Entries Tagged 'Book Thoughts' ↓

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.

https://www.forbes.com/sites/petergreene/2018/09/20/is-the-big-standardized-test-a-big-standardized-flop/?fbclid=IwAR0rZSrLUCmkvCryOpYsXT2Iwbp8EZejJ2eOQm5Kp7V5lyHpk1px0X9oP8I#6839ec004937

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 kind of test is to define the body of knowledge to be assessed. The driver’s license written test is the state’s attempt to assesses applicants’ knowledge of traffic regulations. The knowledge needed to pass the test is described in the driver’s manual, so the manual defines the knowledge required to take the road 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 use them to solve mathematical problems. Our committee’s task was to define all the desired knowledge and skills, as the first step toward creating tests that would assess students 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 scored 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 difficulty 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. They also see that percentiles tell us little about what a specific student knows or does not know. It’s as if teachers prepare students for a test that requires their lowest ability students to score low, and then those students are scolded for getting low scores.

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 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 educators don’t know that, and space limitations prevent me from explaining the reasons. You have to read the book. Order it at

https://rowman.com/ISBN/978-1-60709-274-2

 

 

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.

New laws are not the solution

I am listening to coverage of the Santa Fe High School mass shooting, which occurred this morning. I hear NRA-endorsed legislators say that stricter gun laws are not the solution.

Here is a news flash — no law is a SOLUTION to anything. Instead, every law is a statement of what we stand for. So, explain your stance on mass shootings. I already know what you don’t stand for. What do you stand for in the aftermath of another school shooting?

 

 

Right or wrong? It depends on the question

The questions we ask determine the answers we get about what is right or wrong.  For example, in the news right now is the situation of a special needs student who wants to play football at Asheville High School next year.  His Individualized Education Plan (IEP) calls for a fifth year of high school, but the North Carolina High School Athletic Association (NCHSAA) says he can’t play football next fall because he has already completed eight semesters in high school. His mother is appealing the ruling.

How should her appeal should be decided?

The fundamental premise of the NCHSAA is that playing interscholastic sports is a privilege, not a right. All their rules are based on that idea. If someone does not like the rules, too bad. Playing is a privilege that is afforded only to those who obey the rules. End of story.

On the other hand, the fundamental premise of American public education is that all children deserve, as much as possible, an equal educational opportunity. The newspaper article quotes the mother as saying the NCHSAA’s rule “. . . only serves the kids at the top of the bell curve. This is a rule trying to stop a star athlete from playing another year, not for a kid like Noah (her son, who just wants to a member of the team).”

If the question is whether an exception to the 8-semester rule should be given to Noah, the NCHSAA is right. Playing is a privilege that he had until this fall. According to the rules, he no longer has that privilege.

If the question is whether Noah should be afforded, as much as possible, an equal opportunity, his mother is right. The rule discriminates against students who are not able to complete high school in fours years. That was why the New Jersey Interscholastic Athletic Association made an exception to the eight-semester rule in 2013.

Instead of asking which decision is the right one. We might know better how to decide, if we ask, “Which is the more important question?”

Who are the snowflakes now?

I was reading through the article entitled, Liberals, You’re Not as Smart as You Think, by Professor Gerard Alexander (University of Virginia, political science) in the May 12, 2018, New York Times opinion section:

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/05/12/opinion/sunday/liberals-youre-not-as-smart-as-you-think-you-are.html

The following three paragraphs seem to capture the author’s main point.

Consider some ways liberals have used their cultural prominence in recent years. They have rightly become more sensitive to racism and sexism in American society. News reports, academic commentary and movies now regularly relate accounts of racism in American history and condemn racial bigotry. These exercises in consciousness-raising and criticism have surely nudged some Americans to rethink their views, and to reflect more deeply on the status and experience of women and members of minority groups in this country.

So far, so good – racism and sexism have been part of American culture — do you think? From here it gets squishy:

But accusers can paint with very wide brushes. Racist is pretty much the most damning label that can be slapped on anyone in America today, which means it should be applied firmly and carefully. Yet some people have cavalierly leveled the charge against huge numbers of Americans — specifically, the more than 60 million people who voted for Mr. Trump.

In their ranks are people who sincerely consider themselves not bigoted, who might be open to reconsidering ways they have done things for years, but who are likely to be put off if they feel smeared before that conversation even takes place.

I get it now. Remember that “snowflake” thing – it doesn’t apply to liberals, it applies to Trump voters. I can hear them whimpering right now – “I was going consider the possibility that my life has benefited from white privilege, but since you called me a racist, I won’t consider that possibility, and I will vote for Trump again.”

Here is another paragraph from Alexander:

Pressing a political view from the Oscar stage, declaring a conservative campus speaker unacceptable, flatly categorizing huge segments of the country as misguided — these reveal a tremendous intellectual and moral self-confidence that smacks of superiority. It’s one thing to police your own language and a very different one to police other people’s. The former can set an example. The latter is domineering.

“Domineering?” – I guess those sensitive, Trump-voting snowflakes are melting fast.

Professor Alexander appears to be trying to help liberals. But does he really want to describe Trump voters this way? The “deplorables” was bad enough. Now he says they are sensitive, whiney people, whose judgment melts in the heat of political debate — especially when liberals think they are superior.

Who knew all those crusty Trump voters were such snowflakes?

 

Bill Bennett — Conservative intellectual, hypocrite, or both?

According to Bill Bennett (1998):

Our current president seems, by a large quantity of evidence, to be possessed of several improper proclivities, sexual and moral in a large sense, and one begins to suspect that each episode is not an isolated failing but rather a symptom of something more fundamental, and quite relevant. Chronic indiscipline, compulsion, exploitation, the easy betrayal of vows, all suggest something wrong at a deep level—something habitual and beyond control.

Bennett (1998) used those words to describe President Bill Clinton in, The Death of Outrage: Bill Clinton and the assault on American ideals. Naturally, I was interested in reading what The Book of Virtues author had to say about a president who violates norms of decency, honesty, and other American ideals.

I want to comment on just one of the arguments against the Clinton presidency in Bennett’s 154-page book. In describing the feminist defense of Clinton, who was an adulterer and liar, Bennett calls their position “consequentialism.” Or, as he explains: “To nonphilosophers, this is known as ‘the ends justify the means.’”

He wrote,

For feminists, the end that earns (almost) unwavering support is the president’s commitment to the feminist agenda – expanding child care, providing toll-free domestic abuse hotlines, supporting the Family and Medical Leave Act, and above all, backing abortion on demand. (Notice the straw man — a lot of feminists do not back “abortion on demand,” but back reasonable contraceptive and abortion services.)

And he wrote,

Feminists are quite open about this. . . Call it breathtaking hypocrisy, or call it a sellout of principle, but so speaks the sisterhood.

Feminist support for Bill Clinton demonstrates why one strong argument against utilitarianism is its limited utility. By showing themselves to be intellectually dishonest and unserious, feminists have not only destroyed whatever credibility they once had, they have given a very public very green light to sexual predators.

Fast-forward 18 years.

In August, 2016, Bennett started his blog this way:

People often ask me how I — a so-called conservative intellectual and author of “The Book of Virtues”- can support and vote for Donald Trump. I have many good reasons, but nothing on the home front is more important than the Supreme Court.

If that lead triggered your interest, read the whole blog. https://www.realclearpolitics.com/articles/2016/08/23/what_a_clinton_supreme_court_would_mean_for_america_131586.html

Bennett’s argument for a Trump vote perfectly matches the feminist argument he ridiculed in 1998. Feminists argued for “expanding child care, providing toll-free domestic abuse hotlines, supporting the Family and Medical Leave Act, and above all, backing abortion on demand.”

In 2016 the Bennett blog argued for the Trump agenda related to immigration, religious liberty, transgender bathrooms, the second amendment, the EPA, and abortion. Was his blog “breathtaking hypocrisy,” or a “sell out of principle?” Or was he intellectually dishonest in 1998, when he ridiculed feminists for doing exactly what he recommended in 2016?

Bennett wrote about this, too (1998; pp. 66-67):

Nixonian ethics are wrong because moral precepts are real; they are not like warm candle wax, easily shaped to fit the ends of this or that president, or this or that cause. We do not–or at least we should not–subscribe to the notion that laws apply only to presidents (or causes) we disagree with, but can be suspended for those with whom we agree.

I love irony.

 

The learning style myth — again

This is for all those “learning styles” and research-based advocates.

“Another nail in the coffin for learning styles” – students did not benefit from studying according to their supposed learning style

Here is an older one:

Why learning styles don’t exist, by Daniel Willingham

Do you consider yourself a fool to believe? Or do you continue to believe because it is one of those things you “just believe.”

The problem is deeper than this myth about teaching and learning. I am still waiting for research-based advocates to come here and describe situations where learning improved through the application of what research found to be effective. Simply answer four questions:

  1. What was the research finding?
  2. What was done to apply the finding?
  3. What were the results?
  4. How do you know that applying the research caused the results?

When answering the first question, be sure to describe the understanding that was deepened by the research finding. When answering the second question, be sure to describe the imagination, strength, courage, humility, and generosity that were needed to apply the finding. When describing the results, be sure to explain how they reflect your definition of what it means to be educated. And finally, answer the last question by admitting that you have no idea if the results were caused by the application of findings or any number of factors.

 

25 years later, it’s still the same.

According to this article,

http://inservice.ascd.org/the-stark-realities-of-teacher-evaluation-with-hope-for-the-future/?utm_source=facebook&utm_campaign=Social-Organic&utm_medium=social

Most observers and teachers would agree upon three consistent points of contention around traditional teacher evaluation: 1) perceived inequities in the system, 2) models that are too complex for teachers to understand, and 3) lack of meaningful feedback to support teacher growth. How can our next generation of evaluation systems address these issues?

These are not the main points of contention, but #2 reflects the primary point of contention — that traditional teacher evaluation is an insult to teachers and the art of teaching. It is right there, in the claim that teachers are too stupid to understand complex models. Is more proof needed for the insulting nature of teacher evaluation? It is not surprising that the publishing organization is the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development – an educational organization that has always set itself apart from all those stupid teachers.

If you want to understand the real issues, read “Undervision” (1993) at:

http://paws.wcu.edu/churley/articles612.html

Twenty-five years later, the answer to the question at the end of the italicized paragraph is the same. The next generation of evaluation systems can address the real issues by adopting “undervision” instead of supervision.

BTW — prior to publication, the repeated objection of reviewers was that I should find a better term than “undervision.” Evidently, those who write about teacher evaluation, do not like a term that reverses the relative positions of teachers and supervisors. I kept “undervision,” so they would know and feel exactly how teachers feel about “supervision.”

Good and bad

Is teaching an art or something else?

It is both — good teaching is an art, bad teaching is something else.

Read about it here:

https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/soul-teacher-myrrl-byler-the-influence-of-a-high_us_5a5aeca6e4b01ccdd48b5d2d