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James P. Comer, M.D., the Maurice Falk Professor of Child Psychiatry at Yale, has spent 35 years engaged in educational issues, having created a comprehensive school program being used in 600 schools in twenty states.  His program has produced impressive results, not only in attendance and parental involvement but also on test scores, academic achievement and school-community integration.  In his book, Leave No Child Behind, Comer provides an important window on historical changes in America's communities, details the main lines of his approach, and reveals the essential fraud behind the Bush Administration's No Child Left Behind policy.

This diary will explore Comer's work, and especially, employ his arguments and insights to argue that America's current educational priorities are short-sighted, careless and a massive waste of time, energy and capital.    

If we as citizens truly want a better bang for our educational buck, not to mention a stronger civic body, more integrated communities and a healthier overall populace, we would be wise to understand what Comer and others like him are saying is needed in America's schools.

The basic thrust of Comer's educational program, and he has been operating it in two schools in New Haven since the late 1960s, is that education is as much about child development as it is imparting academic skills and knowledge.

The gap between the support for development that children need and that which society provides, more than anything else, lies at the root of most school problems

I believe Comer would say child development is a more important overall goal than mastery of facts and figures and dates.  In this, he cites "the public good" from the pre-amble of the Constitution, which was the basic argument used to establish public education.  Schools, he says, first and foremost, should "promote democracy and the general welfare."  Before you dismiss this as a kind of warm and fuzzy "hugs" curriculum which conservatives love to deride and dismiss, you need to understand the personal, historical and medical foundations of Comer's thinking.

First, on a personal level, Comer was struck as by the stark realities that he encountered as a young black person in East Chicago, Indiana in the 1940s.  He internalized the truth that "intelligence" was not the determining factor as to who made it in the world and who did not.  Specifically, several of Comer's friends--bright, articulate, mathematical--were  waylaid by personal or family problems and ended up on the streets, in jail or dead at a young age.  They made poor personal decisions or were defeated by the social forces acting against them.  

This realization informed Comer about one of the guiding principals in his educational philosophy:  Success in our society, and particularly in education, is not merely a question of "intelligence and will", as is so often assumed by educational experts and social critics.  Rather, it is a question of nurturing developmental pathways, steering children along important routes of ethical, social, physical, psychological, linguistic and cognitive development, so that they are able to act responsibly and choose thoughtfully throughout their lives.  

The purpose of public schools is greater than preparing students to achieve higher test scores.  The purpose is to prepare students to be successful in school and in life.

Comer was exposed to such pathways as part of his developmental process: his family, and mother in particular, brought them to him strong on a daily basis.  These larger frames help young people develop their wholeness, a capability for handling complex choices and adult roles in society.

Second, Comer provides incisive historical analysis about the fate of American communities.  He points out how prior to 1950, America's communities, whether white or of color, tended to be self-reinforcing:  that is, there was a true "village" of stable relationships linking children with the wider world, including ministers, teachers, doctors, neighbors, aunts, uncles, coaches, etc.   American society was less mobile, much more rooted in a milieu which tended to develop youngsters along the multiple pathways listed above.   Comer makes it clear, as most of us here know, that the stability in America's communities has come undone.  

Somewhere between the changing nature of our economy, high divorce rates and the breakdown of families, the elevation of suburb and automobile, narcissistic messages from mass culture, rising levels of abuse, addiction and crime--somewhere in the whole unruly onset of modern urban America, we have lost the crucial foundation upon which children have historically depended.

What that means is that now, more than ever, schools have a crucial developmental role to play in helping produce whole, ethical, connected human beings who can function in a modern, complex, democratic society.

Third, Comer, as a medical doctor, has great insight and experience in medical issues involving brain development, survival strategies and aggression in young children.  He shows, rather convincingly, that without the kind of love, attention, support, medical care, nutrition and physical activity which is required in young people, we cannot expect them to excel academically.  In fact, we can't even expect them to be able to sit still, listen or engage without first attending to their immediate developmental needs.  

A crude but effective analogy is to that of caring for plants.  The differences which accrue slowly over time between those well cared for and equipped with essentials versus those lacking in light, water, nutrients--even love, is unavoidably obvious.  A recent study cited by Comer shows that by the age of three, children of college professors were exposed to 30 million more words than were those of poor, non-mainstream families.  They also received six times more encouragement than prohibitions, which was exactly the opposite for children on the other end.

After reading his book, one comes away believing that there is no more ridiculous notion than that of expecting every child, especially those unable to move beyond poverty, inadequate care, poor nutrition or a lack of medical attention, to triumph over standardized exams as if they were mere inconveniences to future income and upward mobility.  

Without adequate development, children have a greatly diminished chance of succeeding in a highly competitive, demanding, complex arena.   They literally will not have the brain neurons to attack tasks, not to mention the empathic, emotional and ethical principals with which to navigate life's temptations and pratfalls.   Moreover, children inevitably focus on and model their caregivers, which, in too many cases today, is a prescription for disaster.  

Comer's most devastating chapter, The Price We Pay, describes how our lack of investment in educating for development costs us as a society.  Please understand what he is saying here:  We would be far better off investing money in effective child development and education at the front end, than paying out the nose once things have turned sour.  He estimates that for every dollar we invest at the front end in children, we save $10 in government assistance and services at the back.  

He lists some of the on-going costs to taxpayers of our current approach:  Incarceration, at all-time highs, $35,000.00 a year for each of our two million inmates;  mental health, $12 billion for youth and adolescent treatment in 2002; physical health, $726 billion spent on health care in 2003;  unemployment, college attendees 50% more likely than drop-outs to find employment after a layoff;  welfare, $25.5 billion in 2001;  domestic violence, cost an estimated $67 billion annually in services, lost wages and treatment;  child abuse and neglect, an additional $70 billion a year.

So, what is the solution?  

The Comer method is a concerted effort to engage every child, parent, teacher, administrator and community member around the task of successful child development.  It involves various strategies at different levels of the education delivery system.  In practice, it means that parents are respected, and also, expected to participate in school deliberations and council meetings, as well as have regular contact with teachers.   It means that the school day and program are designed to further personal development, from nutrition to physical activity to community involvement.  It means that teachers and staff direct their energy toward understanding developmental deficiencies behind student misbehavior, not simply rushing in to punish and ostracize over misdeeds.  It means energizing the entire community around the goals of the school as defined within that community.  

And it means continually monitoring, adjusting, retraining and inspiring the staff that work with children.  We expect a lot of our teachers in this country, and we will not get it from most of them unless we remember that their essential humanity--their skill, compassion and wisdom--is what makes them effective. Teachers, every study shows this, have the single greatest impact on a child's learning experience.  If we lift them up, through dynamic in-service training, professional recognition, humane scheduling and policies, we will be much better off than battering them for low test scores, which, in the end, is reflective of our society's unwillingness to invest in youth.

In short, as Henry Louis Gates says in the Foreward to Leave No Child Behind, successful child development and successful education depend upon the same thing:  "relationships, relationships, relationships".   It used to be that such meaningful and powerful relationships were embedded in a community and children were exposed to them with little effort or fanfare.  That is no longer the case.  And what Comer, and others, are telling us, is that we need to build schools to be true community centers, where parents, educators, community members and our youth, all have an important role, where adequate nutrition, medical attention and a sensitive appreciation for the life-potential of each student is the governing ethos.  

Failing that, and given the historical ravages that have gripped our communities over the last 40 years, the outlook for the future of public education and for our youth is dismal at best.  No less a figure than Thomas Jefferson realized instinctively that where education goes, so goes our democracy--not to mention, in the 21st century, our economy and our standard-of-living.

As an educator of 17 years, and a considered thinker about this (my own book  Becoming Mr. Henry will released on September 1st), I come away from Comer's Leave No Child Behind sickened by the half-assed, deliberately fraudulent approach espoused by NCLB.  Its goal:  to eliminate any race or class based differences in test scores over the entirety of American society by 2014.  

To think that school teachers, with no further training or inspiration, and in most cases with inadequate resources and facilities, alone, can undo the historical disadvantages that have accrued in our demonstrably unequal and unfair society over more than 200 years is absolute bullshit.   For politicians and journalists to focus solely on test numbers, sketchy, dubious, inherently inaccurate numbers at that, as if this represents the quality of our system and communities--when absolutely no effort has gone into the kind of developmental process that a medical doctor proves is necessary to do the job, leaves me without words in outrage.

We are not even close to being able to do this job.  Mainly, because we don't even know what it's about!

And how can anyone, any reasonable human being, actually believe in No Child Left Behind, while being shown that tens of millions of youngsters have no access to health care, nutrition on par with the third world, homes that are broken, abusive and unsafe, and not a single positive relationship with an adult in which to take refuge?  

No child left behind?  

It's happening all around us.  Every. Single. Day.  

And testing kids ad nauseum has not helped.  A.  Single.  One.  Of.  Them.

(my quote)

I do not know enough about Comer schools to say that this is a magic bullet, the one panacea that, at long last, will actually be effective.  I have never been to a Comer school.   But after reading his book, I believe his is a comprehensive approach, one that treats students and teachers as whole human beings and attempts to structure schools to serve their needs in a dynamic, sensible, caring way.  

The best argument for treating education as a development task, a la Comer, is not just that our students will be better for it, nor that we as a society will be, nor that our economy and communities will be better off.  Though I believe these all are true.  The best political argument is not even that it will save a whole hell of a lot of human suffering.  (Though that is true, too.)   What sells this idea is that investing intelligently in child development today, right now, through our schools as Comer suggests, will save us billions and billions and billions for as far as long as our well-developed children are alive.  

Now that's an argument even Republicans can love.  

Originally posted to Mi Corazon on Wed Jun 22, 2005 at 05:37 AM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Help keep this discussion alive (4.00)
    Perhaps others have had experiences with the Comer method or had children in one of his schools?

    In either case, please recommend as I think the public is so far out of the loop on education.  We literally are losing an entire generation due to our own ignorance, fear and misplaced emphasis in school.

    Education? Teaching? NCLB? Read my book _Becoming Mr. Henry_

    by Mi Corazon on Wed Jun 22, 2005 at 05:38:14 AM PDT

    •  Americans have always been suckers for the (4.00)
      quick fix, for snake oil salesman, and for the easy way out.

      School standardized testing is just one example of that.

      It is a very mixed blessing to be brought back from the dead.

      by Steven D on Wed Jun 22, 2005 at 05:41:35 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Recommended. (none)
      And, as a companion piece, consider reading Freakonomics. Levitt has several fascinating insights as to what does and does not work/matter in terms of how and why some children succeed and others do not.

      Rage, rage, against the lying of the Right.

      by Maryscott OConnor on Wed Jun 22, 2005 at 05:45:33 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  I don't get it (none)
      What is the connection between the Comer School Development Model and federal education policy?  What are we trying to publicize, that one particular school reform model is really really great?  Should we put up a diary for Success for All, Little Red Schoolhouse, Core Knowledge, Reading Recovery?

      We as a society are just beginning to amass research on the effectiveness of education interventions and yet the main way we choose them is anecdotes and testimonials.  The biography of its founder is inspiring, but what is the research evidence on the effectiveness of the Comer SDM?

      •  Here you are (4.00)
        My reply would be this:

        Yes, there is abundant research on the Comer Schools model.  It's out there and can be compared with other approaches; though be advised, measuring intangibles like child developemt is inherently murky.

        I guess my main point would be this:  You can't teach someone who is not at a developmental place where they can learn.  And you certainly can't create equity in America by penalizing schools and teachers whose students come to school with huge developmental deficits.

        What Comer has done, both with actual programs and in his research, is to show that child development issues are what dictate positive outcomes in our youth.  The more you spend on developing kids in terms of ethical, pycho-social, linguistic, etc., pathways, the better are your results.

        Or, in other words, just expecting better test results from unequal groups of students is never going to really work.  You actually have to make positive interventions at the educative level in order to end up with positive outcomes.

        I may be wrong, but Comer's medical health perspective and historical analysis of America's community blight is what is new here.

        Is that helpful?

        Education? Teaching? NCLB? Read my book _Becoming Mr. Henry_

        by Mi Corazon on Wed Jun 22, 2005 at 09:31:45 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Yes, but (none)
          People, especially on the right, are going to accuse you of "soft bigotry of low expectations."  Ever since Chimpy learned how to say that phrase without mispronouncing the words you've been hearing it a lot.  They love using the argument to turn the tables on progressives who are deep into education and "doing it all for the kids."

          Of course we know it's ridiculous to actually expect equal results for kids who already by say age 4 have unequal starting points.  But we have to be careful in how we articulate that idea.

          Beyond the critique of the "everyone must learn to read by grade 3" rhetoric, I still don't see what Comer has to do with NCLB, which is a sweeping piece of legislation passed with bipartisan support.  Not that there not plenty of things in NCLB or its implementation that are f'ed up, but I think NCLB has caught the whole progressive movement offguard.  We have to identify its strenghts and praise them, identify its weaknesses and fix them.

          •  End it, don't mend it. (4.00)
            What Comer is saying, and why he matters in terms of NCLB, is that exhorting the system to do better alone is not working.  Pressuring schools for higher test scores, which, even if we got them, would not be enough to really change the lives of many kids who are falling through the cracks.

            You actually need new inputs, strategies and ideas, which, based on his model, emerge partly from the communities where the schools are situated.

            I do not agree that we need to fix NCLB.  I think we need to go back to the original impetus for school reform and start over.  

            What works in education?  World class standards, an impeccable teaching corps, an engaging curriuculum, reasonable measures of performance.

            What did we end up with?  Endless standardized tests which are a poor measure of either a child's or a school's performance.

            We can do better.  With a blindfold.  In the dark.  Throwing darts randomly at a textbook.

            Education? Teaching? NCLB? Read my book _Becoming Mr. Henry_

            by Mi Corazon on Wed Jun 22, 2005 at 10:00:37 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  NCLB Shoul END (4.00)
              I like to call "No Child Left Behind - Throw The Under the Bus Instead"...

              Anything rooted so heavily on standardized tests rather than real world assessments of a person's ability to achieve is bound to fail.  A stadardized test doesn't prepare you to succeed.  Multipli choice questions don't teach you to think and to make good decisions.

              HOW MANY PEOPLE HERE GO TO WORK EVERYDAY AND ARE GIVEN A MULTIPLI-CHOICE TEST?  Given three or four clear and definitive "answers" to choose from.  Not one except the ones who make the tests.  The rest of us have to not only answer the questions, but we also must identify the possible answers.  We have to figure out the answers to our questions and without that skill - the ability to think critically - we will indeed lose generations of potential inventors, great thinkers, business women, doctors etc.  We will also have a generation ill prepared for citizenry in Democracy.  Will have a population better suited for a totalitarian or paternalist regime - one that provides all of the answers like a skillfully crafted poll...

              •  not only identify the answers (none)
                but to really be able to think and identify the right questions to ask.
              •  Tests are designed to stratify (none)
                Also, these tests are usually designed to stratify kids, to make some schools "winners" and some "losers", not to test some base level of competence and then give a pass/fail. If too many kids get a question right they drop it from the exams - obviously it was too easy.
                •  Um, yeah (none)
                  Tests are meant to make distinctions.  A thermometer that only has markings every 20 degrees or that only goes up to 50 degrees is not very useful for measuring a child's body temperature.

                  In terms of measuring school performance, you need a method for isolating the portion of student achievement growth that the teachers were responsible for.  Assuming you do that right, it's ok to identify weak and strng schools.  if a school is failing its students, why let that go on?  Why not take corrective action, for the sake of hte students.  The thing that burns me is disadvantaged kids getting the worst teachers.  Or getting really good teachers, but those teachers work miracles and we fail to detect and reward that because the kids' scores are still low (but much higher than they would have been with a worse teacher).

                  •  You miss my point (none)
                    Does the curriculum for what constitutes "grade level" change every year? Should it?

                    Let's say we all agree that third graders should be able to climb over a 3'  wall, as a basic competency. If year 1 only half make it, but by year 3 they all make it, does that mean that we should raise the wall?

                    Certainly you want to mix up your questions, or cheating will occur. But often what they are doing on these tests is putting in questions that are tricky just for the sake of being tricky. As an example, an exercise my daughter was just doing had her match the item that went with "eggs": choose from cheese, chicken, or bicycle. Who is to say that "chicken" is more correct than "cheese"? These kinds of questions make it onto those tests.

                    The test-making people would feel that they have failed if every single third grade student tested at or above grade level regardless of the skills of those students. Essentially, that means that the process is rigged against the teachers - this is a game that they cannot win.

                    The politicians will not be satisfied until every American child tests above average.

                    •  The conclusion at the (none)
                      The conclusion at the end of these debates seems to be the same: We need better tests.  If the tests accurately and reliably measured what kids really should know, then we should put high stakes on the outcomes.  But the tests must not be corruptible (e.g. predictable item patterns or non-uniformly administered).  They must be tied to the curriculum and the curriculum must be somethign we can agree is meaningful.  Ideally they would have both a set of norms so a child's performance can be compared to a larger population of peers (e.g. state, nation) and a set of criterion-reference points (e.g. score X is tantamount to reading "fluency" or "mastery" of basic number concepts) and those criteria must be transparent and sensible to a wide population.

                      I know, tall order.  But those kinds of advances in student assessment technology would render moot a lot of argument and debate.

              •  So the problem is the test instruments (none)
                Not the idea of trying to measure achievement and attempt to measure the contribution of teachers and schools (and particular education interventions) to acheivement growth.
    •  social darwinism (none)
      great diary.  

      my take on NCLB (to explore a sub-topic) is that is in essence social darwinism.  the end result of the law seems to be a sink-or-swim attitude toward schools:  if they don't meet the standards set in DC, their funding gets cut, which puts them further behind, and would seem to result in a death spiral to put that school out of business.

      for the teachers in here, is that over-simplifying the situation?

      l'homme est né libre, et partout il est dans les fers

      by zeke L on Wed Jun 22, 2005 at 12:10:50 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Along this line (none)
        The whole un-funded mandate/under-funded mandate seems to be part of the "starve the beast" plan to wipe out all government programs by making them fail.

        To them if they can make the schools fail they "prove" their point.

        Also part of the destroy the worker/union/teacher/lawyer/professor [read, "current Democratic Party base"].

        Does seeing this as a possibility require a tin-foil hat?

  •  yours is an important diary (4.00)
    and I am happy to recommend it.   Without the Comer process schools that we do have, Prince Goerg'es County Public Schools would be far worse off than they are.

    Here's a key point people sould realize -- NCLB is pushing education for poor kids to not much more than test prep.  Comer argues for focusing on each child as an individual  -- the only thing individual about NCLB is how the individual socres are used to evaluate the school.

    BTW  one thing that drives me nuts is that under NCLB parents get the right to either transfre out or obtain supplementary services for children in "failing" schools, EVEN IF THEIR CHILD IS DOING VERY WELL.   So it is NOT addressing the needs of individual children.

    Slightly off topic  -- this might be because of the profit motive for friends of Bush,as I noted in my diary yesterday, How NCLB enriches Bush cronies and others, which is a summary of a new report by Gerald Bracey, put out by Arizona State U.

    Those who can, do. Those who can do more, TEACH!

    by teacherken on Wed Jun 22, 2005 at 05:43:28 AM PDT

  •  dumbing us down (4.00)
    With NCLB and other movements in place today, there is no room to engage in critical thought and teaching the skills to engage in it. I wonder in my darker moments whether this might not be the plan. Create a public incapable of curiosity and analysis. Or maybe They are so lacking in these skills that it doesn't occur to them that they are fundmental for educating the citizens of a democracy.

    A lot of work to put this together. Thanks.

    And I looked at the link  TeacherKen put up and add this comment. It applies here as well.

    One way of looking at NCLB is as a form of mandated privatization. There are a number of structures in it that inevitably funnel education to the private sector. And once there, it stays. There are no accountability requirements in the private sector. Lots - and onerous ones - in the public sector.

    I do a lot of writing on privatization and right wing think tanks. These are important engines driving what we see. I urge you to take a look sometime.

    •  How bad is it? (4.00)
      I go back and forth as to how well orchestrated this whole thing was from the beginning.

      Certainly, it is a pro-business, pro-corporate agenda to base schooling solely on test scores, not only because they profit so extensively from the actual contracts, but also because, if you think about it, adapting successfully to a testing regime is an exact parallel to a person's willingness to adapt to the corporate system.

      What we end up measuring is not a person's creativity, critical abilities or even intelligence:  it is their ability to fold themselves successfully into what the system is asking them to do.

      In that light, yes, the death of public education, critical thinking, and especially the ability to imagine a new and better world is nigh.

      Education? Teaching? NCLB? Read my book _Becoming Mr. Henry_

      by Mi Corazon on Wed Jun 22, 2005 at 06:10:58 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  I get the students y'all are teaching (4.00)
        I teach in a law school. And I have to spend a lot of time just trying to pry students minds open to being willing to think about being willing to think. And that's before even teaching them how to think critically and analyze. A lot of them are totally resistent. They want the black letter law and leave their thought processes alone.

        By the time they get to law school, they've had 16+ years of education. They should be much farther along than this.

        •  you must not be getting my students (none)
          just joking.   Actually, though, I FORCE my students to think, to learn to analyze.  They learn very quickly that making a statement and providing a list of facts does not an argument make, or at least not an effective argument.

          It will be interesting to see if I can maintain that while rushing through the material both for the state required exam and the AP exam as I assay AP Government this fall for the first time   -- the 3 classes will be about 80-85% 10th graders who ahve not yet had government, with the rest being upper classman who took the basic government course in 9th grade (we have chnaged our sequence).  

          I ahve always felt that learning of cats will come when they learn how to analyze, to put ideas together.   That's one of my main objections to the heavy emphasis on outside tests that do not require much thinking.  At Least Maryland's HSAs require them to write brief and extended constructed responses, but those do not have to be particularly well written to score sufficiently to pass the test.  Oh well ,.....

          Those who can, do. Those who can do more, TEACH!

          by teacherken on Wed Jun 22, 2005 at 08:45:59 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  Question for you, teacherken (none)
            What if you were in charge of all public schools in the land and Congress gave you as much money as you wanted to hand out, on one condition: You had to demonstrate that the money you spent on the kids was well spent.  And you had to prove that to your counterparts who are in charge of all the other good things that that money could fund, like disaster relief, assistance to the disabled, unemployment insurance, Medicare and Medicaid, and so on.

            You don't like what NCLB is measuring or how it's measuring it.  How would you define successful teaching/learning and measure it?

            (Others besides teacherken may want to respond, but I'm eager for ideas on this).

            •  Steve G (4.00)
              I know you directed this to TeacherKen, but I dream about this scenario all the time given my experiences as a teacher, a mentor and lifelong student.

              I'd use that money to make all class sizes manageable (12 to 15 students), pour lots of it into professional development around assessment (all forms, formative and summative, anectdotal, portfolios, etc.), meeting the needs of diverse learners and creating high level integrated curriculum through collaboration.  Then I'd do away with special and gifted ed, providing support services at each site, including social services and nutrition specialists.
              I'd also institute peer support groups, teacher-mentorship programs, student mentorship programs, administrative training around instructional leadership and reintroduce arts, p.e., home ec, industrial arts, etc.  
              I'd also bring all schools up to speed on the latest distance learning technology and provide all students and teachers with a laptop.

              And this is all off the top o' me head.
              Thanks for letting me have fun.

              here boo, here boo, want a cookie? good girl.

              by tepster on Wed Jun 22, 2005 at 12:02:53 PM PDT

              [ Parent ]

              •  Absolutely Spot On!!!.... (none)
                Study after study after study from professionals to academics to teachers themselves concludes that the single most effective thing you can do to improve education is to reduce class size, and not just by two or three... half the traditional class of 25 to 30+ and you will see such a dramatic improvement.  With a small class you can personalize each child's workload, you can address their individual learning strengths, you can give more time to every student, management and behavior problems are minimized.  I teach in a school where my largest class this year was 11.  Every child earned an A because I could give each of them what they needed to succeed. Smaller class size is doable and will make a difference.

                Energy is neither created nor destroyed; it only changes form.

                by SME in Seattle on Wed Jun 22, 2005 at 03:27:41 PM PDT

                [ Parent ]

              •  How would you justify it to taxpayers? (none)
                The second half of my question was how would you prove to your funders that they were getting their money's worth?

                "manageable" class sizes of 12 kids are literally twice as expensive as class sizes of 24.  PD is expensive, requires both teacher and coach/trainer time, and if the teacher leaves the profession as many new teachers do, you've wasted the investment.

                The problem is, the public doesn't want to write a blank check unless they get proof (accountability, if you will) that the money is well spent.  Just saying these inputs are great (more time and training and teachers per student) doesn't cut it.  Taxpayers want to know how much more students are learning for each extra say $100 per student increment.  So the idea behind NCLB is sound even if the dumbkopfs who are implementing it bungle the job.

            •  I have a question for YOU, Steve G... (4.00)
              What do you know about qualitative vs. quantitative assessment when it comes to learning?

              The reason I ask is most people (even in the field of education) who support the provisions in NCLB having to do with measurement have no knowledge of qualitative assessment.  

              As a parent and as a teacher, I have to say that using qualitative data tells me much more about what my students know and can do than a set of quantitative data.  That's not to say the quantitative has no place in assessment- it most certainly does.  Unfortunately, NCLB puts all its cards in one set of numbers.  In fact, I've been at a school where the student population scored much higher than in previous years, but because they didn't meet the AYP, they were punished financially, which began a domino effect leading to corrective action (AYP not met, parents pull kids out, student population declines, school losees funding per pupil, programs cut, loss of staff, etc.)

              here boo, here boo, want a cookie? good girl.

              by tepster on Wed Jun 22, 2005 at 12:10:40 PM PDT

              [ Parent ]

              •  Qualitative assessment (none)
                Student assessment can have several purposes. One purpose is diagnostic, to determine an individual student's needs and abilities for the purpose of making educational decisions for that student (promotion to the next grade, assignment to a particular teacher or class, etc.)  That's what people like you (parents and teachers) need.

                Another purpose is to measure change over time, particularly how the whole class is doing (the average) so school leaders and policy makers (whom I work for) can determine the contribution of teachers to student performance.  (Caveat, we need the tests to accurately measure what we want kids to learn).

                We need assessments that serve both purposes and impose minimal burden on students.  I'm sorry that one purpose is crowding out the other, but hopefully we can find a balance.

            •  not teacherken (none)
              Here's my shot.

              I would make all elementary classes 20 kids or fewer.
              In addition to regular subject matter teachers, I would set up a mentor teacher for each student, limited to 10-20 kids, and each kid would meet with their mentor one-on-one each week.

              I would evaluate each kid annually with a combination of standardized test scores and a review of some sort of project - a book report, science project, history essay, etc. I would want the evaluator to have access to the previous year's results.

            •  not interested in the job (4.00)
              because I do NOT believe that education should be done on such a top-down basis.  Let me get into trouble by quoting Chairman Mao  -- let a thousand flowers bloom.  There is not one right way of teaching.  I do not teach my three calsses of talented and gifted students exacetly the same, because they have different dynamics, and my students have different needs.

              Not all class sizes need to be 12-15.  The real issue may be teacher load  -- I'd rather have 3 classes of 300 for a total of 90 than 6 classes of 20 for a total of 120  -- I need time to read and mark up papers, because writing is such an importan issue.

              I will tell you that I do not need tests - mine or those of others -- to see if my students are grasping and learning.  I can tgell from ordinary written work, from their participation in class discussion.   My tests are not so much to give a grade (which is class by class why I will adjust the raw scores) but to give feedback  -- both to the student and to myself  -- about what they grasp and what they don't grasp.  It's one reason that I never have a single test worth more than 20% of the marking period  -- and that is only true for my 4th quarter final exam  -- otherwise it is more likely that one test will not be worth more than 10-12%.  Why?  What if on that day an otherwise good student is ill but came to school anyhow, is under emotional distress, is simply having a bad hair day?  Is it fair that out of 45 day marking period one truly atrocious day could drop you two letter grades?

              To answer quor question at the end of your comment, I would first have to reframe the question.   it is not a question of measuring.  Rather it is a question of assessing or evaluating.  This is not merely semantics, it is a difference in understanding.   Can the student demonstrate her understanding of the principles of the domain?  Can he (deliberate alternating of sex) apply principles and use the data of the domain in a way that enables him to function at least semi-independently in the domain.  Is she capable of being able to discern the difference among what she knows, what she does not know, and what may fall in between and needs clarification?  Can he, t the end of the period with me as his teacher, show and be able to explain how his skill, understanading and knowledge in the domain has improved?

              I can measure the height of a child many times, but the measurement in no way causes a change in the height.  

              As to tests, most of them are very imperfect even as measurements.  In test theory, there is a basic problem of measurement error.  Let's say we give an exam that has 100 questions.   Where do we set the cut score, which represents an acceptable level of performance?  We know that some will on this particular application (adminstration of the test) perform better than their underlying 'ability' or "knowledge"  -- this would be considered a false positive.  Similarly, others will for whatever reason perform significantly lower than their underlyging "ability' or "knowledge"  -- these will be false negatives.  

              If I am screenign people to be commercial airline pilots, false positives might mean licensing people who should not be in the copit because they represent a real safety risk.   Thus I am likely to se a very high cut score, and as a result possible screen out people who are otherwise qualified on the basis of their false negative scores on this application.  

              But if I am determining whether a student should move from 3rd to 4th grade, setting such a high cut score would unnecessarily lead to the retntion (and concomitant social discomfort or worse) of many otherwise qualified students, who may just ahve had a bad day.  

              BTW -- when Virginia was setting its cut scores on SOLs in American History, they used an expert panel method.  That is, a group of experts for each question made a determination if the competent person should succeed on the question, and for each expert they added the total.   The normal next step is to take the median of the totals fo the experts.  Virginia, while Gilmore was governor, took the high end or in some cases even above th high expert level.  That is one reason they had such a high failure rate the first year out.  When the cut scores were lowered for the next cohort of students and the pass rates jumped up, politicians falsely claimed that it showed their emphasis on high standards was working.  Excuse me but "horsehockey" as Col. Potter would say on MASH.

              I refuse to fall in the trap of that since I can find what is wrong with the current method it is incubment upon me to propose a substitute.  I'm not the one who imposed th bad system in the first place.  

              The simple solution is if politicians think such tests are necessary, they should be willing to sit for them AND HAVE THEIR SCORES AND ANSWERS PUBLICLY PUBLISHED (sorry for the screaming).  Maybe we should give these tests to the members of state legislatures, Congress, governors, state school boards, and the top leadership of the US Dept of Education (oh would I have loed to see the scores of Rod Paige!!).  We'll take the median scores they get and use that as our cut scores.   Methinks you'd find for middle school tests and up the cut scores would have to drop significantly.

              Those who can, do. Those who can do more, TEACH!

              by teacherken on Wed Jun 22, 2005 at 12:36:17 PM PDT

              [ Parent ]

              •  Exactly! NCLB is not about education (none)
                It's about central control over what we do and do not teach.  It's scary.  

                "Because keeping people dumb is where they're coming from."  -- Frank Zappa

                All murderers are punished unless they kill in large numbers and to the sound of trumpets. ~Voltaire

                by TexH on Wed Jun 22, 2005 at 04:25:58 PM PDT

                [ Parent ]

          •  Oh man (none)
            I went to school in Montgomery County and the words "brief and extended constructed response" always struck me as a stupid buzzword.

            I'll admit there are people here who know far more about education than I, but I say, if a system has to invent the phrase "brief constructed response" to express the concept of "short answer," that system has to be pretty broken.

            In my experience in Montgomery County, teachers were too full of themselves and meaningless education jargon to do any real teaching.  Fortunately I'm in college now, and things are much better.

      •  What can we do (4.00)
        now, as parents, to combat this.

        I home schooled my 10yo son until 1.5 years ago. So far his public school experience has been devastating! He is hopeless that he will ever again learn anything meaningful. His days are long and boring with no creativity, no higher level thinking and little physical activity. I do believe public school has actually lowered his IQ. :(

        I would love to see parents keep their children home on the TAKS test days as a form of protest but, considering where I live, that is not likely to happen.  When Texas was using the TAAS tests, parents could refuse to let their children take the test.  Under NCLB, if your child doesn't take and pass the test, they don't get to advance to the next grade.  

        Other than taking my child out of school, which is something I am working toward, what can a parent do?

        The Christian Right is neither Witness Every Day

        by TXsharon on Wed Jun 22, 2005 at 07:43:34 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Not only that, (4.00)
          but the law is such that if more parents keep their kids home, the school most definitely does NOT meet the adequate yearly progress, setting them on a course for "failure" and punitive action.

          The law pits groups against one another like this on so many levels.  I hate to give so much credit to the Repugs for thinking this through, but it really is brilliant, in some respects, for how it cuts off any kind of dissent on any level.

          It's evil, actually, considering the effects on children.

          here boo, here boo, want a cookie? good girl.

          by tepster on Wed Jun 22, 2005 at 12:14:06 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

        •  In California, NCLB trumps your rights (none)
          ...parents have the right to excuse their children from state school testing.

          Almost half the parents do so at my kids' school.  But it's an alternative school, and while I never heard of Comer, the ideas discussed in this article are straight out of what they're doing.  I'll post about that in another comment.

          But in the neighborhood (default) schools, very few parents know they have this right.  Certainly the schools aren't getting the word out, because NCLB does not grant parents the same right.

          So here's what ends up happening: our excellent school district has been found "failing" by NCLB because one of fifteen subgroups failed to take the test at a 95% rate.  This has nothing to do with the test results (which were excellent); this is the number of children who took the test.  And the idiot on the street interprets this to mean our school district is failing (I've overheard discussions in public places by ill-informed people who are unembarassed to give their opinions in loud voices).  And this in turn leads to those without kids in the schools to vote against bond measures... which in California must pass by 66-2/3%.

          So the district turns around and pressures the parents... yes, you have the right to excuse your child but DON'T because it will hurt your district!  In our district six kids in one subgroup were the difference... of all those measurements.

          Whoever said NCLB was designed to aid privatization called it right... there is no other reason for these idiotic rules.

          Chaos, fear, dread. My work here is done.

          by madhaus on Wed Jun 22, 2005 at 01:16:52 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  I understand that it may hurt the school (none)
            but what about my kid?  And, what about my rights and his rights?

            To hell with this crap!  If I leave him in public school, he will be like 90% of the freshmen at the college where I work--brain dead.  

            The Christian Right is neither Witness Every Day

            by TXsharon on Wed Jun 22, 2005 at 02:03:43 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

    •  your darker moments (none)
      At the risk of exposing my tinfoil hat, I'll admit that I think your darker moments are dead on. What better organ than public education for massive, long-term brainwashing? If you can successfully bind the hands of teachers with a million standardized tests, you've got a well-oiled docile-citizen-machine at your disposal.
    •  In my darker, tinfoilish moments (4.00)
      I view NCLB as nothing less than an attempt to completely dismantle public education.  One example:  schools are required to submit annual report cards for consumption by the general public, in which they must communicate a vast array of informational items.  Among those informational items is the number of "highly qualified" teachers a school has.  Each state's interpration of highly qualified is unique, but must be approved by the Department of Education.  Imagine if you are a parent reviewing your kid's school's report card and you find that over 50% of that school's teachers do not meet the definition of highly qualified.  Would you have confidence in the ability of the school to educate?  The effect is to discredit the school.  
      Another factor is the testing regimen.  Schools have to achieve a state of adequate yearly progress, which is measured by linearly upward progression on a series of up to 35 different factors, including declining unexcused abscences, detection of dangerous weapons in the school, and test scores of every concievable sub group of students (including special education and those students who do not speak English as a first language).  A lack of upward movement on any of these factors can cause a school to not achieve adequate yearly progress.  NCLB provides a series of escalating enforcement actions for schools that do not meet AYP, including the dismissal of all the schools staff and takeover of the school by the State Education Agency.
      Failure to meet AYP must also be reported in the school report card.  So imagine the effect on parents who see that their child's school has failed to provide highly qualified teachers and failed to meet adequate yearly progress.

      Step one is to thoroughly discredit public schools and throw their administration into chaos.  Step two: watch for private school vouchers to be proposed as a solution at the federal level in response to America's schools failing to meet the standards of NCLB.  This will be the coup de grace to American public education.

      All this because schools are so desperate for funding that they will swallow these controls for less than 20% of their overall funding.  As much as I dislike the politics of Utah, I respect their state legislature for standing up to NCLB.  Howard Dean's resistance to NCLB as gov of Vermont was one of the first things that drew me to him.

      Sell your cleverness; buy bewilderment.

      by lapin on Wed Jun 22, 2005 at 08:58:26 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Another tinfoil hat theory (4.00)
        I have a tinfoil hat theory that I diaried a little while ago: that NCLB is actually an attempt to legislate The Bell Curve.  

        The Bell Curve basically asserts that intelligence (defined as IQ) is fixed at birth and that it is the primary determining factor in an individual's ability to succeed in society.  Therefore the poor are poor because they have low IQ and they are going to stay that way, reproducing among themselves and enlarging the permanent underclass that they belong to.  The authors of The Bell Curve use this to argue for ending a wide range of affirmative programs, including Head Start, on the basis that they are a waste b/c the "dull" can't be made more intelligent - i.e. we are better off just accepting that their intelligence (and social status) is predetermined based on their genetic makeup.

        I think NCLB attempts to legislate this because of the condition in the law that takes away school funding from schools who fail to raise test scores.  The real-world outcome of this in Texas has been a massive increase in the number of kids dropping out of school.  This would accomplish what The Bell Curve advocates.  I think it is fair to assume that Bush et. al. knew that this was a natural outcome of the law.  If so, one could conclude that an objective of the law is to have the "dull" kids drop out.

        If nothing else, however, NCLB subscribes to the same fundamental assumption of The Bell Curve - that intelligence is measurable by standardized tests.

        Our great democracies still tend to think that a stupid man is more likely to be honest than a clever man - Bertrand Russell

        by mediaddict on Wed Jun 22, 2005 at 10:41:12 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  What NCLB does (none)
          is lower all students' IQ's!

          The Christian Right is neither Witness Every Day

          by TXsharon on Wed Jun 22, 2005 at 11:28:36 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

        •  tin foil? (none)
          Legislating the Bell Curve may or may not be behind NCLB, but I will say I strongly agree with the idea that "intelligence" is mutable, alterable to some extent by different types of training, stimulation, or mental exercise over time - use it or lose it. And as any test taker knows, on any given day, when someone is more or less tired, happy, hungry, distracted, interested, bored, etc. results can vary widely.
        •  Read the 'Bell Curve' and (none)
          it made no sense! They point out that Head Start increases test scores measuring "intelligence" while kids are attending Head Start, but "intelligence" goes down later, when students are out of the enriched Head Start environment.

          One would think that this would either "prove" that "intelligence" is malleable depending on the environment (or that the "intelligence" tests are not actually measuring an innate property or possibly that the construct "intelligence" is meaningless) and make the case for more enriched environments for everyone.  But, no--the conclusion is that Head Start doesn't work because it doesn't raise "intelligence" permanently.

          Yeah, whatever.

          "Help us to save free conscience from the paw -- Of hireling wolves whose gospel is their maw." --John Milton

          by ohiolibrarian on Wed Jun 22, 2005 at 01:21:13 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

      •  Not tinfoil but a silk chapeau! (none)
        but spot on!

        Our district got nailed by the subgroup measurement business, not even in the test scores but in our failure to have 95% of every subgroup report in for testing!

        And people hear "failed NCLB" and assumed our test scores were down, rather than that the district "failed" to meet a ridiculous demand that shouldn't have been there in the first place.  There weren't enough special ed kids taking ONE of the test components... maybe because they were special ed kids, huh?  Maybe they have some challenges with that test and it won't measure anything meaningful for them?  Now the district is pressuring the schools, and the schools pressure the parents, despite the fact that in California, parents have the RIGHT to excuse their kids from state testing for any reason they see fit!

        Our school has many parents opting out of the testing for reasons similar to those expressed in the diary.  The tests don't help the kids because they don't get immediate feedback on what they know and what they don't.  Our school refuses to "teach to the test" but most of the other schools are doing exactly that, dropping science, art, social studies and music  because they aren't tested on that "fluff."

        But despite our school's refusal to teach to the tests, we still get good test scores, because we have good demographics.  Look, I used to work at ETS, the people who brought you the SAT.  The best correlation, of all the variables we worked with, was between SAT scores and parental income.  You could fill the school with George W's family as teachers and those kids would still do well on the tests.

        And what of the school that scored 1000, perfect, on the California API?  Will they be busted under NCLB for scoring 998 the following year?

        Chaos, fear, dread. My work here is done.

        by madhaus on Wed Jun 22, 2005 at 01:25:32 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  there is a related piece in today's Boston Globe (none)
    by Derrick Jackson entitled How a school stays 'on mission'.   While it is about a small charter school in Boston, from the description it sound very much like there is overlap with the Comer process.

    Those who can, do. Those who can do more, TEACH!

    by teacherken on Wed Jun 22, 2005 at 05:55:37 AM PDT

    •  Not to continuosly toot our horn (4.00)
      but Codman is part of the Coalition of Essential Schools. At CES we  too are concerned about designing schools that reflect the developmental process. CES schools understand that learnnig is an active process not a passive one where teachers impart knowledge to students.

      Twenty years ago our founder Ted Sizer coined the notion of personalization now common to the school reform lexicon. Sizer also recognized the centrality of relationships to the educational process and the need to have school structures encourage meaningful relationships between students and the adults in a school community. From here was born the current iteration of the small schools movement.

      But while those now interested in small schools are often mandating their formation through "replicable models" (or Mi Corazon's elusive magic bullet) Sizer declared that no to schools are alike. Rather they must reflect the strengths and needs of their own unique school community. Thus Sizer called for eudcators, parents and students to be the inventors of their own schools following a set of 10 Principles that refelcted his research into what makes effective schools and how they are organized..

      Ye that dare oppose not only tyranny but the tyrant stand forth! - Thomas Paine

      by Lcohen on Wed Jun 22, 2005 at 08:38:19 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  I don't disagree (none)
        The Comer process is not an esact replication, but an approach, which requires of its nature modification for local needs.  It is not universally applicable, nothing is.

        I am qujite well aware of Sizer's work and of CES  -- I am on their email list, I have read his book, I follow the literature.  I am a strong believer in breaking educational lockstep by grades, but that is not possible where I teach, so withint the structure I have I do what I can.

        and BTW -- the fact that a school is a participant in CES has not always meant that it was really implementing the principles.  When I waas doing my MAT in in 1994-95, I was very interested in CES.  But then I found a number fo schools about which I had indpendent knowledge (paricularly in Albuquerque, where 2 sisters-in-law then lived) to which i would enver send any child of mine that I became a bit more skeptical.  It is kind of like htose "progrssive" educators who seem not to have understood Dewey, or those calling themselves "constructivists" who totally miss the point of what Vygotsky was trying to achieve.

        Here I can get even more cynical, so let me say in davance what one Brahms' biographers attributed to him as he left a dinner party:  "If there is anyone here I have not insulted, I'm sorry I missed you."  Methinks that not onnly would old Sigmund reject most of those who apple to themslves the sobriquet of Freudian, but many self-proclaimed "Christians" will be quite shocked to encounter the risen Jesus and find him rejecting them and all their works  -- I could start to offer NT chapter and verse, but this is supposedly a comment on an educational thread.   Enough already.  

        Those who can, do. Those who can do more, TEACH!

        by teacherken on Wed Jun 22, 2005 at 12:43:26 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Not insulted (none)
          Your criticism of schools calling themselves CES schools is well taken. Quality control is a weakness of an inclusive "bottoms-up-approach" to school reform. Our response has been to identify CES Mentor schools as exemplars of high implementation of the common principles. This isn't meant to discourage those who might not really get it but rather to give them something to aim for.

          Ye that dare oppose not only tyranny but the tyrant stand forth! - Thomas Paine

          by Lcohen on Wed Jun 22, 2005 at 04:44:20 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

  •  Highly Recommended (4.00)
    NCLB is destroying education.  It basically demands that all children learn at the same pace.  That just isn't possible.  I spent yesterday at a rally for public education and I went with two kidnergarten teachers from district. They told me that they actually test the five year olds - a version of the CTBS.  My husband teaches junior kindergarden in Ontario and they do not test the kids.  Just madness.

    "America when will we end the human war?" - Allen Ginsberg

    by Teacher Toni on Wed Jun 22, 2005 at 06:15:35 AM PDT

  •  why're education diaries always so long? (none)
    teachers, they can't help but go on and on!

    j/k, of course, excellent diary.

    The absurd thing is the idea that "the basics" are somehow, in themselves, such difficult concepts to understand that we need to start drilling three year olds on subject-verb agreement (or whatever). Anyone who has ever learned the basics knows this.

    Anyone who has ever struggled to learn the basics knows the struggle wasn't the academic concepts, it was because s/he was busy taking care of siblings, or s/he didn't have any friends at school, or s/he was too shy to ask for help, or s/he had a burnt out teacher (or a series of burnt out teachers) who gave out a handouts and had students teach themselves...and on and on. There are a million reasons why students fail and none of them are that the basics are too intellectually demanding. Which is why the NCLB is so ass-backwards.

    Grasping the basics is freakin' easy-- as long as other obstacles aren't getting in the way. And now we have the NCLB, piling on the obstacles.

    •  Length matters, at long last (none)
      Regarding why education journals are so long--and I know you weren't terribly serious about it--it's just that you can't reduce education programming to sound-bites.  There are too many complexities, caveats and conundrums in dealing with human beings to be able to paper them over with a few quick, pithy phrases.

      Education? Teaching? NCLB? Read my book _Becoming Mr. Henry_

      by Mi Corazon on Wed Jun 22, 2005 at 06:38:46 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  I disagree (none)
        Sort of.

        Genuine explanations-- like your diary-- require space. But I think it would be good if we could frame the progressive education agenda in a soundbite or two.

        "NCLB is about raising standards." Boom, America is sold. I think we've got to combat that in a way that is equally simple/simplistic.

        •  Bluesteel, I so agree (none)
          If the Dept. of Ed. somehow made it easier to see where Fed dollars are ending up (my guess, the software, test prep, private tutoring and textbook publishing companies) we could prove, by the numbers that this is a slow and toxic death by poisoning of public ed.

          THEN we can frame it as No Corporation Left Behind.  As it is, the money trail is incredibly hard to trace.  There's a couple of us on the listserv who are actively trying to do this but states aren't required to itemize where the Fed money goes, specifically.

          here boo, here boo, want a cookie? good girl.

          by tepster on Wed Jun 22, 2005 at 12:19:49 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

  •  Like, It Takes a Village, Man. (none)
    Anyone got a village?

    Most people are idiots... But don't tell them. It'll spoil all the fun for those of us who aren't.

    by d3n4l1 on Wed Jun 22, 2005 at 06:26:05 AM PDT

  •  Your book? (none)
    What's the title?  Can you tell us more about it?
    •  Nevermind (none)
      I see it.  Is it a biography?
      •  I thought you would never ask (4.00)
        I won't make this a full-blown commercial but the gist of my book is about how I grew up in the '60s in a family of nine--my parents were both teachers--and how I stumbled somewhat reluctantly into education and found a voice and vocation despite general ignorance and inability as a novice teacher.

        Parker Palmer, who talks about the "inner landscape" of teachers, was my main inspiration for wanting to write it.  He shows, convincingly, how educators are not easily trained, nor should they be taken lightly, but represent an unusual match between a person's interior life and their external skill set in working with the public.

        It then goes on to talk about the importance and value of teaching, why public education matters and takes a few unconventional positions on zero tolerance drug and sexual abstinence policies, as well as the paradox of America's racial, economic divide--which is hugely evident in education.

        It's not a policy book.  It is a highly personal narrative that tells my story while reflecting broadly on important issues and discoveries that I have made about learning and teaching along the way.

        I wrote it for the general public, so that they could see inside the life of a school and of a teacher.  But, given the depth of issues it explores, it may end up being most appropriate for other educators, and especially young people thinking about teaching.

        It took me two years off of teaching to write it and find a fucking publisher, then another year to get the editing and production done.  But, I got it published, without an MFA, without connections, and without regard for my personal income, health or sanity.

        Why do people do such things?

        Education? Teaching? NCLB? Read my book _Becoming Mr. Henry_

        by Mi Corazon on Wed Jun 22, 2005 at 06:54:17 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Why do people do such things? (none)
          It's kinda like asking why people become teachers - because they care.

          It was a cold, bright day in April and the clocks were striking thirteen.

          by Stradavus on Wed Jun 22, 2005 at 07:51:48 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

        •  Because They Can! (4.00)
          Congrats on publishing!  I am interested not by being a teacher, but by being a parent of 3 (HS, MS and elementary) and having to defend my choice of public schooling against my Repub elitist family.  Also, I live in a rural retirement community that has to be dragged kicking and screaming to pass a M&O levy, gripes incessantly about the "money pit" of schools, does not honor teachers, etc.  Contrary to calling these people the Greatest Generation, I want to call them on the carpet for the fact that their children do not know how to nurture the grandkids.  

          NCLB runs the school systems because nobody seems to know what else to do.  The rootlessness of American families is a direct result of the "Good Old Days" of the mid-Twentieth Century that the neo-fundies want to return us to.  Culture War is a facade for a complete lack of understanding of successful and humane nurturing.

          My incoherent rant of the day.

          I will watch for your book.  Please do promote it to dKos when it comes out.    

        •  4 on this comment for Parker Palmer reference (none)
          he is absolutely one of my heroes / guiding lights.  

          Those who can, do. Those who can do more, TEACH!

          by teacherken on Wed Jun 22, 2005 at 08:40:03 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

  •  Wonderful diary... (none)
    very thought-provoking.

    I'll save it and re-read!

  •  I agree (none)
    that this MAY be what is needed.

    But, we will never get to the "better future" we keep talking about unless fundamental reforms are enacted in our educational system.

    What do I mean by this?

    Increased funding that ISN'T tied to property taxes. How do we get this?

    Subsidized school choice vouchers.

    The fact of the matter is that we already have a free market in education -- it's just that most can't afford the "price" of moving to an affluent community. This unfortnately pits Democrats against each other -- inner-city blacks who support vouchers against the teachers' unions and white, suburban democratic voters who see the status quo as being ok.

    Parents can pick out the failing schools -- let them decide where to send their kids.

    Progressives shouldn't be afraid of markets -- we have to realize that they are useful tools that may or may not be appropriate for a given task.  

    Sponge Bob, Mandrake, Cartoons. That's how your hard-core islamahomocommienazis work.

    by Benito on Wed Jun 22, 2005 at 07:03:32 AM PDT

    •  Market, yes. But a smart market approach. (none)
      Well, vouchers and school choice have their own set of problems and challenges to overcome.

      Comer himself correctly points out that of the "choice" systems in place, not a single school district in the country has produced the kind of results that would make anyone stand up and take notice.

      You still have the fundamental issues of how do you work toward developing young students in real and important ways, how do you involve the family, how do you provide for equity between advantaged and disadvantaged students.  

      Too often, choice helps very few students and stifles reform for the vast majority.

      I myself can envision a type of market reform that might be effective.  Namely, allowing teachers to form "teaching firms" similar to law firms, which then get hired by school districts to provide teaching services.  No more unions, no more administrators mucking around with teacher training or evaluation.  The school board hires a teaching firm and that firm is responsible for providing quality teaching services in that district for the length of the contract.  They--the teachers--decide on methods, advancement and training of new educators in their organization.  If the public is disatisfied with their efforts, professionalism or emphasis, at the end of the contract, a new teaching firm can be brought in.

      Such a market driven reform would put the onus for innovation and results where you have the most impact: on the teachers in the classroom.

      Anything else, and especially allowing children to move around, makes little sense.  We have the buildings and infrastructure in place, we need to energize the teaching communities to compete and get better, not shift students like herds of cattle.  There simply isn't the capacity to put every student in a district into a single, successful school building.

      Education? Teaching? NCLB? Read my book _Becoming Mr. Henry_

      by Mi Corazon on Wed Jun 22, 2005 at 07:35:47 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  I think (none)
        the "teacher firm" idea is an excellent one -- really a great idea. Has anyone tried it before?

        But, consumers (parents and kids) need have a say in determining where and how their education dollars are spent. The wealthy are already voting with their feet; a comprehensive system of public education vouchers would merely reinforce and make stronger a signal already being sent by the public to the education establishment -- that the system as it curently stands is horrible and needs reform.

        If the type of school described in this thread really works parent will pick up on it -- they will see results and won't care why it happens -- and spend their dollars accordingly. Are markets the "perfect" solution? No, but I think we need to move in this direction.

        Sponge Bob, Mandrake, Cartoons. That's how your hard-core islamahomocommienazis work.

        by Benito on Wed Jun 22, 2005 at 07:45:05 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  No (none)
          The idea of market driven education sounds completely wrong to me, because it would still elevate the haves above the have-nots. I think what we need is yes, to stop funding schools through property taxes, and to get government to set aside a meaningful education budget to run an effective, consistent public education program that would be based on a model like Comer's but would allow for local cultural differences. But, that is speaking as a parent, not an educator.
          •  The problem (none)
            is that under the current system the have nots can't escape the crappy schools they are in while the have can by merely moving to a different school district.

            Why do the parents move? Because they see a better school that they want their children to go to. If everyone is allowed to choose the school they go to then all schools are forced to get better in order to ensure enrollment. The have nots are always going to have it worse -- markets mechanisms in public education that getting the worst doesn't necessarily mean being totally left behind.

            Sponge Bob, Mandrake, Cartoons. That's how your hard-core islamahomocommienazis work.

            by Benito on Wed Jun 22, 2005 at 01:14:51 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

      •  Would your vision of teaching firms (none)
        be applicable in both rural and urban areas?

        Sell your cleverness; buy bewilderment.

        by lapin on Wed Jun 22, 2005 at 09:40:57 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  Would your vision of teaching firms (none)
        be applicable to both rural and urban areas?

        Sell your cleverness; buy bewilderment.

        by lapin on Wed Jun 22, 2005 at 09:51:37 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  sorry for the double post (none)

          Sell your cleverness; buy bewilderment.

          by lapin on Wed Jun 22, 2005 at 09:52:47 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

        •  Yes, (none)
          Though in truth, at that point, if a firm were hired new into a new and remote area their main task would be to bring in a new team, train new teachers, establish their teaching standards and environment, then continuously monitor how that project is going.  That may mean sourcing a few senior, master teachers at the school to direct the new program.

          The real benefit of this concept is that, for once, teachers themselves would have to manage, monitor and assist each other to be the best educators that they could be.

          What has been a long, solitary slog without much professional oversight or input, teaching alone for 6 hours a day, would now require a much higher degree of consultation and collaboration, which, in my experience, would be a huge benefit to the profession.

          Education? Teaching? NCLB? Read my book _Becoming Mr. Henry_

          by Mi Corazon on Wed Jun 22, 2005 at 10:07:06 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  What? Teacher firms?!! (none)
            Interesting concept, but as a teacher, when is anyone going to come up with an idea that doesn't put all the onus on teachers to bridge the gap between students who come to school prepared and those whose developmental, emotional and cognitive needs have not been sufficiently met?

            Why is it all on teachers for kids to grow and succeed in life?

            This teacher firm idea is great because I can see schools choosing a firm that happens to use innovative approaches and assessments when it comes to learning (I'd sign up in a hot second), but no "firm" will ever be able to make up for what society has neglected to do for its less fortunate children.

            here boo, here boo, want a cookie? good girl.

            by tepster on Wed Jun 22, 2005 at 12:30:17 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  Shakespeare in the dark (none)
              True enough Tepster, the job is well nigh impossible.  

              Parker Palmer says that the teacher stands at the crossroads where private concerns for excellence intersect with all of the public's children.

              In that meeting place of public and private the job is to make some magic, even if all you've been given is some dross and a couple of tree stumps.

              "T'was always thus, and thus t'will always be."

              Education? Teaching? NCLB? Read my book _Becoming Mr. Henry_

              by Mi Corazon on Wed Jun 22, 2005 at 03:57:08 PM PDT

              [ Parent ]

    •  problems with the market approach (none)
      sure, i agree we shouldn't be afraid of markets.

      but the fact of the matter is that markets and capitalism are simply not an effective fit for every type of social activity.  progressives are typically the voice that points out that the market isn't some magical benevolent deity that dispenses its blessings on us the more we devote ourselves to its worship.  this has been the case since teddy roosevelt.

      in particular, medicine and education are two sectors that are pretty clearly bad fits for the market model.

      to take only one structural problem in the case of education, the payor and consumer are by definition not the same person.  in the voucher system, the parents are the ones paying for the service, while the child is the one receiving the service.  and to make matters worse, the payee is the school district while the service provider is the teacher.  i think you would quickly wind up with an environment dominated by slick sales pitches by business-minded school superintendants that are devised to sell to parents, with little of the resources reaching the classroom, where teacher and student are left to fend for themselves.  and don't try to tell me parents would be unhappy with the "results" - the people banking the vouchers would be the same ones coming up with the metrics.

      then you'd have the whole problem of people without children asking what's in it for them once the market model becomes the dominant mindset.

      to my mind, we need to think of education as infrastructure - something that is needed for society to function effectively.

      l'homme est né libre, et partout il est dans les fers

      by zeke L on Wed Jun 22, 2005 at 12:31:29 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  So how would you (none)
        improve the current situation without resorting to merely spending more money? I agree with you that education is an important part of the societal infrastructure, but, for a variety of reasons, they way we currently structure and organize education simply isn't working for a huge number of US students.

        Bill Gates called US high schools obsolete. Not merely bad, mind you, but obsolete. The system as currently constituted simply cannot go on.

        I like the idea of markets because it puts choice and responsibility into the parents' hands while providing incentives to schools to improve. US higher education is the best in the world for the simple reason market mechanisms force schools to compete. Harvard wouldn't be Harvard if it also weren't competing against Yale, Princeton, and all the other Ivy League schools.

        Sponge Bob, Mandrake, Cartoons. That's how your hard-core islamahomocommienazis work.

        by Benito on Wed Jun 22, 2005 at 01:25:19 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  Thanks for this diary (none)
    A class I took last semester on Brown v. Board of Education touched on NCLB at the end of the semester, but we didn't discuss it nearly enough.  I think I will search out this book and read it.

    Don't wanna be an American idiot

    by Adr on Wed Jun 22, 2005 at 07:20:48 AM PDT

  •  I'm not familiar with Comer's work... (none)
    but I do believe that the over-emphasis on standardized testing is detroying our schools. Standardized testing makes school a dreadful place to be. School should ignite a lifelong love of learning, not teach children how to take tests.
    •  Standardized Testing (none)
      I make my living analyzing the results of standardized tests so I have to acknowledge your complaint but offer a word in defense of testing.

      First, a minor definitional issue: "standardized" testing just means that every test subject takes the same test under the same conditions.  It does not necessarily imply any kind of test format. Yet it's the test format that many people object to, e.g. paper-and-pencil written test with multiple choice answers.  I understand the practical value of paper-and-pencil multiple choice, but agree that it may not be the best instrument, so am open to anything that's better.  Some testing experts have been experimenting with standardized essay exams, constructed response tests, and performance assessments (e.g. work portfolios or demonstrations).  All of these formats are in their infancy from the perspective of achieving adequate psychometric standards.

      Second, "teaching to the test" can be good if the teacher is teaching to the domain of the test.  What people often complain about is actually narrow teaching to the test.

      The most narrow teaching to the test has to do with strategies for marking more b's and c's for example.  Less narrow, but still problematic, is guessing the particular items and preparing students to get those specific items correct.  

      Teaching to the whole domain of the test (all the content area from which the items have been sampled) is good and is what should be done all year round, assuming that the test is well aligned with a content area that is deemed important.  Again, this requires constant scrutiny and improvement of the tests.  As we become more sophisticated about curriculum, so should we update our assessment instruments.

      In sum, most of the complaints against "standardized testing" should be directed against the quality and relevance of the tests, which I hope we can work on improving as a society.  Until then, the tests we have can be more useful than you think, allowing us researchers to measure trends in decent predictors of achievemnt if not the achievement itself.  But we must always be vigilant, exercising caution in test interpretation and recognizing sources of bias in the fallible instruments we have at our disposal.

      •  How I feel. (none)
        I don't want to throw the thread into turmoil over the issue of standardized testing because it is a large, but mostly separate, discussion which requires very sensitive, and at times, highly technical parsing of language and issues.

        Suffice it to say that there is a place for some standardized testing, especially in terms of sampling and trend identification.

        My main objections to it are to the frequency of such testing, the public perception of the meaning of such tests, and their improper use as high-stakes instruments that determine winners and losers.

        In the hands of the right people with the right motives and intentions, standardized tests can be helpful measure of where students are and where they need to go.  In the hands of the wrong people, with the wrong intentions, and with little idea what really matters to the human beings whose lives are impacted by them, they are nothing short of a disaster.

        That's how I feel.

        Education? Teaching? NCLB? Read my book _Becoming Mr. Henry_

        by Mi Corazon on Wed Jun 22, 2005 at 09:43:12 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  I agree. (none)
          I feel that we need to keep NCLB largely intact, but replace most of the people who are charged with interpreting it.  Accountability and high standards in education are good things, but we need much better and smarter leadership on how to do bring them about.  Nuance, sensitivity, etc. are in short supply in the U.S. Department of Education's political appointees.  (The Department itself is not the problem -- I work with many of them and I know it's their bosses).

          Baby, bathwater, and all that.

          •  "High stakes" and standardization (4.00)
            in combination is the problem.

            Testing and "accountability" as presently employed under NCLB are punitive vehicles. Students, teachers and schools are punished for low performance. Diplomas are withheld, school staff are transferred, low-performing schools lose funding.

            A question for advocates of accountability, begins with who do you want held to account? When students in unjderresourced schools fail to learn is it the student, the teacher, District, or the State the party that should be held accountable?

            Testing is valuable when it is used as a diagnostic tool to improve teaching and learning. But once-a-year exams with meaningless aggregated school data whose results are made available in the subsequent school year, do nothing to help students learn or teachers teach. Further such tests don't measure how well students have mastered the curriculum of their particular school. Rather, they assume that all students at all schools have studied the same curricula and can demonstrate the same sort of knowledge on a narrow assessment given under high-pressure circumstances. And they don't rely on the judgment of teachers, parents, mentors, employers, and peers -- the people who best know students' growth, learning, and capabilities, and the people who have the most significant stake in students' successes.

            People have a right to know how well schools are doing. However, state-administered high-stakes standardized tests indicate little of true significance. Instead, we need to promote a system of multiple measures and performance assessments, which would yield a more challenging and accurate gauge of students' abilities. Well-designed exhibitions, portfolios, and other such high-stakes learning assessments are broad and deep, requiring students to develop and use a wide range of skills as they publicly demonstrate mastery of the entire curriculum. Such assessments reflect progress and competence gained throughout years of schooling. Success in performance-based assessments depends on refinement, revision, attention to detail, and higher-order thinking skills. Such assessments demand environments in which each student is challenged to meet high standards set by the school and by the community.

            Ye that dare oppose not only tyranny but the tyrant stand forth! - Thomas Paine

            by Lcohen on Wed Jun 22, 2005 at 12:21:10 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

          •  NCLB has hidden nasties -- should be revoked, imho (none)
            Like all things Bush, there are evil "easter eggs" that aid his other agendas (i.e., invasion cannon fodder) under the cloak of "reform" (educational or otherwise.)

            Sneaky Provision 9528 of the No Child Left Behind Act forces public high schools to turn over private contact information of minor children to military recruiters. Parents can opt-out, but most don't even know this is happening. The MMOB has a campaign designed to combat this, and to shine a light all over NCLB. Check out Leave My Child Alone and share it with a parent or kid you love.

            Everyone can sign on to the Honorable Mike Honda's Student Privacy Protection Act (H.R. 551), which would ensuring schools release private information to military recruiters only if families request it, rather than the other way around.

      •  I have been grading (none)
        state education tests for the past month. I can't give many details about the actual work except to say I have graded english tests from grade 3 through grade 10.

        For me, the one thing that stands out in every paper is how a child's economic class impacts his or her ability to appropriately answer the test prompt.  The kids who write the top rated essays all seem to come from either a minimum of middle to upper middle class background and often from private schools. I know this because the test prompt requests that they reveal a bit about their lives. The kids who come from working or lower class backgrounds and attend poorly supported public schools tend to lack the skills and the "tricks" to meet the highest standards of the test.

        This really burns me because I find the many of the best essays are often contrived. You can easily recognize the well supported kid who has been coached like trained monkey, and because he/she has cleverly hit every requirement, I must give a top score. But often this highly scored piece of work does not reflect true talent or unique, passionate thought.  On the other hand, I read responses from the "poorly educated" kids that, while failing to offer the required tricks to earn a good grade, reflect stunning writing and thinking abiilites.  And, of course, I have to knock them down a score or two.  

        I think of the kid with real ability and raw talent looking at my low score thinking that he is failure. And you should read some of these stories about family life, bullying, feeling lost and alone grade after grade, and there are no resources to help this kids. There are days I can barely do my job.

        This is how an unproductive and politically volatile underclass is created - by demanding that they meet the same standards as everyone else without the necessary support.

        I know there are huge problems with passing kids who lack even the most minimal skill sets. But from my seat in the testing room, it is very difficult to see how some of these tests accurately reflect the intellectual abilities of many American children.

  •  Modern jobs require (none)
    good spelling and grammar.

    The time when academic failures could readily make $20 an hour at the steel mill is past.

    The boss may not understand technology, but he mastered basic skills and he will simply not tolerate a job application with errors in spelling or grammar.

    It is only logically that parents, colleges, and Republican bosses would complain to the government when easily observed and measured skills are not being successfully taught by the public schools.

    Easily observed defects like the fit and finish of car doors are the key factors in decision making.

    You can moan about the fixation on superficial characteristics just like an American automotive executive, but you need to fix the apparent defects if you wish to continue making money as a teacher.


    •  actually, I'm not sure you are correct (none)
      many years ago (in 1970's) while my then girlfirend (now spouse) was a student at Harvard, I interviewed for a job at the Business School, in which I would have been an assistant in the course where the students wrote about the cases they studied.   As part of our application, we were given two student papers to analyzie, correct, make suggestions on.  Marty, the head of the program, asked my what I thought of the two papers. I responded that were I back at Moorestown Friends School teaching juniors and seniors, the better of the two papers would get a B-.  He blew me away by telling me that paper was better than 90% of the papers I would be seeing at the beginning of the course.  Remember, at Harvard a majority of the students have work epxerience, and are not fresh out of undergraduate studies.  Some are filed grade military officers.

      The kinds of writing students are learning today are fomulaic, and not necessarily particularly good. This problem will be exacerbated as even essay begin to be scored not by humans but by computer.  Right now the trick is to write so you can get a good grade according to the rubrics.  The one study on the new writing portion of the SAT shows a frightenly high correlation between length of response and score.  So bloviating extensively while tangentially on topic is better than an absolutely on-target but terse response.  Similary, the woman who next week will be teaching the AP workshop I will be attending told me in a 1/2 day session this past spring that in writing response on the AP government get, studnets do not need a topic sentence, do not have to write in complete setnences, emrely need to show the content knowledge and how it connects.  Now what do I do as their AP teacher?  I want to teach them to write effecitvely, but I also have a responsibility to prepare them to do well on the test, and writing fluently may actually hurt their score, if you can believe it.

      If you really think grammar matters, you are wrong.l  Spelling does, because everyone is expected to use a computer program that has a spell checker (of course, dkos no longer does which is my excuse in my posts!), but the amount of bad grammar (and even worse rhetoric) that I see surprise me -- in news articles, in corporate publications, in user manuals for products (amny of which are so proud that their instructions are (still incomprehensible) in 4 or 5 languages.  

      Sorry  -- on this I felt like doing a rant.  Not direct at you.

      Those who can, do. Those who can do more, TEACH!

      by teacherken on Wed Jun 22, 2005 at 08:55:42 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Grammar errors can account (none)
        for much of what we consider racism.

        Major Asian languages don't emphasize plurals so it is easy to pick out and discriminate against new Asian immigrants.

        Many Americans are descendants of slaves who worked on plantations where a now obsolete dialect was spoken. The grammatical forms were passed down and are embedded in the language patterns our fellow citizens use.

        These language patterns offend listeners because they are strange.

        "It is only logically" now offends me.

        "Would met" triggers alarm bells in my brain.

        If you are not serious about correcting grammar, you are not serious about eliminating racism.

        By the way teacherken, my tenth grade English teacher said that there was never an excuse not to check for spelling errors.

    •  People first (none)
      I am not sure I can discern a central argument to your post, but if you think that Comer or I in any way are accepting of academic failure or sub-standard education, you are way off base.

      His point and mine is that the reason for many of the failures in inner-city schools is the lack of child development in homes and at school.  That, we need to pay attention to the whole person in order that he or she can master academic material and become a valuable member of our society.

      Yes, education is more important than ever.  By all means, let's do it right.  And that means looking after those whose central difficulty is a lack of basic child development, not an academic deficiency.  Once they are set from a personal public health perspective, then they are good to go in terms of a real education.

      But trying to force the latter without having the former in place is a complete waste of public resources.

      Education? Teaching? NCLB? Read my book _Becoming Mr. Henry_

      by Mi Corazon on Wed Jun 22, 2005 at 08:59:59 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  It is only logically (none)
      Sorry, dude (or dudette), but if you post about the importance of grammar, you should probably grammar-check your post!

      But I think I see your point.

    •  In my working experience (none)
      spelling doesn't matter much at all. My boss founded this company in 1976, makes a very good living, employs six full-time well paid staff members, and can neither write a cohesive sentence nor spell correctly even 80% of the time. Isn't the cliche that Einstein himself was a C student? This is just by way of saying it seems to me that the ability to think and be proactive are far more important skills than knowledge of spelling and grammar. I was an A student because I was obedient, quiet, and could memorize information.
      •  The ability to think (none)
        really only causes the masses undue worry.

        In reality, only Karl Rove's thoughts count.

        Most jobs require the production of a canned response to a posed problem.

        I see you have disease X.
        Let me write you a prescription for Drug D.
        You need to take one pill with your breakfast and one pill with your dinner.

        I am so sorry about your auto accident.

        Miss Paralegal!!!
        Run PrintCase please.
        Click on Torts.
        Click on Auto Accident.
        Type in Main Street and Third.
        Type in March 30, 2005.
        Type in 2 pm.
        Type in the client's and defendant's names.
        Type in $500,000.
        Press print.
        Could you please get me a cup of coffee while the case is being printed.

        Your doctor could get himself into big trouble if he thinks originally rather than follows the usual standards of care.

        Your lawyer has been taught that it is far better to find a judicial decision that fits the facts than to make an original argument.

        Your nurse has been told to do what the doctors say and to fill out the written forms fully and neatly.

        The MCAT and LSAT are tests and they do determine who gets to enter the most lucrative professions.

          •  There is chaos in the schools (none)
            and chaos in Iraq because Bush THOUGHT he could make improvements.

            Bush normally lets Karl Rove do the thinking because things have usually gone better that way.

            If Bush was taught about the history of European colonialism and the importance of statistical confidence levels and remembered, America would be in much better shape now.

            I would like my doctor to be able to diagnose me quickly and to give me the right medicine.

            I would like Congress to avoid bad wars and bad laws because members remembered what their teachers taught.

            Testing to make sure that students and possible future leaders and professionals can recall what they should have been taught is essential.

    •  The point is, (none)
      most children are not getting their developmentalneeds met, everyday. Those are not wishes, they are needs. Even those children who come from solid nurturing families are not getting their needs met in terms of initiative, industry, and the like, because they are being taught to pass tests. Learning is far more complex than knowing how to spell, or measure. And having done work in teaching, teacher training, psychology, industrial psychology, early childhood trauma, juvenile justice, and so on, (yes I'm older) I can tell you that knowing how to measure, spell, or paint cars is moot, if the worker doesn't "give a shit", because his/her life is shit. "Giving a shit" starts young, as part of a caring community, with developmentally appropriate learning and guidance. There is no. other. way.

      I *gladly* donated to ePluribus Media. Support citizen journalism!

      by nancelot on Wed Jun 22, 2005 at 01:06:06 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Montessori (4.00)
    I'm not familiar with the Comer method but it seems to have some similarities to the Montessori method, which I am a huge proponent of.  My son has been going to a Montessori school for three years and is off the charts in terms of his development, both academic and social.  Many of the kids who go to his school transition into the regular public school system in our neighborhood at kindergarten, and almost all of them are classified as "gifted" once they do.  But more importantly, Montessori teaches the kids how to learn and encourages their development into respectful, contributing members of society.

    Our schools are based entirely around a notion of intelligence that is based purely on one's ability to score well on a test (IQ, SAT, GRE, etc).  This is bogus;  any one of us knows that intelligence is much more multi-dimensional than that.  I find David Perkins' view of multiple intelligences - neural, experiential and reflective - to be very convincing.  Neural intelligence is basically the way the brain is hardwired and it is more or less set at birth.  Experiential intelligence is just what it sounds like - the knowledge and skills you gain through life experiences.  Reflective intelligence describes your ability to develop new ways of thinking through problems and, hence, dealing with novel situations.  Our current school system fails to develop this last type of intelligence entirely, so the kids who don't develop it on their own are completely unprepared for life outside of school where new and unique challenges await them every day.

    Our great democracies still tend to think that a stupid man is more likely to be honest than a clever man - Bertrand Russell

    by mediaddict on Wed Jun 22, 2005 at 08:51:10 AM PDT

    •  Great for some kids (none)
      The key here is that early learning strategies are not one size fits all.  The same applies to Comer's model as Montessori as more, um, traditionalist approaches like Core Knowledge and DLM Express.

      The curricular intervention should be matched to the child's aptitudes, the support from home, the makeup of the classroom, and the abilities of the instructor.

  •  Thank you for this diary. (none)
    I wasn't aware that Dr. Comer had published Leave No Child Behind, but now I have ordered it and will read it. I value Comer's work for it's emphasis on the importance of schools' involving parents and other community members/organizations.

    A key insight:

    "Comer makes it clear, as most of us here know, that the stability in America's communities has come undone. "

    "Environments are invisible. We don't know who it was that first discovered water, but we can be pretty sure it wasn't a fish." -- Marshall McLuhan

    by marylrgn on Wed Jun 22, 2005 at 09:02:22 AM PDT

  •  NCLB and Special Ed (none)
    I fume whenever I hear Bush state that "There's no reason why every 3rd grade student can't read at 3rd grade level."

    What of special education students who, for the last several years, have merely been struggling to use the bathroom independantly?  While severely developmentally delayed students can take an alternative assessment, it is still a waste.  Teachers must struggle to quantify some sort of academic achievement in students who have overwhelming developmental priorities.

    •  Yeah, Bush is a dolt (4.00)
      Statements like that are so simplistic that they almost have to be wrong.  Developmentally disabled children, ranging from those missing part of their brain stem to those who are mildly dyslexic or "socially impaired" (no support at home for language development) might not be expected to read by third grade and yet still wind up learning to read on their own pace and functioning in society.  Or in some cases, may have trouble ever reading with great proficiency, but could contribute to society in other ways -- it's called comparative advantage.

      My mother's job for 30 years was to work with high school kids who didn't know how to read.  This was in a suburban working class town.  I have to roll my eyes when I hear chimpy try to say pretty much anything about edumacation.

    •  Special Education (none)
      Not only that, NCLB penalizes schools for the failure of the special ed kids to "improve" their scores along with everyone else, as all those subgroups are measured INDEPENDENTLY.

      So even if the whole school has improving test scores, when you slice the population enough different ways, NCLB ensures it can find at least one way to have the whole school (or even district) "fail."

      Anyone who has taken a statistics class knows that the smaller the sample, the lower the "confidence level" of the results.  20 people taking a test are less likely to show the results for a population than 2000. NCLB seems engineered to exploit this.

      Chaos, fear, dread. My work here is done.

      by madhaus on Wed Jun 22, 2005 at 01:33:18 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  One thing I've noticed... (none)
    I don't know how many other people have experienced this, but my daughter has been in the gifted program since first grade, and this year she is beginning ninth grade. With so much emphasis on teaching the lowest percentage academically, it seems that schools may be giving their gifted students short shrift. That is, by spending more than half their school year practicing for a specific test, the gifted students are slipping down into the middle of the pack. The school still gets its good grade, the most challenged students improve their scores enough to keep the NCLB funds coming in, but the upper level, the gifted and honors students are not being challenged. Is this just my imagination??
    •  I was thinking about this very same thing (4.00)
      this morning after I dropped my kids off at school.  I have three children:  a highly intelligent 13 year old who has a processing disorder, a 9 year old who is autistic,and a pretty normal first grader.  All 3 are being educated in the mainstream.  

      There's a lot of tension in my admittedly affluent, education oriented town between parents  of special ed kids--who, probably, for the most part, test in the bottom 20%--and parents of "gifted" children who feel that their children would get more resources if they were not going to the bottom 20%.

      I will leave aside the legal issues.  Also I'll leave aside the fact that there are studies showing that inclusion of children with disabilities in mainstream setting does not "pull down" the other kids.  What always strikes me as weird about this back and forth is that I have both kinds of children.  And far from making life absolutely horrible for C. (child no. 3), B. (child no. 2) has given him a kind of gift--a path to emotional development that he would not otherwise have had.  That's what Comer is talking about:  focussing on emotiional development rather than passing tests, making grades, getting scores.

      Maybe I'm dreaming, but I like to think that an inclusive environment has something to offer every kid in the classroom, and not just the "bottom 20%".  Children need to see and practice tolerance and compassion.  That happens when you grow up in a diverse environment.  In my parent's generation, kids like B. were kept at home or institutionalized.  We've come a long way.  


      •  I didn't mean to imply that (none)
        challenged children in public school directly cause a "dumbing down" of the gifted set. My youngest brother is deaf and retarded, so I've been involved with special kids all my life. What I meant was that it seems the schools spend an enormous amount of time teaching gifted kids -- how to take a test! Not writing, but writing five complete paragraphs. Not reading literature, but reading a paragraph at a time. I am very happy to see ALL children in public schools; my concern is that they are neglecting the gifted and not challenging THEM enough.
    •  NCLB (none)
      My daughter's HS used to have a banner touting NCLB.
      Seeing that banner evry morning as she entered the building drove my kid nuts.  She finally complained  to the principal, who called me (laughing--it's a small town and he's one of the Good Guys).  She suggested he hang a new banner with the proper name for Bush's education act: the Every Child Falls Behind Act.


    •  Of course not. (none)
      You might want to read this diary from BTrib.

      All levels of gifted kids suffer. We do the educational equivalent of binding their feet.

    •  ALL kids suffer (none)
      when half the curriculum is test prep.
      (and just so you know, I'm a teacher of the gifted.)

      here boo, here boo, want a cookie? good girl.

      by tepster on Wed Jun 22, 2005 at 12:37:33 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  My kids are in the gifted program too. (none)
      One has just finished 4th grade and the other 6th grade (first year of middle school.)  The elementary school program had mixed success, I thought.  The GT kids were all in one class, and whether they got much out of it or not depended on the teacher.  For instance, both my girls had a great kindergarten teacher (before they were in GT) who could teach to multiple levels at once.  She had some kids in kindergarten who didn't know the alphabet yet, and some like mine who were already reading fluently.  So while she taught the basic letters to the non-reading kids, she taught sign language for the letters to the early readers.

      Unfortunately not all the teachers were that good.  I am most concerned about my middle schooler.  We were told (by the middle school) that our elementary was too far ahead of the other elementary schools feeding into the middle school, so our kids would be repeating some of the material in 6th grade that they had already learned in 5th grade.  Apparently this has been a problem every year, but instead of continuing to challenge our kids, they are essentially holding them back so the other kids can catch up.  

      My daughter barely spent any time doing homework and seldom studied, yet brought home an A average.  She seems bored with her classes and wants to spend all her free time on the computer.  I was trying to get her to read a book (she used to love to read) but she told me reading was boring, and when I told her she wasn't learning anything playing computer games, she said she didn't care about learning anything anymore.  Now, I know part of that was just her yanking my chain, but I'm really concerned that she's going to tune out completely and just be a test-taking drone (she tests really well, btw.)  There do not seem to be any teachers that get her fired up and engaged in learning; and the general environment kind of reminds me of a reform school, in which the kids are held in suspicion that they might do something wrong or break a rule.  And this, mind you, is considered to be a really good school in a good district.

      Sorry for the rant.  It's just that mom thing, worrying about the kids.  And private schools in our area are pretty much all religious, which I do not consider as an option.

  •   more "good" news on the education front (none)
    see Mich. GOP: Screw Education [not just for Michiganians

    OK, once a month or so I get to diary pimp.

  •  Excellent Diary (4.00)
    ...on what are perhaps the central issues from which all others flow - growth/development, education, and critical thinking.

    I'd also add that each of these realms should also include an emotional/empathetic component - namely, how to grow, think, teach, and learn in a way the fosters compassion for others.

    I suggest that one good companion to the James Comer and his work would be that of the pediatrician Mel Levine, and his body of work referred to as all kinds of minds.

    Levine describes how the various cognitive and learning portions of the brain develop, and identifies strategies that can help strengthen areas that need support while expanding areas that are developing more fully.

    Each of us has a range of talents and interests that reflect how our own brains have developed to fulfill tasks like storage/retrieval, spatial relations, calculation/processing, etc. There aren't many people, if any, who have fully developed all spheres. Our work and other choices often reflect the sphere(s) we favor.

    Yet in elementary education in particular, Levine says, we expect kids to function as if all spheres are equally developed, and we don't tolerate kids who need support to develop the different parts at different rates.

    I think that this also goes to the heart of a question upthread addressed to teacherken, asking how best to justify expenditures and measure educational outcomes.

    I don't think it's a very answerable question in the short run, in part because I don't think that you can measure each kid the same way in the same sphere.

    "...psychopaths have little difficulty infiltrating the domains of...politics, law enforcement, (and) government." Dr. Robert Hare

    by RubDMC on Wed Jun 22, 2005 at 10:52:14 AM PDT

  •  Thanks for a great summary (none)
    Lots of really good ideas here
    Could be good to extract some education frames from this for future candidates
  •  this diary hits home (none)
    on multiple levels, as our children are school-aged, in a school with a strong community atmosphere. Our school seems to do a great job of involving the kids in developing curricula and making decisions. It's not a Comer school but on the level of theory seems to have something in common with what you've described.  

    Schools probably are the logical foundation for community building.

    I have a child who is learning at an advanced rate, and another who is behind due to possible ADHD. So many factors influence a kid's ability to think and learn. We have a friend who adopted an abused toddler - the child has an emotional attachment disorder in addition to multiple learning disabilities. We can't underestimate the impact of early development.

    Sounds like a great book to read. It's on my list! As a society we really need to change our priorities. Thank you for an extremely relevant and well written diary.

    •  Bluebird, (none)
      you should know that there are a lot of students whose gifts are masked by disorders and learning disabilities.  Your child may also be an advanced learner, but his ADHD may be inhibiting him from demonstrating it.

      Do a search with the term "twice exceptional" to learn more about this.

      here boo, here boo, want a cookie? good girl.

      by tepster on Wed Jun 22, 2005 at 12:41:01 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  two kids (none)
        oldest ahead of schedule in school

        youngest behind schedule

        But I'm sure there are all kinds of kids, all kinds of "intelligences" or talents out there. I knew a guy who was a brilliant musician but dyslexic - never did well academically but it didn't matter, because his special skill areas outweighed his challenges. That's why a "whole person" approach to education makes more sense, intuitively.

  •  the home of NCLB is Texas (none)
    where the whole thing is a farce. Not to mention the failure of the Texas legislature to come up with how to pay for it. Texas schools are going bust and the Gov/Leg is playing this little game of musical chairs: business tax, sales tax, property day its one plan, the next day its another. Nothing gets done. So Gov Rick Perry the Fundopanda is trying to act like he's got a secret plan. Okay this is the guy who went to a Ft. Worth church to sign a bill on abortion notification and constitutional amendment v gay marriage bill. So anyway Perry finally drives off this reporter who wants the skinny on the new school funding plan, and Perry thinks he is out of earshot so he says "adios, mo-fo."   of course, the reporter got it on tape. Ha ha. you false fundo. Perry apologized to the reporter and TO HIS if.>>.....too funny.....

    When you buy the Washington Post, you support George W. Bush.

    by seesdifferent on Wed Jun 22, 2005 at 12:40:50 PM PDT

  •  Learning to learn (none)
    is what primary and secondary education are all about.

    It only betrays the utter disdain that Republicans have for education that they propose corporate testing as a way to improve education. Absurd.

    Anyone who knows anything about education knows that this is bullshit... and that's what educators have been screaming from the beginning.

    I don't care if every damn American coming out of highschool doesn't know dick about algebra or calculus. I'm a professional and I don't use any of that crap. Maybe sohcahtoa but that's about it...

    More Americans need to know who Derrida is and less about how to crunch numbers on a computerized testing system.

    Republicans want compartmentalized robots who don't have any idea how to expand their consciousness... obviously.

    What Americans need to learn in elementary and highschool is how to learn... they need to want to learn and love to learn. They need to learn how to "look for information," how to become "life-long learners."

    Most of all, they need to fall in love with READING. READING, READING, READING!!!

    You'd almost think the Republicans want Americans to be dumber rather than smarter... oh wait, that's what their politics relies on.

    " admirable evasion of whoremaster man, to lay his goatish disposition to the charge of a star!"

    King Lear

    by Norwell on Wed Jun 22, 2005 at 12:53:40 PM PDT

    •  you wouldn't succeed in my profession (none)
      Quite bluntly, I find your blatant disregard for math shocking.

      It sounds like you were forced to take algebra. good.

      In my profession I don't read anything but technical documents. If at all possible I go straight to the source code since the documents are rarely comprehensive enough to answer my questions.

      so... do you think I have any need for history classes? correct grammar? I loved these subjects too, but I didn't take much history because there was too much writing and not enough problem solving. Besides, I knew I could learn about history on my own.

      You are talking from the viewpoint of "education should be exactly what I need to get a job, no more and no less." This is a philosophical trap. The human mind is much more than the sum of its parts.

      It is true you can find professional jobs that don't use math. Or jobs that don't require good spelling. I know some excellent engineers that can hardly spell at all.

      Education should be as general as possible in the early years, and everyone should take some basic classes in science, math, english, history, and foreign language. It does not matter whether you will use it again. It makes you a well-rounded person, and it exposes you to new areas of study that you may not have considered.

      •  I am a graphic designer (none)
        and I use Math, Geometry and Algebra. I haven't used Trig much but I do not regret the skills. Sure many people do not "need" these skills to function. However, with no data to base this on, I believe that different types of learning, like Mathematics, Music, Art, Literature, etc. use different areas of the brain and require different processes to reach comprehension. A well-rounded liberal education is valuable in and of itself.

        I have found in my profession that the broader my interests the more quickly I grasp my client's business. And my Tech clients really appreciate that I grasp, at least partially, some of the basics. Also, it is critical to understand numbers and statistics to make them understand the value of their marketing options.

        Aside from professional benefits...

        Math and Science are critical to Democrats.


        Because Republicans are so fond of misusing statistics and distorting numbers to achieve their ends.

        They don't just twist words all to hell...

        •  Yes... (none)
          I appreciate your love of math. Please see my post below. Also, I must have to say though that I for one would (as I mention below) rather my kids know who Derrida is by age 18 and know that there is such a thing as Systems Science... rather than all the ins and outs of a cat in formaldehyde or the exact way to solve every sort of quadratic function... man, we did that till our hands bled.

          Sometimes I look back on my schooling and wish I hadn't been such a tightass; wish I'd skipped more classes and explored more on my own. Anyhoozle...

          " admirable evasion of whoremaster man, to lay his goatish disposition to the charge of a star!"

          King Lear

          by Norwell on Thu Jun 23, 2005 at 01:03:54 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

      •  No... (none)
        I'm not talking about educating children for jobs. Quite the opposite.

        I'm just mentioning that most kids don't need to learn specific things like the technicalities of algebra or calculus. I think they'd be better off really understanding the underpinnings of these systems... having more discussions and doing less bookwork. All of that's important, but I think debate and interaction and self-exploration as well need to be focused on.

        All of this requires more teachers and better pay and better facilities of course.

        I agree that a general education is key and math is part of it. My example on algebra was just that... I could have said the same about the technicalities of the science I had to learn.

        I didn't learn enough in my school about proper writing or much about literature... so in my case, these were lacking.

        I think kids'd be better off knowing that there is such a thing as Systems Science rather than some of the more specific things about the insides of cats... for example.

        I think we're on the same page. Sorry my example had to be your love: math.


        " admirable evasion of whoremaster man, to lay his goatish disposition to the charge of a star!"

        King Lear

        by Norwell on Thu Jun 23, 2005 at 12:58:59 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  good food for thought (none)
          I am glad we do agree after all!!

          somebody(probably on this site) said the following rule: if there are two ways to interpret a sentence, your audience will get it wrong...

          It is a delicate balance between teaching the theory and the hands-on, isn't it? If I don't have enough real-world experience with a topic it's much harder to learn the theories behind it - but the opposite is also true sometimes. It is a chicken-and-egg problem, where each student has a different learning style.

          Nowadays I am still learning at the same pace as I was in school, but since it's not spoonfed by a teacher it is much more interesting.

  •  International School (none)
    We've been living in Europe for about a year.  My kids attend an international school.  My son just finished 5th grade.  I have to tell you, I find this school to be wonderful.  They don't just teach the 1,2,3's of learning.  They teach a more rounded way.  Let me explain...They had projects that had to be completed, and a large exhibition.  The kids had to learn how to keep themselves organized, research, work in groups, work individually, write the reports, give oral presentations, and present artifacts pertaining to the subject.  My son's dyslexic, so some of these things were very hard for him, but he was able to succeed because of his drive, mom and dad's help, help for his resource teacher, and most importantly, the guidance from his teacher.  This school participates in the PYP, MYP, and IB (I think I got those right) programs, which seems to be great programs.  I feel that it really makes a well rounded, educated child.  He still has his problems and next year will bring more, but this school wants to help the kids succeed and will do everything about.

    Another point.  My son has been to many schools (we move alot).  He's had many teachers who were helpful and understanding, and some who were, well, just plain crap.  We didn't find out he had learning disabilities until he was in 4th grade.  When we showed up at this school, I talked to the teacher about it, and the next thing I knew we were having meetings with the resource teacher.  Things were changed in his class to help him.  His teacher understood his limitations, but never once did she expect less from him.  She pushed him and tried to keep him focused (which is a hard thing to do).

    One thing about the school community is that we live all over the place, but most parents are really involved in the school and their children's lives at school.  For being spread out everywhere, it really feels like a small village.  

    We will be here for another two years, and I'm already dreading going back to the states.  I hope that we will be stationed in a place that offers the same type of program.  He has grown so much with this that I'm afraid that going back to the states will be the same crap all over again.

    I should mention that I have teachers in my family.  I think teaching is clearly one of the hardest jobs around.  I just think that that local communities and some parents don't the support the teachers and the schools correctly.  The kids need to come first.  And yes, we do need to fund schools properly.  These kids will be taking care of us when we are old and senile, wouldn't it be nice if they had a proper education?


  •  Excellent diary! (none)
    I have done faculty/staff training in a Comer school, among others, and they are very effective. Developmental learning is the only real way to grow happy, industrious, caring, responsible children. Educational research has known this for years, but for some reason, we keep trying to turn chidren in to something they are not. Is there anyone with two neurons and a conscience that believes in NCLB?

    4 and Recommended!

    I *gladly* donated to ePluribus Media. Support citizen journalism!

    by nancelot on Wed Jun 22, 2005 at 01:18:56 PM PDT

  •  Gomer Schools - misread your title! (none)
    Well, howdie!  I had a wonderful image of Gomer Pyle when I clicked in.  If only our schools could produce such fine citizens!

    "Americans can always be counted on to do the right thing - after they have exhausted all other possibilities." Winston Churchill

    by LondonYank on Wed Jun 22, 2005 at 01:24:26 PM PDT

  •  Glad to see the discussion (none)
    But it just increases my level of frustration with education. As a disclaimer, I work in the educational testing industry, at one of the companies that prepares testing materials, and I often feel morally queasy about it. I believe  that all we are doing with the standardized testing frenzy of NCLB is teaching students how to pass standardized tests. I have two children who went through the Texas public school system (various cities from Fort Worth to Austin), and I myself am a product of the Prince George's County, Maryland, public schools (although it was 25 years ago). My kids didn't learn a third of what I was taught because they were too busy drilling on the TAAS and later TAKS tests. (They never even studied Richard Nixon and WATERGATE, for goodness sake! No wonder finding out about Deep Thoat was such a yawn to so many people.) They are neither straight-A students nor borderline failures -- they fall somewhere in between, in an area that is largely ignored. Private school or home schooling were not economically realistic options for us, so they went where they could go. I was a high-strung, neurotic, almost-straight-A student, and therefore I never demanded academic excellence from them in deference to their happiness or childhoods. Now, although they are both intelligent kids and high school grads, they have no college expectations because we aren't poor enough or they aren't academically talented enough to qualify for scholarships -- although if more time had been spent on traditional education than on appallingly dull test prep, they might have done much better. My son even (horrifyingly) tried to join the Army to pay for an education, but that's another story. I have also been a teacher, of writing and English literature, on both the college and high school level, but got weary of the frustrations for about $36K a year maximum. I have seen students who come to freshman classes so freaked out about grades that they can't think straight, but they have no academic skills they can translate into good grades at the college level. Sadly, this is after spending 12 years getting substandard educations. It's very sad to me to see comments like the one above that spelling and grammar count for little anymore as marks of an educated person. I guess that after hearing the verbal gaffes our president makes regularly, people stop thinking it's important. I, too, as someone else noted, see and hear the horrible grammar and sloppy misuse of idioms on a daily basis by people on radio and TV, and it scares me. Call me an elitist, but what's wrong with precision in expression in your native language? And I may get flamed for this, but there are too many teachers out there nowadays who shouldn't be teaching. The problem goes back a long way -- back at least 25 years when I was an undergrad and opted out of a teaching certificate because most of my classmates (and the future teachers of Texas) were not capable of stringing two grammatically correct sentences together, and I couldn't handle being part of that ignorance. I had several friends who felt the same and left after two, three, or four semesters of classes that spend 12 weeks teaching one how to write lesson plans and other such useful curricula, but don't ensure that there is adequate knowledge of the chosen content area. So, at least in Texas, I see that the blind are (mostly) leading the blind. What to do? I don't know for sure, but at least the discussion is a good start. I'm glad to see education diaries getting recommended. TeacherKen, I was travelling yesterday and missed yours, but was made aware of it by the link.
    •  As regards to your children's education (none)
      Although you cannot "make" them, it is never too late for them to turn around their education.

      I remember a similar letter/concern on an old Dear Abby (yeah, go ahead and blast me) but someone outlined a similar personal story where they themselves had not done, for various reasons, a great job in school. Could they go to a Junior College and spend a couple of years creating a great academic record and transfer to a University, then on to a higher degree. By the end they would be 40.

      The advice was basically, in ten years you will be 40 with or without the degree.

      This is a great diary as it has generated so many great response. Lot's of reading to do.

    •  Paragraph breaks (none)
      I think you have a lot of good things to say, but a few paragraph breaks would make it easier to read. We hold you, as a fomer writing teacher, to high standards!  Thanks.
  •  It Takes A Village (none)
    Hillary gets it. Our c student, "I don't read"  president has never had to achieve. He was born with a silver foot in his mouth. If dimson had not been born to privilege I believe he would be a convict.

    Hillary for President 2008.

  •  Fantastic diary! (none)
    This is one of my passions. Fortunately my daughter is in a very progressive public school in NYC ... so far we've kept the Klein/Bloomberg cookie cutter at bay.

    I'm sending a link of this around to all my favorite teachers.

    "You don't lead by pointing and telling people some place to go. You lead by going to that place and making a case." - Ken Kesey

    by Glinda on Wed Jun 22, 2005 at 11:27:24 PM PDT

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