Duncan was the best possible choice. The job of Ed Sec has little in common with that of a City Supt. The Fed job is not particularly more difficult than the City job; it’s just different.

Yes he can? We sure have to hope so.

Dr. Kwame M. Brown said...

What a circular discussion. It started with folks decrying standards, and ended with a consensus that we need standards.

what if I told you I thought that the problem wasn't standards at all, that we could make standards irrelevant real quick?

How about the mood of the children? That's right, I said the mood. We are so full of ourselves that we are spending all of our time talking about what we want them to know or whether we even want them to know it - We forget to ask how interested they are in knowing it.

I truly believe that this is the key to our solution here. Looking at it from the other end, no matter how many standards we have (or not) the central issue is whether kids are finding what they are learning interesting. These are primate brains people. They are interested in novel stimuli, and since they are higher order, they have very well developed associational cortices.

They operate by finding new things and conecting them to other insteresting things. What if we aren't giving them anything interesting.

The war of 1812 happened in 1812. "Big f'ing deal", I would say. Why was it fought? What emotions have I experienced that those people did that went to war? You see, the dates just give a placeholder. We want to evaluate placeholders, and we forget to set out the meat.

What do you remember long term? The things that have an emotional content. The things that speak to your "core". Think about that, and let me know what your thoughts are. How happy, engaged, and interested are kids in school?

Time is likely not the answer. Money is likely not the answer.
Standards, while they have a place and are slightly useful, are likely not the answer.

Dick Schutz said...

Hmm, Dr. Brown. We have a "communication problem." There has never been a consensus favoring "Standards" in this thread. Quite the contrary.

But that aside. If "mood" is the key, how do you propose reliably changing it?

Is changing "mood" prerequisite to reliably teaching kids to read and do arithmetic?

Kids enter K-1 well-motivated. If they're not taught to read, "mood" goes sour fast.

It would seem that "retaining" good mood, is all that's required.

Paul B said...

In the real world, standards evolve to serve the consumer. In the education world, standards evolve to spread the gospel and fatten the disciples.

Here is a longer exposition on the contrasts over time of standards.

Dick Schutz said...

Good plug for your blog, Paul. I bit, and posted a positive comment.

Paul B said...

I agree the consequence in my post is a bit polemic but from my classroom observations, maybe not so much.

I fear we are not producing well rounded, literate, reasoning, thinkers. And yes, it's a stretch to blame that on math standards but it does make me go hmmmmmmm.

Dr. Kwame M. Brown said...

Mr. Schutz:

As I see it, there were several discussions on this thread about which types of requirements we should have to evaluate success.

My point is that most people who are truly successful at something are because of an affinity that they have for it. Granted, it is sometimes a tortured affinity given the premium that our society places on acheiving success at the behest of the whims of others. But there is some sort of affinity.

My point was that we seem to spend an overwhelming amount of time debating requirements. this is an old debate (I am the product of two successful educators, so I have been hearing this discussion since I was 6-7 years old at the dinner table).

It seems to me that we need to get children excited about learning (or maintain that excitement, definitely concede the point about kindergarteners, but I would like to reach back and get those wwe've already lost, too). The only reliable way to do that is to be excited ourselves. The only reliable way to do that is to have teachers who are paid well enough, and just as importantly supported well enough in the classroom to retain their own excitement.

Furthermore, we must make some societal changes that value exploration and the thirst for knowledge.

I will make my own plug here (smile). I discuss some more on this topic at http://drkwamebrown.wordpress.com

AND CALL ME KWAME! I am certainly not learned enough to be called Dr. by another adult.

Dr. Kwame M. Brown said...

P.S. I am not saying, by the way, that I don't believe in requirements. I would just like to see a little bit more balance in where we put our energy.

Paul B said...

Kwame, I agree with your sentiments on balance. I work in a 'failing' district. As you probably appreciate, this puts teachers and curricula firmly in the grip of a bureaucratic fruit press that squeezes out balance in favor of torrents of standards.

We have; standards for bulletin boards, standards for three ring binders, standards for tables of content, standards for word walls, standards for displaying student work, and even standards for how to arrange our desks. These are all wrapped up in state standards and district curriculum maps. The irony of it all escapes many, methinks.

Here we are preparing kids for success in the most competitive free market, democratic, and capitalistic society on the planet in a centrally managed, micro standardized, tightly scripted, impossible to fail in, socially funded, public education system. Sometimes I wonder if there wasn't more balance in those old one room school houses with bare foot kids and pot bellied coal stoves.

Dick Schutz said...

Jeesh. We already have "balanced literacy"-the old Whole Language, with a smattering of incomplete and inconsistent "phonics." Now we have a push for another "balance"--between "emotions" and "standards."

In both instances the "how to" of reliably delivering kids who can read and do math capably falls through the cracks. To say nothing of other capabilities.

Take care of the kids' academic learning and the emotions will take care of themselves.

The "bailout" of older kids who have been mis-instructed indeed warrants attention. But a goodly proportion of each new cohort of K-1 kids are instructionally lost/crippled because we keep doing the same thing, irrespective of the rhetorical squabbling, expecting different results when nothing has changed instructionally.

Dr. Kwame M. Brown said...

My points about affinity are not some touchy-feely appeal to be more emotional.

They are rooted in sound developmental neuroscience. We are talking about motivation to learn. Sitting kids in chairs for 8 hours a day is one of the biggest problems we have.

Kids do not learn best through rote memorization. Yes, certainly the instructional quality needs to be addressed. That is exactly what I'm saying! Kids don't learn because we require the right things. They learn because they want to. We must address the wanting to before we address the issue of requirements. Otherwise, we will continue to fail our kids.

To understand the argument for affinity and stimulation is to understand the most basic concepts in neuroscience.

We always retreat to requirements because it is simpler to solve, and we can look really smart because we have a concrete solution that can be written on paper.

However, when you really come down to it, affinity for learning and knowledge is mostly a cultural issue. It is mostly an issue of affinity. All the requirements and railing against the system will not change that.

How do you propose to "take care" of the academic learning? How is it going to be made more stimulating just by definig what the requirements are and what they mean? That is the challenge for the next few decades.

Dick Schutz said...

Well, we've switched from "mood" to "affinity" and we're talking at cross purposes with straw men in between, and with an appeal to "neuroscience." The matter of "standards" has morphed into "requirements."

I've said how I'd propose to "take care of" academic learning. Read the thread. If you want to explore that further, or detail how you would take care of "mood/affinity/motivation" that might be productive, Kwame.

Dr. Kwame M. Brown said...

Wow! It seems I struck a nerve and have angered you. That is always evident when the air quotes surface.

For you to quote neuroscience so dismissively seems to show a little bit of disdain on your part, but that's fine. I will merely inform you that I hold a Ph.D. in neuroscience from Georgetown University. I also work with children every day. I have created motor skill development programs that have served thousands of children. Quite obviously I can't truly flesh out a whole subject on a blog, man.

Mood, affinity, and motivation are pretty closely related with regard to brain function. They are in fact connected concepts / functions, and each influences the other significantly. Drugs that affect mood also usually affect levels of motivation. That should provide some clue as to how functionally close these things are. Then the rest is common sense. Don't you like things that put you in a good mood? There's your affinity.

"The matter of standards has morphed into requirements."

Standards, when enacted, become by definition requirements. Once you measure a school by a set of standards, and hold them to it, they become requirements.

I can't obviously outline a whole systematic plan here. This is a blog with tiny comment boxes. But here are a couple of ideas.

I outlined part of how I would change mood and motivation when I discussed paying teachers more and supporting them better. Supporting them better would involve giving them the training they need. The pay would provide motivation to receive the proper (very involved) training it takes to take a talented person who cares about kids and make them an effective teacher.

Part of this training, that would directly address the motivation factor, is to train teachers and others in education to make a practice of praising effort and reinforcing enjoyment of the process process instead of solely results or intelligence. Some research data have shown that kids who are told they are intelligent are often less motivated than kids who are told they are hard workers. They often pick the "easy way out". Their motivation is lacking, because there is no real value in being intelligent. This is a non-actionable item. Show me a kid who becomes unmotivated, I will often show you a kid with a depressed "mood" (not always, but often enough).

Most children, when motivated by the desire to engage in process rather than results, seem to have a greater affinity for what they are doing. This in turn feeds motivation. It is the kids that love dribbling the basketball and get the proper support and guidance that become the greatest players, not the ones who have played the most or have drilled the most.

This is a simple thing to recognize when observing children. It is readily observable in an athletic environment. This is what happens with the dour, highly talented underachievers we often observe.