April 20, 2006

New NCLB Poll

Let's examine the results from a new NCLB poll as reported in this Duluth News Tribune article.

An AP-AOL Learning Services Poll found nearly eight in 10 parents are confident their local schools will have students up to state standards by the 2013-14 school year target. Yet only half of teachers are confident the kids in their schools will meet that deadline.

The finding underscores a theme in the poll. Parents and teachers often disagree on daily aspects of education, from the state of discipline to the quality of high schools.

A major reason is that adults see children differently. Parents tend to focus on their own children, while teachers work with dozens of students from different backgrounds.

A more likely reason is that teachers are seeing first hand the large scale academic failure taking place in America's classrooms. When you teach lower performing kids, year in and year out, and you see them not learning what you presented (not taught), I can see how it might cloud your perspective.

"I think the standards are being applied to everybody indiscriminately, without regard to their abilities," said Steve Peterson of Knoxville, Ill., who has been teaching for 31 years.

"Schools in general are not going to be able to meet the standards," he said.

Mr Peterson, the standards are being applied indiscriminantly because we don't wan't to discriminate against any student.

Within one sentence, our expert teacher has already managed to "blame the children" for not learning because it is their "abilities" determine whether they are capable of learning. Notice how Mr. Peterson didn't question his own or his school's ability to effectively teach these children. No, it's the students' fault that the schools won't make the standards.

The survey also found:

64 percent of teachers say their state standards in reading and math are about right. Most parents agreed. But parents were twice as likely as teachers -- 31 percent to 15 percent -- to say current standards are too lenient.

That's because the state standards are too lenient. On average, more than twice the number of students pass the state tests that pass the NAEP test. Coincidentally, the number of students who pass the NAEP test is roughly the same amount that successfully complete college (about 30%). And, let's not forget that about 25% of students drop out of school before they take these 11th and 12th grade tests.

Did I mention that the 11th grade math NAEP only includes question at about the 7th or 8th grade level?

Parents with college degrees and higher salaries were more optimistic about their children's chances for success than parents with less money and less education.
And well they should be. Parents with college degrees tend to be smarter than the average person and tend to have kids who are smater than average. Smarter kids tend to do better in school.

Rusty Barker, a parent in Jackson, Mich., said he's pretty optimistic that the local high school can get all students up to math and reading standards. He attended the school, and now his daughter does.

"There's more of what kids need, in a one-on-one basis," Barker said. "While kids have different backgrounds, that shouldn't be an issue for their learning experience."

Actually, it is an issue. Kids from certain backgrounds need much more careful teaching.

President Bush says it is bigotry to expect less of some students, particularly if race is a factor. As he said at the White House in 2004: "We believe every child can learn. We want to know if every child can read and write and add and subtract early, before it's too late."

Many teachers say the sentiment is right, but incomplete, or even naive.

Who's being naive now, Kay?

Some students come to school way behind their peers. They may not have good English skills, or study habits, or parents to reinforce lessons at home. The law says schools must overcome that.

Exactly. And, we know they can overcome those deficiencies.

We know some kids will come into school with these deficiencies, it is just a matter of compensating for them by providing careful teaching and acceleratingtheir learning so they catch up. Most kids should be caught up with careful teaching by the third grade.

Sara Jane Cross, a 75-year-old kindergarten teacher in St. Petersburg, Fla., said she knows that some students come from homes in which education is a priority, but that some of their classmates do not.

"You don't know who you're going to get in a classroom -- what type of child, what kind of home," Cross said. "You can't expect them to keep up with children who come from fine homes."

I think it's time for Sara Jane to retire. It's easy for schools to predict the type of students they are likely to get based on the community demographics. Then it's just a matter of giving the incoming students a pre-test to determine where the teaching should begin and then to get on with it.

We don't expect them to be able to keep up with the affluent kids completely. However, we do expect them though to at least reach an acceptable proficiency level which should be well within their ability with effective teaching.

For now, the law focuses only on the building-block subjects of reading and math. Schools must test children in those subjects in grades three to eight and once in grades 10 to 12.

On that front, many parents and teachers agree, and they aren't happy. In their view, schools have had to narrow their focus, excluding other subjects and creative learning.

"Virtually every parent I know feels the schools are educating to the two subjects they are testing," said Mitchell Stiers, a father of three children in Cedar Falls, Iowa.

The entire narrowing issue is a classic false dilemma.

Schools haven't had to do anything. Some schools have chosen to narrow the curriculum because they can't teach reading and math effectively. The narrowing is caused by school failure. If the teaching were more effective, there'd be no need to narrow anything.

I wonder if the poll included a question on whether parents or teachers believe that it is the school's primary responsibility to ensure that students be able to read and do math proficiently? I have a feeling the yes answers would have been off the board.


KDeRosa said...

The funny (not ha ha) thing is that any education article you read has these kid of quotes in them. The "blame the student" mentality is so engrained, they don't give it a second thought.

Anonymous said...

If teachers believe that they can't teach kids from certain backgrounds how to read and write and do arithmetic, then I think they are honour-bound to return the money for those kids to taxpayers.

There's no excuse for taking money to do something when you have no intention of doing it.

EdWonk said...

Well written.

Do you think that it's possible that parents are more optimistic about their local school's effectiveness in the same way that many folks earnestly believe that Congress is full of crooks but their own Representatives are basically good?

I'm enjoying your site; hope that you continue expressing your ideas.

KDeRosa said...

Thanks Edwonk.

I think that is right.

I believe Catherine made the same point recently at Kitchen Table Math.

KDeRosa said...

Game Theorist, you're mistaken.

The teacher was clearly blaming the student for not peforming and not merely "making a point that kids have different experiences and tools from the get go."

The teacher's explicit argument goes like this:

The standards are being applied to everyone uniformly. (a true premise).

But kids aren't uniform in their abilities (another true premise).

As a result, schools won't be able to meet the standards (an unsupported conclusion).

The conclusion implies that there is nothing the schools can do to remedy the deficiencies in some of the children. A further fair implication one could draw is that the schools are doing all they can do at present to help these kids.

It's not the school's fault some kids aren't learning. The kids themselves are the problem.

Stop childish finger pointing in edu circles, can we just agree most of us want kids to learn?

Let's agree. So when kids don't learn who's to blame?

Today, most educators continue to blame the student and almost never question the possibility that their own instructional delivery system may be defective.

Anonymous said...

I don't believe it is any more logical to say it is always the fault of the schools and teachers when a child doesn't learn (the implication of your response to the poll) than it is to say that it is always the fault of the child.

I am a rare public school teacher (and also a parent) who is also a NCLB fan. I agree, for example, that testing vs. creativity is a false choice. I recognize that my profession has been long on excuses and complaints and short on can-doism. But there needs to be a way for teachers to tell the truth about the challenges they're faced with without being accused of defeatism.

KDeRosa said...

I don't believe it is any more logical to say it is always the fault of the schools and teachers when a child doesn't learn (the implication of your response to the poll) than it is to say that it is always the fault of the child.

Hi Jim V.

I agree, it's not always the fault of schools. I'd say about 10% of students (the hard cases) won't respond to the most effective education and classroom management. That leaves about 60% of the student population that can be educated that currently is not. These are the kids I'm talking about.