February 19, 2008

Rhee Pulls a Klein

Before today, Michelle Rhee's tenure as Chancellor of the DC Public Schools system looked promising.

Today she pulled a Klein and voluntarily sabotaged herself:

D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee plans to establish an experimental program that would offer customized lessons for disabled, regular and gifted students in the same classroom, a key component of her strategy to reduce exorbitant special education costs.

Rhee's proposal would launch a "differentiated learning" laboratory at West Elementary School in Northwest Washington, then replicate it citywide. Under the proposal, which is being met with skepticism from some West teachers and parents, the system would hire a private special-education school to run the program.

Differentiated Instruction = Instructional nit-wittery. Instructional nit-wittery is what is sabotaging Klein up in New York who also famously consulted education "experts" who advised him to adopt squishy reading and math programs with dismal results.

It doesn't really matter what she does now to improve the non-instructional aspects of the SC schools, this sort of educational nit-wittery is going to pretty much guarantee that student achievement will not improve.

If you hitched your wagon to Rhee's rising star, it's time to start backing away and giving yourself some plausible deniability when it ends badly.

And, it will end badly. That's now guaranteed.


Anonymous said...

The only way I can see this working is if the plan is really to have the gifted students teach the developmentally delayed students. And that will last until the moment some smart-assed gifted kid realizes he is an unpaid teachers aide, but he can teach his classmate subversive things just as easily as reading or math....

Anonymous said...

Is "differentiated instruction" ever code for ability grouping? [Seriously. I don't know]

Because Ken, if the answer is yes... what if Miss Rhee actually had a little Direct Instruction up her sleeve, and was saving the surprise for later.

(In the Real World, we know she's not, but what if Rhee was actually like, Zig's pal Jean Osbourne in disguise? Then we'd say there's method to her madness, eh?)

Anonymous said...

Uh, unfortunately no, I don't think differentiated instruction ever is code for ability grouping. In fact, it's a way to pretend to serve everyone in the same room with the same teacher, who is magically supposed to address all levels of instruction at the same time. It's the opposite of ability grouping, but it allows schools to pretend to meet individual instructional needs without doing any more than preaching at the classroom teachers.

Anonymous said...

Some differentiation is actually helpful. What the real problem with differentiation is that most people don't REALLY know how to apply it. It is done haphazardly. What really happens most of the time is that the teacher is not familiar with all of the things that are required for really effective differentiation. Secondly they don't put the time and effort into effective lesson and unit planning. Finally what happens is that you just end up with a whole bunch of kids, of various abilities and skill levels, dumped in the same room with SPED and ELLs.

I am a ESOL teacher and a man with over forty hours of professional SIOP (Sheltered Instruction Observation Protocol) training. SIOP is a lesson model for teaching content to ELLs. It is HIGHLY effective. BUT IT TAKES A LOT OF TIME TO PROPERLY PUT THOSE ELEMENTS INTO A LESSON YOU ARE TEACHING. Even the creators of SIOP admit that it is not something the average teacher could put into practice overnight.

Honestly I could see why there would be doubters of differentiation. It really has to be executed cleanly for it to work.

Unknown said...

1. Ken, I am busy working, so I don't have time to read all of your posts.

2. The invitation is open: come to the school where I'm working with my undergraduates and tell me "mismanagement of funds" is the issue.

3. My students are working one on one with "at risk" students on customized educational plans. That means for 2 hours a week the students get to learn more about whatever they want to learn more about.

One "at risk" student chose to read Maya Angelou's I know Why the Caged Bird Sings.

2 other "at risk" students are rebuilding computers donated by a local business. One of those students has agreed to start doing his homework if we will give him more time. We turned that on its head and offered more time after his homework gets done. (He aces all of his tests but has a slate of 0's for "busywork.")

When they have the computers finished, they are taking them home...

Another student wanted to learn more about his family, so we're teaching him to use computer software to map his family. He's also writing a family history.

Funny what a little bit of "choice" will do for people...isn't it?

Now, what slays me K, is that the majority of people waving the choice banner stop when it comes to letting individuals (remember when America valued individualism?) have some VOICE in what and how they are going to learn.

Now, I'd love to stay and chat, but I am off to a local high school.

The offer stands K, come down and give us a visit. We'll put you up in the Westin so you don't have to slum.


Anonymous said...

SIOP (Sheltered Instruction Observation Protocol)

This reeks of another education fad. What faddish ideas have the SIOP folks recycled?

Ken: Please take Phil up on his invite. I'd love to read your impressions...

KDeRosa said...

All you anonymous commenters are driving me crazy. I can't figure out who is who. And I can't separate the drive-bys fom the serious commenters. Please, if you plan to post more than the occasional comment, adopt a nom de plume so I can tell you apart.

KDeRosa said...

Philip, this sounds like new soup in an old can.

Do you have any objective measures of output that show all this is working?

It sounds like your school has some severe motivation problems that you are trying to fix. Let me suggest that the best way to fix motivation problems is to fix the underlying instruction, which is most likely the cause of the motivation problems.

The problem with your choice analogy is that unless you can get the students to choose to do grade level school work you're going to continue to have achievement problems. I understand the reasons why you are trying to motivate these studensts by doing tangentially related work, but the real trick is to get them to do actual school work.

I love field trips as much as the next guy, but you need to show me some success to make it worthwhile.

Anonymous said...

It is certainly true that one can differentiate instruction by creating different lesson plans so one can simultaneously teach, say, low-functioning students, students at or near grade level, and advanced students. This is problematic on a few levels:

--Certain lower-level students are likely to create havoc, especially when they are left to their own devices while you personally cater to another group. (Heck, even the higher-level students are prone to such behavior.)

--Differentiation, a natural outgrowth of mixed-ability classes, is horribly inefficient. Instead of allowing teachers to create lesson plans that cater to a whole class, precious planning and classroom time is devoted to differentiated lessons...with no evidence at all that mixed-ability classes result in better educational outcomes. This inefficiency is hardly ever discussed when differentiation comes up. Such classes make the ed school academics happy, though, because ability grouping, to them, is unfair at best...and racist/classist/elitist at worst. All students lose out, but we can all pat ourselves on the back in the name of egalitarianism.

Anonymous said...

Here's a good example of differentiated instruction working pretty well in mixed-ability math classes: Challenge By Choice

Anonymous said...


Looks great. Perhaps that scheme works wonders in certain situations. But again, my beef is with the mixed-ability classes. Absent them, the need for the inefficient differentiated instruction is minimal. This is not to say that we can eliminate differences in ability within classes. But we can minimize them to enable teachers to focus classwide and not on different groups within a class. Saves time..and, hence, money.

Anonymous said...

NYC Math Teacher,

Then we're totally on the same page... I worked at a high school that tracked students into four levels. Too many? Maybe. But my classes were honed to razor-sharpness for each level. No wasted time. Minimal behavior problems. Maximum learning. And kids knew they could move up (or down) if it suited their needs.

But I like the Challenge By Choice concept for teachers who have no option other than mixed-ability classes. It's better than nothing -- which is usually all teachers get in the way of support after they're told to differentiate their instruction to 30 kids....

Anonymous said...

I agree that 'differentiated instruction' is a total hassle for teachers, and not very effective for students.

As a former English teacher, at one school I taught classes of 8th graders with reading levels ranging from 2nd or 3rd grade to 10th grade (gleaned from their recent reading assessments). Obviously, it was not possible to pick one or even two texts that the entire class would understand. Additionally, their needs in terms of vocabulary, grammar and writing instruction varied wildly. Essentially, the class was chaos (and not very effective for the students).

On the other hand, at a different school, I taught a history class where all the students were at almost the same level in terms of preparation. The class went very smoothly, and I, as the teacher, could concentrate on creating one excellent lesson plan that all students would enjoy and understand.

I realize that some very skilled and experienced teachers can 'make it work' with a highly differentiated class, but I agree with NYC Math Teacher that this is not the most efficient and productive use of time. It's especially difficult for new teachers, or teachers teaching a new subject for the first time.

Additionally, this method creates problems when a teacher teaches more than one subject, and then has to subdivide each subject into differentiated levels. What a nightmare!

Can anyone give a good reason for including students of wildly different ability levels in the same classroom, if it doesn't have to be done (e.g., in a rural school with few students)? Is it just to make people feel good about 'equality'?

GA said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
GA said...

The biggest benefit I see from differentiated instruction is that almost every student can get at least something from the class you're teaching. But differentiated instructional strategies, SIOP, integrative curriculum, etc. are all murderous to do, especially as a new teacher. It takes hours of planning to develop a two week science or social studies unit.

Reality is that many classrooms have a wide range of kids dumped in them. As I said before, I am an ESOL teacher who teaches at the elementary level. I have worked in schools where the ESOL students on a grade level are clustered in one or two classrooms. The same goes for SPED. But the thing is that you have other low, on grade level, and even gifted kids in the same class!!!! What's a teacher to do?

This is one of the reasons I left the classroom. I was being pulled too many ways. Now I only have to focus on teaching the basics and I'M HAPPIER FOR IT!!!!! I don't have to worry about gifted kids or high achievers (although I love teaching them). I can teach my little group vocabulary, basic reading and writing skills, and how to speak understandable English.

Anonymous said...

Mr. A: Thanks for your insight into this issue. It's always interesting to get the perspective of various people "in the trenches". Keep up the good work (out of the general classroom!).

Anonymous said...

Ken said, "I love field trips as much as the next guy, but you need to show me some success to make it worthwhile."

You know his response, Ken. The success is that they are doing it, not that is is successful. What he said was EDschoolspeak school--Evidence? We don't need no stinkin' evidence!

Anonymous said...

Michele should implement Response to Intervention. After all its the law and probably the best change to the IDEA since its sorry passage.

Anonymous said...

Differentiated Instruction otherwise known as DI...

"yes, our school uses DI!"