Saturday, January 27, 2007

It Still Shocks Me. Still.

Today was another Saturday cycle of inquiry in the Masters program where we explored personality differences using the True Colors model, which is like Meyers-Briggs without all the letters. At some point we've broken up into homogeneous personality groups -- I'm green-orange -- and as part of our task we are to write three reasons for the achievement gap, which immediately triggers a desire to start popping off about why the continued use of that term is like calling Puerto Ricans "Spanish" that I manage to more or less control. There is a share-out time because only particularly dire AAers share out more than teachers in advanced degree programs, and as each group shares, I take notes on the reported achievement gap causation, dividing into three categories:

Teacher/ Schools: These are achievement gap causes that are directly attributable to the functioning of site-based educators. EX: competence, expectations, understanding student diversity.

Bureaucracy/ World: These are causes that exist outside of educators' power to control. EX: parental involvement*, ELL-status**, poverty, NCLB.

Other: These were remarks that made no sense to me or were impossible to categorize.

T/S: 17
B/W: 42
Other: 6

42! They just kept coming, and first I make faces to go with my ever-expanding collection of little slash marks, and then I just sit and tally, because I cannot believe it. I should no longer be suprised, but my God, NCLB the cause of the achievement gap? As if everything was great pre-2002? Parents and Open Court the problem, (?) as if we weren't the ones with hours and days filled with opportunities to enact change and raise ourselves to some base level of effectiveness.

"What were the reasons your group came up with for the achievement gap?" Inflexibility to teach what we want, lack of parental involvement, NCLB.

We have to do better. We cannot continue with this abdication of responsibility. Yes, yes, yes, there are factors outside our control, and they affect some schools and some students therein disproportionately to others. But these factors are not the ballgame. It is our response to the poverty, parental education level, funding inequities that determine the effectiveness of teaching and learning. As such, they represent the start of the discussion, not the end. Not the end.

"Captain Yossarian, what were the reasons for the plane crash?" A flight plan that required that I fly in straight lines toward the destination city, lack of passenger involvement in keeping the plane aloft, and FAA regulations regarding the use of in-flight electronic devices.

I watched the faces during these recitations, trying to see if anyone else found the whole thing abhorrent. Instead I saw nods, and that smirk and self-satisfied sit-down after hurling blame at the doorstep of parents. This is the upcoming crop of educational leaders in the 408 and its environs, the ones who will lead for the next 25 years. One hundred people who think like this, who view themselves as powerless, their efforts weak and insubstantial, like rats' feet over broken glass.***

"Dr. Nick, why did the patient die?" A procedure for tumor removal I found creatively stifling, a lack of patient involvement during the first hour of surgery, and hospital regulations requiring I to file reports on patient progress toward health.

It's not that poverty, funding, and bureaucracy do not represent obstacles. They do. They're big, and spiky, and it hurts to climb over and through. But while you lack the ability and will to make this climb, even in the hypothetical, there is something fundamentally wrong with blaming the obstacle for your lack of progress.

*Outside of extreme examples this one really isn't outside a school's ability to influence though, is it?
** Ditto.
***T.S. Eliot there at the end of that line, not me.


Anonymous Laura said...

I agree that educators are typically tempted to pass the buck, BUT I hardly think the pilot and doctor examples are accurate analogies. I mean, is the distance from the ground a pilot gets a plane measured by how far each person is off the ground at any given time? Is it as possible for passengers on the same plane to end up at different levels as it is for students in the same class to end up at same levels? Don't they all start at the same level on a plane?

As for the doctor analogy, does a doctor have to rely on a patient to do what she tells him to do in order to make the surgery a success or is the doctor the one "taking the test"?

And I agree that it is difficult to fault NCLB for the achievement gap, howEVer, it can be faulted for teaching strictly to the test, which could cause students to disengage or miss out on things like grammar and history for years at a time. Also, it can be faulted for the way the achievement gap is reported. In what universe does it make sense to force schools to get their dropout rates down by bringing students back and then penalize them for not getting these same kids out with a diploma in 4 years?

The blame game is a distraction, you are right in that, but not necessarily for the reasons given here.

3:47 PM  
Blogger TMAO said...

Of course the analogies are flawed. They are flawed in direct proportion to the ideology I was analogizing.

You mentioned the fear of teaching to the test. I read about this all the time and I'm left to wonder: If teaching to the test is so pervasive, if all other aspects of education have been summarily abandoned in favor of this style of teaching, why are we still so bad at the tests? We suck at the tests. The tests kick our collective butts every year. For all this teaching to the test, you'd think we'd be much better at it by now.

8:42 AM  
Blogger Coach Brown said...

Better analogy.

The plane crashed because the plane you had me flying was a piece of shit. Knowing full well that the have made me fly a DC-3, you ordered me to complete my flight, yet you only put half the appropriate gas allowence in the tank. Then you ordered me to fly the passengers, some of which have actually jumped out of the plane, to ten different locations without enough full. Then while I was trying to land at one of the airports, the "friendlies" were shooting anti-aircraft fire at us for no reason except that they thought it would bring the plane down faster.
By the way, the airline discriminates against English Language Learners, Special Education Students, and most schools that are in poor areas. Don't think the rich airline makes a difference? Well, while the plane is going down, a vast majority of my passengers are stoned, some have guns, and others have no access to parachutes (or computers), much less on-flight Internet and Satellite T.V. Worse, most are freezing (the heat doesn't work), getting soaked (the walls are leaking), and are filthy (sorry, funding limits janitors for aircraft clean-up).

NCLB isn't the problem, but it sure as hell does nothing for the solution. Get America to actually value education, then you will start to see a solution.

10:16 PM  

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