Entries Tagged 'Teacher Reads' ↓

Hate and the 1st Amendment

Our side is corrupt, but the other side is more corrupt.

Yesterday tech company executives were once again grilled by members of Congress. Evidently, we can no longer find the line between yelling fire in a crowded theater and protecting free speech. The internet has changed everything.

Today’s NYT had an article about Google podcasts promoting violence and spewing misinformation and hate (https://nyti.ms/3ffm4Fi). As I read, I thought, “We should just let podcasters have their say. It is only ignorant, unimaginative, weak, truth-fearing, proud and selfish people, who would listen to them. Everybody else knows those programs damage our lives. So, why would anybody listen?”

Then I thought, “Oh–I forgot. Thirty years ago, public schools started focusing on improving test scores. Now we have a whole bunch of adults who are ignorant, unimaginative, weak, truth-fearing, proud and selfish.”

You gotta love those annual school goals of having students correctly answer two more multiple choice questions. Way to go, educators. I know–you were just doing what politicians told you to do. If you had an alternative definition of the educated person, however, you could have argued against the stupidest idea that ever became the goal of education.

Waiting for an audiobook?

Having posted two blogs on the reason we write: “Why do we write?” and “George Orwell on writing,” I was intrigued by CBS Sunday Morning’s (5/31/2020) segment on audiobooks. At first, I clung to my premise that the reason we write is to have our ideas studied. And I was ready to denigrate the idea of audiobooks because they distort the purpose of a book. Listeners do not experience a book because they do not interact with the written word.  

The segment interviewees, who are the voices of the audiobooks, explained that they bring the author’s story to the listener. Then I thought to myself, “Ease up. There is nothing wrong with that.”

I will not stop here–to argue that the whole purpose of our best-loved fiction, as well as non-fiction, is to study an author’s ideas about the human condition. I will set that aside because I am currently writing a second book, which could become a fine audiobook.

My first book is a philosophy of education. After almost nobody bought or read that book, I realized: “Nobody wants to read philosophy. They want to read stories. If I write a second book, it should tell stories because that is what people want to read.”

So, my second book tells teachers’ stories about how they improved their connection to the academic efforts of their students. After the written version is published, the stories should be turned into an audiobook. And the audiobook voices should be those of the teachers.

Want a better society?


This Is How Scandinavia Got Great:

The power of educating the whole person.

David Brooks wrote that our system of education is the key to building a better society. The back story is here:

As I explained in my interview on Jamaican TV, it is fruitless to copy what works in one society and try to bring it into another. There are too many differences in history, too many barriers to tear down and too many customs, values, and traditions to build. (For the complete interview, go to www.sixvirtues.com and click on “Interview on Jamaican TV.”)

But Americans don’t need to copy another society’s education system. We will do better than that, if our definition of the educated person addresses what makes us uniquely human–our intellect, character and spirit.

If you want to know what America’s system of education should be like, read The Six Virtues of the Educated Person. It’s all there.

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.

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 though 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


Public school educators are played for chumps

I just watched Diane Feinstein during the Kavanaugh confirmation hearings. She may be right, and she may have strong arguments for what she says; but it is futile. We are in this situation because democracy does not work without an educated electorate.

Of course, “educated” is different from “schooled.” Eighty percent of us are schooled for at least twelve years, 180 days per year, 5 hours per day. Since we have adopted the social science paradigm for improving schools, however, our purposes have been hijacked. Educators now focus on value-added scores, correct answers on multiple-choice tests and closing test-score gaps.

Instead, we should model and teach the six virtues of the educated person. Educators’ responses?

Update on “chumps:”

This morning’s headline in the Asheville Citizen-Times was,

Showing signs of improvement: After all-time low, Buncombe schools boost grades on annual report card.

30-minutes later, I read former governor Bev Perdue’s “NC Spin” headline describing scores across the state:

School performance grades down – listen to our teachers!

The second headline explains some of the good news in the first headline, but you have to understand norm-referenced testing to see the causal relationship. The poorer test performance reported by Perdue moved the bell-shaped curve to the left. As a result, some Buncombe County students percentile scores were higher than they would have been, if the curve had not moved.

Twenty minutes later, I read another “NC Spin” column. This one was by Phil Kirk, former State School Board chairperson, legislator and cabinet secretary. He made the following claims about the principal salary scale in NC:

For as long as we can remember, principals were paid primarily based on how many years they had served as principals, degrees and the size of their school.  It didn’t matter in terms of pay as to whether the principal was outstanding, mediocre, or weak…..hard to believe but that was the tradition even though it makes no sense and is not supported by any credible research.

Just as the legislature is wisely moving away from paying teachers based solely on how long they have lasted in the profession and how many advanced degrees they have, pay for principals is now based partially on growth in student performance.  What a novel idea to reward effectiveness!

He then described one of his definitions of “effectiveness:”

Because Governors Hunt and Easley gave me the opportunity to serve as Chairman of the State Board of Education for six and one-half years, I visited 750 schools in all 115 local school districts. While I don’t claim to be an expert in educational leadership, I could generally size up the effectiveness of the principal after about 15 minutes of touring the school with him or her and listening and talking about their daily challenges, successes, and disappointments.

Then he described his other definition of “effectiveness:”

As BEST NC says, “Research suggests that a full quarter of a school’s impact on student learning can be directly attributed to the school leader. . . “

Of course a principal might have an effect on students’ standardized test scores (which is what BEST NC means by “student learning.” In some schools it might be strong; in others it might be weak–just as longevity and graduate studies might improve a principal’s effectiveness, and in other cases it might not. This is why the social science paradigm for improving schools and making policy is a dead end — it all depends on your definition of “effectiveness.”

In this example Phil Kirk cites two conflicting definitions. He uses the definition that supports one set of biases to make one argument (“Effective” principals can describe their work during a 15-minute walk-around.) And then he uses another definition to support his other biases (“Effective principals are those serving in schools with high standardized test scores.)

There’s not much “science” in that.



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?”

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.