A Voice of Reason: Sane Views for a Crazy World

August 7, 2013

Student Learning Among Minorities Flatlines

The WSJ had an interesting article about how the NAEP is reporting smaller gain for minority elementary students since President Obama has gone about dismantling some of the key provisions (the stick in the carrot/stick) of NCLB.  The article is interesting in its information and the data is not surprising that NAEP scores have diminished since many waivers have been granted.

Some may not like the source. That is fine.  My own experiences in education number nearly 30 years with many of them as a public/private school teacher, administrator, and now college professor.  Having participated in legislative sessions, written research which has become policy in China, participated in numerous regional, national and international research projects, and seeing children in a different way than I did as a teacher/administrator, but now as an observer, perhaps my bona fides carry some weight.

In dismantling NCLB a part of the President’s plan was to engage key constituent groups, most notably teacher unions who understandably were against many of the accountability programs.  Another part was to highlight differences for his brand of educational change the DOE offered in Race to the Top.

First – not that it is important – I am not inclined positively towards much of NCLB and it is matched in my ambivalence to  RTP.  I’m equally less than optimistic about the Common Core Standards (the latest silver bullet).  This has come after a great amount of research (much of it published in academe) my own experiences as a classroom teacher, administrator and college professor of teacher education.

I also want to add that when I taught I was very successful.  My students achieved particularly well in state tests before and after NCLB implementation.  This was true when I worked in a rather poorly funded parochial school comprised mostly of middle class and economically disadvantaged students who benefited from scholarships as well as when I worked in an upper middle-class predominantly White school system.  I also was able to work in a school system which was rather diverse with a high number of minority students with many both White and minority receiving free/reduced lunch where our test scores were rising when I was a building level administrator.

I am however horrified at the lack of basic skill sets which many elementary, middle and high school students demonstrate (I see this frequently when I go into the field to observe teacher candidates).  This sentiment sometimes turns to derision when I see what is passing off as education to those who enter college.  I am not one to mince words with those who aspire to be teachers since there is no point to it.  I let them know if they can’t pass entry level classes, can’t do basic research, hand in assignments, show up for class and field placements on time and write with proper conventions of language “they have no business entering the teaching profession”.  This sometimes brings a retort that “I love working with kids”.  My thought is “that’s nice” (translation = I don’t care).  However,  I recommend if they still wish to be a professional teacher they work on their skill sets or consider changing majors.  There is no point in being nice when giving this kind of news.  Just stick to the facts of their skill sets at that time and tell them what it will cost (count the cost are my words to them) to succeed.  Of course those students who are willing to work typically do become successful.  It is my experience that most really do not wish to fill in their own educational gaps and go on with their life.  Life is or should be a self-pruning tree.

The bottom line is always results.  This is true in education, sports or business.  BIll Parcells stated after directing the Giants to a Super Bowl win “you are your record”.  The record of education is mixed at best, but not getting better.

However, I offer a very different view regarding why this overall decline in education as well as ability to think occurs.  The elephant in the room which politicians and most policy wonks disregard is that research shows definitively in the Coleman Reports of the 60’s as well as the Monahan Reports of a few years later, and repeatedly in studies offered by many credible researchers that less than 10% of the sum of learning which occurs in a child (5-18) is due to circumstances in the school.  The overwhelming inputs are related to socioeconomic  factors and in particular input from peers and family.

Now, of course the 10% that occurs within classroom is important and we want strong teachers in all schools.  I am happy to report where I have worked the past few years our teacher candidates score very high on their PLT (Principles of Learning and Teaching) and the Content scores as well as their field placements.  This has been verified by our accreditation bodies (state, regional and national).  Yet, we do not give these graduates magic wands when they matriculate into their field.  This is partly due to the self-pruning tree I and my colleagues have employed in our Teacher Education Program.

Any who want to improve education need to realize that one can’t throw money to a problem or just measuring over and over does not improve results – which is the course the Feds and most states are taking.  Human achievement is rarely substantively changed by the State unless the normal conditions are so egregious that they violate basic human rights and dignity.

Changes in academic achievement occur when children have strong learning skills, inquiry skills and love of learning modeled by those closest to them.  This means by mothers and fathers and others whom they ideally come into contact with every day.  Strong families and strong communities mean strong schools.  The exception to this are residential educational facilities which by and large do exemplary work in educating severely disadvantaged youngsters, but a key element is the moral support of adults within that facility.   It doesn’t take a village to raise a child; it takes a family.  People may want to brush this off as moralistic clap-trap, but the numbers don’t lie.

Children need parents not mere DNA contributors, which is often the case in families in this nation today.  Everyone knows this to be true.

Of course there are many who will want to argue about the causes of poor families, which is an important conversation to have.  However, this does not change the bottom line – the “only” thing that ever matters – that as a group until families in their daily lives reach some level of commitment to their children education for the society will never occur.  The same can be said about any other interaction of youngsters in society.  Education results are just a mirror of society – and this society as a whole is failing.

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