Archive for November, 2008

Time for a Little Comprehension

Nov 24 2008 Published by under borderland

Among the current slate of policy solutions for educational malaise – the accountability, the school choice, and the union bashing – absent from the list is textbook trashing. Why ignore them? We wrote standards and and grade level expectations; we contracted with the test-making companies to get tests “aligned” and pointing back at teachers, but people overlook the “scientifically-based” textbooks scam.

It turns out that news of the $6 billion Reading First con, which Margaret Spellings announced and defended, produces no significant difference in reading comprehension. But those kids can decode. For 6 billion bucks. They can say the words, but they don’t connect them to a meaning any more than if we’d done nothing. And neither, apparently, does Sec. Spellings.

This should not be surprising. None of it. It’s one more nail in the coffin of Bush administration policies that we need to bury. Forever.

Now, can we please return to studying comprehension instruction?

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Assessments for Learning

Nov 13 2008 Published by under borderland,education,teacher research

The Gates Foundation is developing national education standards and tests because the state-by-state standards have caused a “‘testing crisis in this country,’ in which tests are losing credibility among teachers, who see them as so low-quality that they are useless.” No kidding.

The truth is, that’s exactly right, but not for the right reason. They think the tests should predict college completion. But who needs a test for that? What we need are tests that require kids to solve real problems, and provide immediate feedback to both teacher and student.

The Forum for Education and Democracy held a briefing on performance assessments recently, In case you missed it, and they published a video of the event, which opens with Linda Darling-Hammond talking about how performance assessments are used in high-achieving school systems.

One of Darling-Hammond’s slides listed what she called the “changing expectations for learning”:

  • ability to communicate;
  • adaptability to change;
  • preparedness to solve problems;
  • ability to analyze and conceptualize;
  • ability to reflect on and improve performance;
  • ability to manage oneself;
  • ability to create, innovate, and criticize;
  • ability to engage in learning new things at all times;
  • ability to cross specialist borders;

NONE of these expectations are addressed in any NCLB reform proposals, or its simplistic testing regime. If we’d have used an NCLB-style approach to the Apollo moon mission, President Kennedy would have simply ordered NASA to fly conventional airplanes higher and higher until they fell out of the sky, and then blamed the pilots for lacking the will and the know-how to get the job done.

Darling-Hammond and the other speakers in the forum described a performance based approach to testing that uses teacher-scored formative assessements that would influence both teaching and learning, and which is already operative in various places inside and outside the US.

They linked to a related paper by Darling-Hammond and George Wood, Assessment for the 21st Century (pdf). The bibliography of this paper contains a reference to a Kappan article, Inside the Black Box, which turns out to be highly coincidental with Tom Hoffman’s Black Box Assessment, and Claus von Zastrow’s A Test for the 21st Century posts, yesterday. Both Claus and Tom advocate for high quality assessments that offer quality feedback to teachers and students, parents, and policy makers.

It would not be easy or inexpensive. Another Kappan piece, From Formative Assessment to Assessment FOR Learning, details some of the challenges and promises that we could anticipate in moving toward system-wide formative assessment policy.

The principle behind assessment for learning is nothing new. 100 years ago, in a really fine series of Talks to Teachers, William James spoke about the Necessity of Reactions:

No reception without reaction, no impression without correlative expression,"”this is the great maxim which the teacher ought never to forget.

An impression which simply flows in at the pupil’s eyes or ears, and in no way modifies his active life, is an impression gone to waste. It is physiologically incomplete. It leaves no fruits behind it in the way of capacity acquired. Even as mere impression, it fails to produce its proper effect upon the memory; for, to remain fully among the acquisitions of this latter faculty, it must be wrought into the whole cycle of our operations. Its motor consequences are what clinch it.

Classrooms at every level should be more like kindergarten.

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Here Comes the Sun

Nov 04 2008 Published by under borderland,commonplaces,politics

Celebrate it.

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Jason the Reader

Nov 02 2008 Published by under borderland,literacy,politics

Jason Hill (via BBC News): “He’s not gonna increase my taxes. If you read – it’s in plain black and white. It’s on the internet. You can read his plans. It’s there for you to read. He will not raise taxes on anybody that’s making less than $250,000.”

h/t Edge of the American West

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Rage and Hope

Nov 01 2008 Published by under borderland,politics

With less than 72 hours left before the polls close, the election is what I’m mostly thinking about now. Michael Moore has been busy thinking about it, too. He was interviewed on Democracy Now yesterday, talking with Amy Goodman about the election. Like a lot of progressives, he’s nervous looking at optimistic poll results, and he’s warning us not to begin celebrating Obama’s lead too early.

Michael Moore: But I have no sense of optimism, as I sit here. You know, way too many times in the past, we"™ve gotten far too giddy way too soon. And I am just not going to succumb to that feeling right now. I mean, I hope. I hope it all looks good on Tuesday, but for many reasons, there is a chance that McCain will win on Tuesday. And we have to operate with that attitude in mind, because"”I mean, let"™s face it….They"™ve always been well funded. They"™re very smart about it. They are committed. They are up at the crack of dawn, and they will be on Tuesday. Trust me. We have not lived under the Republicans for twenty of the last twenty-eight years by their side being a bunch of slackers.

Moore pointed out that McCain and Palin have raised the stakes by framing Obama as a socialist, and that if the Democrats win, the majority of Americans will have essentially endorsed the idea of socialism. “So I guess,” he said, “if Obama is president when we wake up on Wednesday morning, you know, we should all go dance around the May Day pole.”

Speaking of slackers, I watched Moore’s movie, Slacker Uprising, which is a documentary about a speaking tour he did at the end of the 2004 election, where he gave Ramen noodles and a change of underwear to “slackers” who’d promise to get out and vote. It’s an upbeat, angry, amusing, anti-war, anti-Bush campaign documentary, with some good music (free online to US and Canadian residents) and a sad ending, which I wrote about in one of my first posts on this blog. As I was watching the movie, I tried to imagine how it’s going to play after the election. It reminded me how much the 2004 election was about the war, and who was a patriot, while this time it’s more about the economy, and who is a socialist – or something. The McCain/Palin character assassination-by-association smear campaign won’t give the faux anti-American theme a rest.

The movie finishes with the message, THEY DON’T WIN UNTIL WE GIVE UP. But this is something that progressives need to remember no matter what happens, because politicians from both parties know this all too well.

In his interview with Goodman, Michael Moore discussed his Election Guide 2008 and some presidential decrees he suggests for Barack Obama’s first 10 days in office, to include:

  • Bring back the draft, but only draft children of the rich;
  • Make it a crime to make a profit off of somebody being sick;
  • Ban high-fructose corn syrup;
  • Americans should pay no more taxes than the French (by relieving us of expenses for things like health insurance, daycare, and college tuition – which are “hidden” taxes – and instead return something of real value in return for the taxes that people do pay);
  • Make it an American mission to ensure that the entire world has clean drinking water;
  • Require the rich to pay their fair share of social security (since they currently don’t pay anything into the fund);

After all, we’re voting for a socialist…

Looking past the election, Bill Moyers Journal had a great interview last week with filmmaker Mark Johnson, who put together a world music video featuring street musicians from around the world, playing the same songs, together. Playing for Change was described in this review/interview as a “…global concert film, recorded on the streets of New Orleans, Barcelona, South Africa, Tibet and elsewhere.”

BILL MOYERS: What do you hope comes from this?

MARK JOHNSON: Well, I mean, with Playing for Change, my ultimate thing would be that people understand that in a world with all this division, it’s important for us to focus on our connections.

It’s an amazing project.

This clip of Stand by Me from the film (and Moyers’ show) was posted on youtube:

“The future isn’t something hidden in a corner. The future is something we build in the present.”
Paulo Freire

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