Monday, January 31, 2011
Wednesday, January 26, 2011
Tuesday, January 25, 2011
Monday, January 24, 2011
Bethel and Puyallup currently use the junior high model (grades 7-9 in the same building, 10-12 at the high school) and are considering--or moving to, in Bethel's case--the middle school model (6-8 in one building, 9-12 at the high school).
Tacoma currently uses the middle school model and is considering moving to the junior high model.
Somebody (maybe two somebodies), in other words, is quitting best practice and moving to second-best practice.
Herein is reflected the conceptual and practical muddledness of 'best practice'--it's too hard to determine, measure, evaluate, etc., when you're talking about the widely diverse, even divergent, needs of such large numbers of people engaged in such a wide range of different tasks.
Yes, if we say 'raise the test scores' is the primary goal--and so much of what the reward and consequence structures communicate is just that, then we can more easily identify a best practice to accomplish that.
But we live in some measure of denial that we elevate (almost reify) 'test scores' the way we do, and so we allow ourselves to also pretend that we can identify the best practices for everything else, then drive toward all those other goals, too, all without ever facing the ways that those different goals might conflict with each other.
As I've mentioned before, it's hard to take seriously the talk of 'educating the whole child' when what we really care about are the outcomes of basically three tests--Math, Science, and Reading/Writing.
More on this some other time.
Friday, January 21, 2011
JA provides a workbook for doing preparatory lessons, extensive guidance in how to use the material, and plenty of follow-on curriculum.
If your school is thinking about this program, do it. If they're not thinking about it, it's worth considering.
Thursday, January 20, 2011
And the fact of the matter is that the schools have innumerable rules that pull and tease the limits of what the Constitution establishes and allows. Certain forms of speech are not allowed in schools. Student property stored in lockers is subject to searches without all the same supporting documentation required in other settings. And, yes, dress is regulated.
The author of the letter suggests that the Steelers fan wanted to express another opinion. Again, if he'd worn a Seahawks jersey expressing his opinion with a gang sign or a sexual expression, the school would have banned it...AND EVERYBODY WOULD HAVE UNDERSTOOD AND AGREED WITH THAT DECISION. And NO NEWS STORY.
The most bizarre element here is that everyone is getting so worked up over a non-issue. Oh, it's the principle of the matter. What principle, you say? The letter writer's bottom line: "It's always good to challenge authority when you think they're wrong."
Governments, organizations, families, every structure that involves more than one person uses some amount of coercion (in the mix of persuasion, guilt, encouragement, pleading, etc.). And while none of us likes to be coerced, we do have to SUBMIT sometimes, and it wouldn't be called submitting except that it's NOT what we prefer. If we could all do what we prefer, it would be called harmony, which is short-lived and situational, at best, and we wouldn't have to submit to anybody or anything.
In other words, submitting to authority (which the school board code of student conduct calls for) only matters when it's not something you prefer or would choose for yourself on your own. But when we lose trust of the authoritative institutions in our lives (as we have), we feel ourselves less willing to submit. Unfortunately, more bad than good tends to follow from this.
Another example of what Neil Postman lamented about numerating our lives in studies and the demise of common sense. First, the sample size and the differences in outcome may or may not be, as they say, statistically significant. 33% of those who slept well also showed anxiety and/or depression. Not all that much less than the 46% of bad sleepers.
Second, other primary causes are not clear (at least in this news report). Could there be something prior to both sleep problems and depression that contributes to both? If so, then the relationship claimed between the two is spurious.
Third, the causation is wildly unclear. It seems just as likely that people who have (or end up with) depression don't sleep well as a RESULT of that condition. Or, more likely, the depression and the sleep problems are interactive.
In any case, one wonders whether anxious parents desperate to get their children to sleep might end up contributing to mental health problems that wouldn't have been there otherwise.
Monday, January 17, 2011
Friday, January 14, 2011
Students are expected to:
A. Conform to reasonable standards of acceptable behavior;
B. Respect the rights, person and property of others;
C. Preserve the degree of order necessary for a positive climate for learning; and
D. Submit to the authority of staff and respond accordingly.
The goals of this policy include appropriate intervention, restoration of a positive climate, and support for victims and others impacted by the violation.
Appropriate, of course, carries all the burden here. It seems to me that when you combine the ideas inherent in both these policies, a part of the appropriate response is to counsel the aggressor about the reasonable standards of behavior by pointing out the immorality of the conduct.
But having drained away our ability to make strong and coherent moral claims, we resort to a morality that's actually based on instrumentality. 'How would you feel if you...?' is a question that tries to get the perpetrator to identify with (see the instrumental consequences for) the target.
I always warn students to be careful with rhetorical questions...you never know how your respondent might answer. And, indeed, I've heard plenty of students profess that they wouldn't think it was a big problem to hear or experience this or that hostile thing they themselves just said; often they justify this by resorting to 'it's free speech....I'm just telling the truth' line of (un)reasoning.
Consider, instead, what an old friend of mine (who served for a time as campus supervisor at my school) used to say to students when they were agitated about 'getting in trouble.' He'd tell them that there is absolute morality and institutional morality. The school makes some institutional rules for how we live together while at school, and those only apply at school. (No gum chewing, for instance.)
Absolute morality are rules that apply everywhere. For instance, he'd explain that what we say to people should be governed by an effort to think of them higher than we think of ourselves (a biblical concept, by the way, that he would render without reference to the bible).
Having established a little bit more coherence of moral order, he could then point out when students had violated rules of absolute moral order. It made his conversations about conduct much richer and more powerful.
Because when it comes down to it, living well in a community means we're living in relationship to other people. And to make those relationships effective and good, we really do need to think highly of the others. And that should affect and constrain the way we speak.
Now, let's move toward an explication of how to live together positively in community, instead of just pointing out those negatives that we ought to get rid of. Can we do this...it will be tough, since we have great conflict over the moral order of how. The data have been hard to find evaluate.
Thursday, January 13, 2011
Wednesday, January 12, 2011
6th grade 84.9 79.7 66.1
7th grade 73.2 74.2 69.2
8th grade 72.1 80.3 82.8
Tuesday, January 11, 2011
Saturday, January 8, 2011
Thursday, January 6, 2011
Wednesday, January 5, 2011
So, what do we know about Johnny and his reading? Let’s suppose Johnny is about to enter middle school, sixth grade, and he is already several years behind grade level in reading. Let’s work backwards these last several years, starting with that first day in sixth grade.
The first task is to determine the precise nature of Johnny’s reading ‘problems.’ If he has phonemic awareness difficulties (doesn’t know his letter sounds), he can’t decode words as he reads them, and he will quit reading within a few minutes of starting, for he will quickly struggle with what are basic words for strong readers. If, on the other hand, his reading mechanics are solid, and he reads with reasonable fluency, but has a comprehension weakness, Johnny might happily read but not understand any of what he’s reading. These are, of course, two different kinds of problems, requiring different intervention responses.
Johnny really needs to spend some time getting extra repetitions (just like exercise, strengthening your reading requires practice and repetition). At school, he needs a class where readers at comparable levels can work on the same skill deficiencies. Without an intervention, and left in a general language arts class, Johnny will read less successfully than the students who are reading grade level material, and will likely withdraw, intellectually, from the class (though he may desire to remain socially engaged, which ends up in general class room disruption as he tries to socialize about things far outside the material of the class). He will probably remain frustrated with reading, and he will not get that extra practice he so desperately needs.
Interventions are available for Johnny. Intensive programs of practice have been shown to get two years (or more) reading growth in one school year. 40 years of successful intervention seems compelling, but in the case of the so-called direct instruction programs (which are highly scripted), many individual teachers reject the program in deference to their own pedagogical values, their distaste for boring curriculum, or their gut feeling that the program ‘just isn’t right.’
Even so, many districts use such programs to great effect. So, why would Johnny fall so far behind so fast? Well, for a variety of reasons. Johnny may have indeed had a reading intervention in an earlier grade, but perhaps he moved and the new district didn’t have an intervention program, or anything in the same style and format. The demands for local control over schools, which has left us with nearly 15,000 independent school-governing bodies, means that incoherence from district to district is not only possible, but unavoidable. Partly for this reason (as well as others), frequent moving can have a deleterious effect on academic performance.
Reading intervention programs, for instance, are intensive and highly structured, so moving to a new district, even if done seamlessly, can disrupt the intervention gains, as Johnny gets evaluated, placed, socialized, etc. in the new district. It will be even harder for Johnny if his new district uses a different remediation program or system, as his earlier gains wouldn’t be as smoothly built upon as if he’d stayed in place. And if Johnny moves to a different state, the organizational confusion mounts even higher.
Johnny doesn’t have to move, though, for his situation to worsen. If Johnny’s school district suffered budget cutbacks significant enough, the school leadership had to make choices about which programs to keep and which to cut. The choice is not an easy one, as sometimes it can look like choosing to help one group of students instead of another, but in the end his district might have cut back on the particular reading intervention he needed.
Or maybe Johnny really did have a string of bad teachers. Men and women who neglected him, or whole groups of youngsters, and let the reading basics just slip by. This explanation seems among the more popular at the moment. One Gates Foundation study after rousing movie after Michelle Rhee-type incentive contract puts the onus for Johnny’s difficulties on teachers.
Fine enough, teachers should be accountable for their performance. But let’s be clear. In the current social conversation, teachers and schools are uniquely responsible for Johnny’s failure to read. Parents and students are treated as neutral (or even active but frustrated by the school’s ineptness) in this story, passive recipients of reading services from the schools. But to be successful at learning to read, Johnny and his parents need to be active, not passive. Let’s look at Johnny’s situation again to see how.
We know--from common sense as well as studies--that parents who read are more likely to raise children who read, and parents who don’t, won’t. We have no social mechanisms, though, available to hold parents to the expectation that they prepare their children for reading, or for school more generally. So, if Johnny’s parents do not make reading important by reading to him, and maybe--just maybe--teaching him the ABC song, and a few letter names before he shows up at Kindergarten, he’s already behind. Indeed, Kindergarten teachers can quickly predict which students will struggle deep into their school careers. A self-fulfilling prophecy, but not the one about teachers marking out strugglers and holding them down. Rather, the prophecy was written before the first day of school, and is fulfilled because parents who don’t read before Johnny went to school aren’t particularly likely to become more engaged in Johnny’s reading once he’s in school. But once delivered to the schoolhouse door, teachers and the schools will be held responsible for the outcome, and, subsequently, for making Johnny read.
So the schools try to devise reading intervention programs to address Johnny’s needs. But even an effective intervention program needs to be reinforced throughout other areas of the student’s life, say, at home. David Brooks reports on a recent study that confirmed what we should all know intuitively, namely, that a summer reading program (of just 12 books, as it turns out) could significantly stem the ‘summer drop-off’ so prevalent in struggling students. We also know, of course, that struggling students are precisely the ones least likely to read 12 books over the summer. They are struggling because they don’t read well. They don’t enjoy reading since they’re not strong at it, so they don’t read, and they suffer the summer drop-off, falling back again, and on it goes. This downward spiral can be reversed, of course, but it would take intentional and intensive work at school, at home, and during the summer. Intentional effort by teachers, parents, but most of all Johnny.