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Shine the light on “educated,” Part 2

Why do educators at all levels say we fail to adequately evaluate our programs? Why is that concern repeated over and over? The answer is right in front of us. The social science improvement paradigm requires that program effectiveness be measured, but measuring effectiveness in ways that are valid and reliable requires time and effort that educators don’t have.

For example, a Positive Behavior Intervention System (PBIS) program could be evaluated for the extent to which it achieved four of the ten desired outcomes listed in Part 1: (1) emotional intelligence, (2) proper conduct, (3) following classroom rules, and (4) appropriate 21st Century citizenship. An evaluation for that one program would require educators to create valid and reliable instruments, administer them, and analyze the results to determine whether their observations of student behavior were caused by PBIS or something else?”

In other words, it is social science paradigm blasphemy to say, we don’t need better program evaluations, but evaluating programs requires too much time and effort. Now that educators believe in the social science paradigm for improving education, their highest value is placed on “effectiveness,” which is always directed at desired outcomes.

But what if educators adopted an aesthetic paradigm for improving education? What if their highest value was placed on beauty? What if all the desired outcomes were reduced to the six virtues of the educated person? What if the six virtues were the unifying philosophical foundation of our systems of education? Then, assessing all programs would require answering just one question — to what extent are students demonstrating the six virtues of the educated person (understanding, imagination, strength, courage, humility, and generosity)?

And the answers would come in many forms — teacher observations, student self-assessments, stories about peer interactions, student-created products, student-teacher relations, and student-peer relations. Think of all the beauty that would be created by these kinds of evaluations. Think of how appreciated students would feel as they found out their teachers and peers recognized that they were developing the six virtues of the educated person.

Shine the light on “educated,” Part 1

Last year I listened to teachers and administrators talk about programs in their schools, districts, and colleges. Throughout meetings and discussions, educators said things like, “Students need to:

  1. graduate ready for college and career.”
  2. score well on tests.”
  3. develop emotional intelligence.”
  4. conduct themselves properly.”
  5. score higher on tests.”
  6. follow classroom rules.”
  7. think critically.”
  8. become citizens of the 21st-Century.”
  9. use digital technology to problem solve and create.”
  10. develop self-confidence.”

And the list could go on. We want students to be able to do all these things, but we have no unifying philosophical ideal as the foundation that links institutions of education to what we want for our children and society. In other words, failing to define what it means to be educated, educators point to indicators or descriptions of what it means to be educated. Look at the 10-item list. All are worthy goals. But there is no unifying philosophical foundation. What we lack is a definition of what it means to be “educated” in the ideal sense.

Without a unifying philosophical ideal, descriptions of what it means to be educated span an enormous range. One result of insisting on an infinite range of desired outcomes is that we are unable to assess the effectiveness of the programs designed to achieve all those outcomes. That failure was the dominant lament of educators last year. Over and over they said the main shortcoming of educators is the failure to evaluate the effectiveness of their educational programming in schools, districts, and colleges.

Hearing these laments over the last several months has made me wonder, “Why is evaluating program effectiveness so important? And let’s be clear. We are not talking about the common sense evaluation approach used by athletic coaches — observing player behavior, looking at outcomes, and then using judgment to direct players to perform in ways that will yield more points for their team and fewer points for the other team. No — in this age of data-driven instruction and program evaluation, educators insist on formal program evaluations that start with instruments that yield valid, reliable data. Teacher/administrator judgment is regarded as inadequate. No matter how insightful their observations might be. According to professor-types, K-12 educator judgments are disdained as mere observations, anecdotes or examples. Their value is minuscule compared to statistically significant findings of formal program evaluations.

In the next blog I examine what happens when K-12 educators reject this  approach that is the sister of the social science improvement paradigm. I explore what could happen if K-12 educators replaced an infinite set of  desired outcomes with a unifying definition of what it means to be educated.

Improving education starts with understanding teaching

Chapter 8 of my book argues that education won’t improve until our improvement paradigm coincides with the essence of teaching. The social science improvement paradigm assumes teachers improve their craft by applying techniques and strategies that educational research has found to be effective. The aesthetic improvement paradigm assumes that teachers improve their craft by looking inside themselves and finding new and better ways to deliver their content and relate to their students?

Unknowingly, Malcolm Gladwell weighed in on this question in Blink: The power of thinking without thinking (2005, p. 52):

Our world requires that decisions be sourced and footnoted, and if we say how we feel, we must also be prepared to elaborate on why we feel that way . . . I think that approach is a mistake, and if we are to learn to improve the quality of the decisions we make, we need to accept the mysterious nature of our snap judgments. We need to respect the fact that it is possible to know without knowing why we know and accept that — sometimes — we’re better off that way.

I hope someday school leaders, administrators, and policy makers will understand that this is how all good teachers teach.

Are we great again, yet?

Yes – the Democrats nominated a lousy candidate in 2016. Evidently, their party is so empty that they couldn’t find someone to defeat a narcissist.

But that is nothing compared to the Republicans. Evidently, they cannot find a candidate better than someone who displays all the vices of our uneducated nature — ignorance, intellectual incompetence, weak character, fear of truth, pride and selfishness.

The Democrats made a huge mistake in 2016. Short of death or illness, it is too late for Republicans to avoid the same one. Therefore, we will find out in November, 2020, if Americans once again choose to be governed by an uneducated, vicious person.

Test for Trump

The lead reads:

A group of immigrant workers fired from President Donald Trump’s golf clubs say they want to meet with him at the White House to make the case that they should not be deported.

Their request was in a letter, to which the White House responded, “we are reviewing your message.”

The article quotes Gabriel Sedano, who worked for Trump as a handyman for 14 years: “I’m hopeful that he’ll look at the letter. I believe he has a heart.”

Does Donald Trump have a heart? This should be an easy call. Who among us would deport people who worked for us for ten years or more? What about five years or more? What about three years or more?

What about less than a year? Would that make it OK? Please respond with your deportation decision.


Trump discovered that Andrew McCabe was not loyal to him, so he fired McCabe two days before his fiftieth birthday. According to various news accounts, McCabe lost early-retirement benefits that he would have been eligible for at age 50. But that is not the point, here.

The point is that you gotta love McCabe’s payback. The Threat is a tell-all book based on contemporaneous notes of conversations with the first orange-colored president. It is the perfect payback to the man who failed to see the obvious–you don’t fire a federal employee two days before he is eligible for benefits earned during more than twenty years of service. Nobody does that, except someone who cares only about himself and who is a threat to all that is good in our country.

Presidents change course

Dear Donald,

We were wrong. It’s the economy, Stupid. Now declare shutdown victory and go back to tweeting. We will tell listeners you created the best economy our country has ever seen, and then you can repeat that in all your appearances.


Ann Coulter and Rush Limbaugh

George Orwell on Writing

From “Why I Write” by George Orwell, 1947

When I sit down to write a book, I never say to myself, “I am going to produce a work of art.” I write it because there is some lie that I want to expose, some fact to which I want to draw attention, and my initial concern is to get a hearing.  But I could not do the work of writing a book, or even a long magazine article (read Blog), if it were not also an aesthetic experience.

One page later:

Looking back through the last page or two, I see that I have made it appear as though my motives in writing were wholly public-spirited. I don’t want to leave that as the final impression. All writers are vain, selfish, lazy, and at the very bottom of their motives lies a mystery. Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand.

A primer on standardized tests

According to his sign-off, Peter Green “spent 39 years as a high school English teacher, looking at how hot new reform policies affect the classroom.” Recently he wrote about standardized tests and education accountability for Forbes.com.


He argued that standardized testing and the accountability movement have not produced a better educated citizenry. This paragraph captures his main point:

But there is one critical lesson that ed reform testing apostates should keep in mind. The idea that the Big Standardized Test does not measure what it claims to measure, the idea that it actually does damage to schools, the idea that it simply isn’t what it claims to be–while these ideas are presented as new notions for ed reformers, classroom teachers have been raising these concerns for about 20 years.

Of course Green is right. The purpose of this blog is to explain why, which space limitations at Forbes.com did not allow him to do.

Standardized tests are of two types. As their names suggest, criterion-referenced tests match student responses against a criterion, and norm-referenced tests match student responses against a reference group or a norm.

The written driver’s license test is a criterion-referenced test. The first step in creating this type of test is to define the body of knowledge to be assessed. The knowledge needed to pass the test is described in the driver’s manual, so the manual defines the knowledge required to pass the test.

The second step for administering a criterion-referenced, standardized test is to set the cut-off point for passing. Driver’s license applicants in North Carolina must correctly answer at least 80% of the questions to qualify for the road test.

When I was an assistant principal at Stoughton High School (Wisconsin), I was on a district committee assigned to develop grade level, criterion-referenced tests for every academic subject. We thought, how hard can that be? The driver’s license people do it. Why can’t we?

Our first stumbling block was that students of the Stoughton Area School District, needed to have both knowledge and skills assessed. (The driver’s test assesses only knowledge because skills are assessed in the road test.) Third grade math students, for example, need to understand mathematical principles and must also be able to use them to solve mathematical problems. Our committee’s task was to define all the desired knowledge and skills. That was the first step toward creating tests that would assess students knowledge and ability against those criteria. Still–how hard can that be?

Our work came to an abrupt halt after we hired a statistician to assist us. During his first meeting with us, we described what we wanted to accomplish. He responded by explaining that each specific knowledge or skill proficiency would require students to answer more than one multiple-choice question. In many cases, we needed at least five questions to test for a single skill. That meant the number of tests and questions would have to be many times greater than we assumed. We concluded that it was a good idea to develop criterion-referenced tests, but creating and administering them would take too much time.

Standardized, norm-referenced tests have limitations, too. Greene mentioned some of them, but the main one is that they are not designed as improvement tools. Instead, their main purpose is to tell students how they score in relation to other test takers. Results are reported as percentiles, not as percentages.

This type of test is like a machine that is balanced for proper operation. Easy-to-answer items are balanced with those that are slightly more difficult and others that are very difficult. Balancing items this way enables the results to discriminate across the knowledge and skill levels of test takers. Some students will be high scorers, some will score in the middle, and some will score toward the bottom.

A perceptive reader sees that a test designed for these results means that students scoring at the lower percentiles make it possible for others to score at higher percentiles. It’s as tjhough teachers prepare students for a test that requires their lowest ability students to score low, and their high ability students to score high. (Then they scold low scoring students.)

Educators do this because they are ignorant of the way standardized tests operate. For example, some schools develop annual school improvement goals that focus on improving students’ scores on end-of-grade exams. They must not realize that their annual goal–the idea that focuses their efforts for 5 hours per day, 180 days per year—will be achieved if students average 1 more correct answer on an end-of-grade exam. A shallower, more meaningless annual goal might be possible, but I can’t think of one.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –  –

Those are the explanations Greene could not give in his limited space. And those are the reasons why standardized tests fail as school improvement tools. They do not tell us what students know, and they distract schools from their most important goal, which is modeling and teaching the six virtues of the educated person. But aphilosophical educators never define what it means to be educated (I love irony), and space limitations prevent me from explaining the reasons. You have to read the book. Order it at


Not a Jim Brown fan

I was born in Wisconsin in 1952, so I was never a fan of Jim Brown. In fact I was happy when he retired early from the Cleveland Browns. (The Browns still have not recovered.)

Whose idea was it to bring him out of retirement to the White House? I am waiting to hear from him about his experiences, today. What does he have to say after listening to the fawning president and the irate Kanye? Brown used to be a vocal opponent of oppression in our society. What does he say, now?

Or did they drag him into the White House because, like the president, he is unable to speak coherently in his old age? We will have an answer in the coming days and weeks.