September 22, 2012
Alice Mercer has written a wise post summarizing her response to the recent multi-turn dialogue about reform (and particularly the effects of standards- based reforms on poor children) between teacher Anthony Cody and representatives of the Gates Foundation. ”Saying that you believe in John Dewey”, she writes, “does not stop the effects of endemic exposure to lead in Oakland …”
At the end of this dialogue, Irvin Scott of Gates fell back on the tired assertion that teachers who push back against Gates’ vision of school are racist and classist:
Simply, I believe all children can learn. I believe low-income children of color can learn when they have great teachers who believe in them, and treat them with the same passion, enthusiasm and intellectual rigor that they would treat their own children. … I want to believe that Mr. Cody believes this same truth about students, yet in each post he carefully marshals an assortment of facts and statistics which seems to suggest that he believes that children living in poverty cannot learn and that until the status quo changes we should lower our expectations for poor children.
Mercer succinctly summarizes what Scott really is saying when he says “all children can learn”:
When “reformers” say they believe all kids can learn, what they are saying is, “I believe all kids can learn a set of standards based solely on their chronological age, within a finite time-frame, by using a common version of curriculum and instructional methods, as measured by a single standardized test.”
The whole compelling dialogue between Cody (and scores of teachers who commented on the posts) and the Gates people is compiled here.
What strikes me reading the dialogue, and Mercer’s succinct response to the cliched “teachers just don’t believe that children can learn” is that actual children are almost invisible.
It’s too common now for “reformers” to do this quick pivot from an intellectual argument to a moral one and to then smugly claim the high ground.
Too few teachers are taking the same pivot.
What if we made the argument moral? What if scores of teachers told detailed and compelling stories of the harm being done to children in the dailiness of our classrooms — and the learning that is happening in spite of the “reforms”. What if we were telling stories of the hundreds of times in a given day that teachers buffer children – through their own emotional labor, their own resourcefulness, their own skill at working the gaps in the scripted curriculum.
What if teachers told the many many stories that they have to tell about the enormous energies they’re now putting into the work of protecting children from the “reforms” of people who proclaim –from the vast distance of their wealthy foundations — they they are protecting poor kids from the teachers standing there in front of them.
Mercer is right: The teacher push back is about pedagogical scripts written by people in corner offices.
What if we told the stories of the ways we’re protecting kids from those scripts? Where are the photos, the videos, the compelling *moral* narratives of the day-to-day harm being done to children, not only in their lead tainted homes but in their classrooms?
Shall we start telling our stories of teaching?
May 22, 2009
My students commonly insist that family support and family values are major determinants of success in school. I can’t really argue with that. We might hope that all kids go home to families who encourage them to learn and to dream big.
Yet I ask them what would happen if, somehow, we did attain this. If all parents checked homework every day and left college brochures on their children’s pillows, would children then experience equal outcomes in school? A new report released by ETS, Parsing the Achievement GapII (pdf attached below) documents that relative to middle-class children and white children, low-income and minority children:
- are less likely to be taught by certified teachers
- are more likely to attend schools with high teacher absenteeism and teacher turn-over
- learn in bigger classes
- report issues of fear and safety in school
- be taught by inexperienced teachers
Data is also reported on low birth rates, access to the internet, exposure to mercury and lead, and hunger. Low-income and minority kids are at the losing end on all counts.
If learning is highly correlated with values, it would seem that we might do well to value these children enough to invest in equitable childhoods. Perhaps we could divert at least some of the energy that we collectively invest in fretting over undone homework worksheets to these bigger questions of basic health and basic educational quality.
Next year, my students will be reading his report.
December 12, 2007
Two studies on education and poverty are getting press this week.
In the first, the Educational Testing Service reports that a state’s performance on federal 8th grade reading tests can be accurately predicted by only four factors, none of which can be controlled by schools: The percentage of children living in single parent homes; the percentage of eighth graders who miss at least three days of school a month; the percentage of children 5 or younger read to by their parents every day; and the percentage of eighth graders reporting that they watch at least five hours of TV a day.
Reporting on the study, Michael Winerup of the NYT advises caution. The child watching hours of TV, for example, may have parents who have too little time at home because they are working two jobs. The study notes significant gaps in the quality of day care available to poor and privileged children. In other developed countries, the NYT article reminds us, mothers have paid leave after their babies are born.
It’s curious, then, that the title of study (The Family: America’s Smallest School”) and the NYT article’s headline, (“In Gaps in School, Weighing Family Life”), make no mention of these policy factors, as if this were all simply a matter of parenting style.
Meanwhile, the OECD’s Program for International Student Assessment reports that students’ socio-economic background affects achievement more profoundly in the United States than in other high- achieving countries. Education Week ‘s (you may need to register ) Sean Cavanagh reports:
The exam’s results are not surprising, given research showing that the U.S. system tends to provide underprivileged students with less demanding curricula, poorer-quality teachers, and fewer educational resources than their peers in wealthier U.S. communities, said Ross Wiener, the vice president of program and policy for the Education Trust, a research and advocacy group in Washington.
“We give students less of everything that makes a difference in school,” Mr.Wiener said. If the public is inclined to believe “we’re doing as well as we can for these students,” he added, the international data “demonstrates we’re simply not.”
Both studies challenge NCLB’s assertions that we can close achievement gaps primarily within classrooms decontextualized from their communities.
Both negate NCLB’s promise that the best that we can offer children left behind by regressive social policies are underpaid teachers, toiling away in poorly-funded schools.