August 27, 2007

Let the Parade Begin

With the school year about to start and with NCLB re-authorization looming newspapers are beginning to run their agenda heavy agenda columns in an attempt to influence the public's perception of NCLB.

In today's WaPO, we get a column from Susan Goodkin which appears to be recycled from an eerily similar column she wrote back in December 2005 for WaPo.

Goodkin's premise is that gifted kids are getting short shrift from schools that are being forced by NCLB to focus on lower performing kids.

These parents are fleeing public schools not only because, as documented by a recent University of Chicago study, the act pushes teachers to ignore high-ability students through its exclusive focus on bringing students to minimum proficiency. Worse than this benign neglect, No Child forces a fundamental educational approach so inappropriate for high-ability students that it destroys their interest in learning, as school becomes an endless chain of basic lessons aimed at low-performing students.

These predictable problems were reported as early as 2003, when the Wall Street Journal warned that schools were shifting their focus overwhelmingly toward low achievers. Expressions of concern from distressed parents and educators of gifted children have come in increasing numbers ever since.

Gifted kids have been getting the shaft since schools did away with tracking in elementary schools. This de-tracking/full-inclusion movement began well before NCLB went into effect. Schools were de-tracking when I was in school in the early 70s.

The effect of de-tracking was to throw all the kids, regardless of their ability level, into the same classroom and pretending to teach them all at the same time at the same pace. In reality, however, this meant that the teacher would teach to the middle of the class and would move on when the middle of the class "learned" the material. Such a pace, of course, is too slow for the bright kids and too fast for the dim ones.

Compounding this insanity was the simultaneous movement toward social promotion which made it all but impossible to hold a student back a grade no matter how little he learned. This meant that a hapless fifth grade teacher might have a class full of students that were at a skill level spanning first to eighth grade.

A recipe for disaster if ever there were one.

NCLB only minimally changed this insane condition by forcing schools to pay more attention to the lower performers to make sure that they are actually learning something. In practice, this means that in a conscientious school lessons are likely geared to a lower ability level and the pace is probably slowed even further. In a less conscientious school, the school just does test prep.

But, NCLB didn't cause the problem, NCLB merely exposed the insanity of the de-tracking/social promotion regime that was prevalent in most schools.

Not surprisingly, with the entire curriculum geared to ensuring that every last child reaches grade-level proficiency, there is precious little attention paid to the many children who master the standards early in the year and are ready to move on to more challenging work. What are these children supposed to do while their teachers struggle to help the lowest-performing students? Rather than acknowledging the need to provide a more advanced curriculum for high-ability children, some schools mask the problem by dishonestly grading students as below proficiency until the final report card, regardless of their actual performance.

This problem existed well before NCLB as my school copybooks will attest. I have pages upon pages of doodles drawn in the margins of each page as a testament to my boredom. And, many of my classes were somewhat tracked.

No Child is particularly destructive to bright young math students. Faced with a mandate to bring every last student to proficiency, schools emphasize incessant drilling of rudimentary facts and teach that there is one "right" way to solve even higher-order problems. Yet one of the clearest markers of a nimble math mind is the ability to see novel approaches and shortcuts to attacking such problems. This creativity is what makes math interesting and fun for those students. Schools should encourage this higher-order thinking, but high-ability students are instead admonished for solving problems the wrong way, despite getting the right answers. Frustrated, and bored by simplistic drills, many come to hate math.

If these math fact are so rudimentary, why is it that schools are taking so long
to teach them? And test scores that they still aren't being adequately learned by many students.

The rest of the paragraph is unproven gobbledygook. There is no evidence that trying to teach novices in math, regardless of their ability level, creativity directly doesn't work any better than teaching skills sequentially. In fact, when these high ability math kids get to college, they will learn all their math ans science subjects in a sequential fashion starting with basic skills and ending with less basic skills which will become the more basic skills of the next course. Creativity only comes with lots and lots of rehearsals and practice, in in educrat parlance "drill and kill."

So what is the solution:

The response of many parents to this situation was summed up succinctly by one of our numerous friends, colleagues and family members who have pulled their children from neighborhood schools: "We've learned that the real solution is called 'private school.' "

In economic terms, this means that the consumer (the parent) who doesn't like the product being offered by the public schools has chosen to seek out a new product, a private school education, and to pay for it twice. Last I checked this used to go on before NCLB and I don't know of, and Goodkin doesn't provide, any data to suggest that more parents of high performing kids are pulling their kids out of public school and enrolling them in private schools.

But since when has the WaPo required data from it's columnists?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

"Gifted kids have been getting the shaft since schools did away with tracking in elementary schools."

Certainly correct, but the unlerlying motive is an egalitarianism gone insane and a horror induced by outstanding performance that is labeled "elitism". These education jerks are more Communist than the Commies ever were.