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September 04, 2006


and, yeah, I'm using "New Yorker" to mean "New York City" -- sorry, upstate.

My neighbor across the street is a science teacher. Because not enough kids pass the Math and English tests, and the penalties are feudal, the school decided to have 2 periods of Math and 2 periods of English, with one other class... Study Hall?

Kids who might not have hated school are certainly going to revolt against this set-up: the only thing they are learning is how to take a particular type of test. I guess education has been shoved out of the way in favor of some impossible and irrelevant standards.

I have spent the last 5 years assisting a 4th grade teacher, mostly with math instruction. It is difficult for most educated people to understand how wide the disparities are between kids in ability, preparedness and home factors that affect accomplishment. It is also difficult to understand just how hard it is to teach basic math skills, and how little is known about how to teach kids who don't get it the first, second or third time. A lot more research needs to be done, and not one method works for everybody.

The reliance on standardized testing is a cheap cop-out. Testing is very important, but it has to be testing of what the kids have actually learned. And for many kids, even by 4th grade tests are so fraught with intimations of failure that they have difficulty.

That said, it is still very important to teach basic skills, and some kids need double (at least) the time and lots of individualized instruction to learn such things as multi-digit multiplication and long division. Sometimes the problem is vocabulary deficits, so reading is equally important. The real key is the individualized instruction, and we need lots more volunteers in the schools to provide this. And lots more well-trained teachers. I just don't believe we have the commitment in this country to provide a good education for every child.

I think high school exit exams are a good idea, provided that there is sufficient instruction for them, although I have my doubts about the need for many kids to learn more than very elementary algebra, given how difficult it is for many kids. High school is the right time for kids to learn about consequences. Not 3rd or 4th grade, however, except in exceptional circumstances.

But you really have to get in there to understand just how difficult this all is.

hauksdottir, one thing I found strange in the NYC Dept. of Ed. files was this statement about 7th grade testing: "In the 2005-2006 year, the New York State Education Department expanded the ELA [English Language Arts] and Mathematics testing program to Grades 3-8. However, results from these tests will not be available until the fall. Therefore, in order to make promotion decisions in June, a promotional cut score for NYC students was established for Grade 7 on the NYS ELA test, administered this past winter in conjunction with NYC educators and the NYSED's test publisher, CTB/McGraw-Hill, the NYC Promotion Standard was determined by the NYSED and was used to identify students in Grade 7 who did not meet promotion criteria based on the state test in ELA."

Now, besides the fact that whoever wrote that bureaucratese clearly ought not to be involved in testing English Lanugage Arts, what is clear from the data and expanded in that footnote is that 7th grade promotion was judged entirely on Language Arts and not on math at all. Not for any education reason, but just because the math tests (weirdly) took longer to score. It is another clear example of educational priorities being shoveled under the needs of testing companies.

Also, part from the lanugage-vs-math issue, note that 7th graders are being shunted into summer school based on a test they took halfway through the school year -- progress they made in the spring is, as far as I can tell, intentionally ignored.

Mimikatz, and one thing I didn't want to do in the post was to imply that testing is pointless or the city's efforts at summer school are not helpful at all. Some kids do need that extra time in summer school, even if they don't make progress, just to keep them from backsliding.

But trying to assembly-line education and use testing to recognize which kids need intense remedial prep, and which kids just need a little break and time to mentally mature on their own over the summer, is not going to work. As you point out, there are differences between kids -- differences in their personalities, and in their home and social life -- that need to be taken to account when planning how best to teach them. That is what teachers are for.

Trying to do it all with tests is a recipe for frustration (for educators, parents, and especially the kids), and trying to do it with testing companies that lack oversight and have a track record of failure is an absolute mess.

Also let me recommend yesterday's piece by a teacher in the South Bronx who works with kids who need extra help. An excerpt:

One day last year, I was having them write essays. Most everyone selects a topic — bring the troops home, stop pollution, don’t demolish Yankee Stadium — and most everyone gets to work. Katherine, on the other hand, pulls a Mickey Mouse bandanna over her hair, which violates the school’s dress code, and slumps in her chair.

I sit down next to her. What does she care about? Cats. What is she angry about? She doesn’t know. Then I have an idea. It’s my job to know what she’s been through; I ask her to tell me about when she was in foster care.

“They shouldn’t take kids away from their parents,” she says.


Their coats on and homework packed away, I send them off... Katherine, who’s back with her mother now, goes home and watches Spanish soaps with her mom for an hour. Then she helps clean and cook for her three brothers and sisters, feeds the baby and then watches her while her mother goes out for the evening. She goes to sleep around 1 a.m., and she hasn’t done her homework. It’s my job to know these things.

We don't just need teachers, we need volunteers as well. Hillary Clinton was right about it taking a village. It is too much to expect teachers to do it all. And the number of kids who lose a parent to violence is shocking.

And as I said, I don't think we really have the commitment as a society to educate all our children. Much too much of it is just for show or for profit.

Much too much of it is just for show or for profit.

To this I might add: Or to meet the Social Darwinist goals of some portions of this country. A few years back, when following some state level debates about how to make the school funding mechanism more equitible and less tied to local real estate taxes, I was puzzled and astonished at the extent and vehemence of opposition to schemes that would not raise taxes overall, would not decrease funding for schools in suburban districts, but would by moving money around give inner city and poor rural schools a more reasonable level of funding. It was then that it hit me that for many people the whole point of the school funding exercise is not to provide an educated citizenry in any broad sense, but to give their own children an edge over other people's children. It's not enough for their own kids to be guaranteed a good education -- it was also necessary that other peoples' kids get a not-good one.

NCLB is beautifully designed to do just that: It defunds schools in which the kids don't make the grade without, in many instances, providing any meaningful alternative. It also provides numbers (how "scientific!") that prove certain kids from certain areas (and certain races) just can't hack it. It's a Social Darwinist's scorecard that reassures the Right People that their children are set to succeed. Would be interesting to see what would happen if NCLB were to be well-funded and actually start reducing educational disparities. My guess is the Repubs would kill it.

Well, then who are going to be the workers and consumers of tomorrow? This is all so short sighted, to say nothing of being immoral. A society (democracy) cannot endure if ther eare great extremes of wealth and poverty.

You know, providing an inferior education for the working class and poor is not exactly a new policy.

The famous case is Gary Indiana, back in the late 1880's. They hired a then quite young John Dewey to create for them a leading edge school system and curriculum, and for a few years it was the pride of the Midwest. Then the Steel Shops began to complain -- the younger workers were not trained to the factory whistle, -- better educated factory workers tended to answer back to the boss. Then the churches began to complain, why teach women modern languages and science -- what they needed was sewing and cooking and home economics. In the 1890's the Gary School system threw out the Dewey curriculum, and it has been down hill since there.

In Akron Ohio they followed the same logic. Before the 1970's one did not need much education to work many jobs in the Rubber shops. Removing a moulded tire from the vulcanizing machines, and putting it into a sulpheric acid bath takes a little knowledge of safety, but not much book learning. Thus the Akron School Board intentionally built for only 60% of the 15-18 year olds, because the expectation was 40% would quit school and go into the shops. This had been policy for about 80 years in Industrial Akron (and much of the rest of NE Ohio) but it was never discussed in public till the late 70's, when the Rubber Companies were leaving Akron as fast as they could scoot. They left behind a profoundly illiterate and under educated workforce that had great difficulty acquiring new skills for new types of work. Who was responsible for such short-sighted planning?

As to Summer School -- we really need to re-think the long summer vacation for everyone. Teachers know that in September, you have to assume that skill levels achieved in May or June of the previous school year will not be there in September -- you spend a month reviewing and recapturing. Far better to arrange for a month to six weeks of vacation, with several shorter vacations during the school year, and for real efforts to provide low income and low opportunity kids with an actual vacation. Sitting home in front of a TV, and taking care of younger siblings, is not a vacation. Old fashioned summer camp is a vacation. Why not organize the camping industry (who oppose the shorter summer vacation) around a new way to look at what they do?

I came across this post on standardized tests and the responses. The No Child Left Behind was meant obviously to help ensure that our children learn basic skills as they progress from grade to grade, but educators have seen the difficulties in this from day one. Frustration and despair are not the learning tools intended.

which other summer school do you know?
I found some here http://www.summer-school-programs.com

but what is the url of yours? I would like some references

High school is the right time for kids to learn about consequences. Not 3rd or 4th grade, however, except in exceptional circumstances.,,,,,



hi my name is ebony josewph i live in the bronx ny i am 15 in the 7th grade i been left back twice one in upstate kingston ny and the other time i got left back was down here inthe bronx when i was attending the bronx writing academy middle school i feel that its not right for me to get left back in the seventh grade because my teacher was not teaching me the proper meterials that i need to no to be promoted to tghe seventh grad half of my class failed last year in the 7th grade wile attending the bronx writhing academy. oh yes i did go to summer school i spend half of my summer in summer school learning the criteria to the test that we were going to take in the summer now i thought we were going to take the same test all over that we took in the spring but when we got to the real deal it was a different test i dident no any thing on that test and me and my sister that was inthe seventh grade together end up swiching our schools no one from our old school send me a note saying if i failed or not or any thing its when i got to my new school and they looked it up on the computer and my sister end up going to the eight grade and i end up in the seventh grade and i go though so much pain ever since that day

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