Archive for December, 2010

What’s wrong with this picture? A response to “Training the Next Generation of Data Specialists”

December 27, 2010

If you haven’t read it, check out Training the Next Generation of Data Specialists at  Yes, that is ED.GOV in the URL.  This is an example of education reform gone awry.  Here are a few things that are wrong with this picture:

  • Are New York standards written to be taught sequentially?  While some students have skipped standards within the first broad category, it is pretty clear that Number Systems and Operations is being taught, or at least tested, out of context.
  • Mastery is determined based on performance on a Unit Test or Success Tracker.  I would love to see some examples of a unit test.  I bet providing correct answers doesn’t live up to my expectations for what constitutes a performance.  Success Tracker tests certainly don’t.
  • Is New York exempt from FERPA?  Those are student names in the left-most column and stars are a form of grades and are accompanied by a grading scale.  Perhaps should check future blog posts against federal legislation.
  • Training is not teaching.

What’s on the verge of being right about this picture?

  • Kids get feedback and are involved in tracking their own progression through standards.  How can this teacher make the transition to mastery vs “progression through standards”?  That’s rooted in the assessments that are in use.
  • The teacher obviously cares about ensuring students progress through more standards.  How can this teacher make the transition to caring about kids learning in ways that matter?  Once again, I want to see the unit tests.  Maybe they are better than I am assuming they are.
  • Kids work to “self-remediate” (after they become aware of their “learning deficits”) and they “learn to advocate for and direct their own learning.”  How can this teacher make the transition to building even more capacity in his students to be self-regulated, self-monitoring students ala Costa and Kallick?

And, for action on my action step…an Einstein quote:

“The only thing that interferes with my learning is my education.”

Please use the comment section here to share your thoughts about this guest blog hosted by the US Department of Education.

Action Step for Change: Quote Einstein More Often

December 26, 2010

I remember my first encounter with Albert Einstein.  My older brother decided he wanted to understand the theory of relativity and, as typical, I crawled up on his lap at the kitchen table and asked him what he was working on.  He talked about the speed of light in a vacuum and shared an equation with me that I pondered a bit and we flipped through the pages of a few volumes of the World Book Encyclopedia together.  I remember walking away from the kitchen table thinking how lucky I was to have a big brother who cared about things like relativity and who would include me in his ponderings.  I don’t think I understood much more about the theory than when I began, but I was sure intrigued by the fellow with the funny looking hair.

Years later, I had the opportunity to take Quantum Mechanics I and II from a professor who had been at Princeton during the same time period Einstein was.  Dr. Gugelot had a wonderful accent and was an awesome storyteller.  Dr. Gugelot’s Einstein stories were mostly about womanizing, repeatedly forgetting his address, and losing his keys almost daily.  But, there was an obvious admiration there.  Dr. Gugelot talked about spending days on end trying to make sense of the world.  Dr. Gugelot’s stories about Einstein helped me come somewhat to terms with my own spirituality given my need for things to make sense scientifically.  I was also fortunate enough to take a course on General Relativity.  The more I learned, the more intrigued I became by the fellow with the funny looking hair.

Here are a few Einstein quotes I believe can help us navigate the waters of change in education:

Do not worry about your difficulties in Mathematics. I can assure you mine are still greater.
We have to stop having children pursue right answers. Here’s a great TED Talk by Diana Laufenberg on this very topic.

Imagination is more important than knowledge.
Sir Ken Robinson sums this up pretty well here.

The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing.
We have missed a great opportunity for “action research” in education by giving it a label – PLC.  What if we dropped the branding and began to realize the power of shared reflection on practice? What if we stopped crunching numbers derived from poorly constructed, one dimensional instruments and began asking “what if?” and “how would we know?” questions instead?

Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.
What if our “response to intervention” was to figure out how to do better the first time through?  We have students who are missing art, music, and PE to receive “intervention” because the first pass through the material was not what they needed. 

Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.
We label, sort, select, and track kids from pre-school on.  We have to figure out how to ensure equity in opportunity without counting kids as if they are beans or widgets.

The significant problems we have cannot be solved at the same level of thinking with which we created them.
How did public education become what it is?  What kind of thinking got us where we are?  How do we think differently about education?

Great spirits have always found violent opposition from mediocrities.
How do we ensure the great spirits of education – the first year teachers and 30 year veterans alike who are pushing the envelop with kids and colleagues every day, can thrive?  “Achieving success” on measures that are flawed is not success.  We have taken criterion referenced testing and done everything we could to make it norm referenced.  It is as if we are destined to have a system in which there must be winners and losers, great and mediocre.