If I Squint Really Hard, I Might See Your Argument

Jose VilsonEducation, Jose

Fry Squinting

I love blog carnivals, because every time one comes up, not only do new and experienced people check out my rants, I also learn a lot from the plethora of posts (and the education carnival is growing by the month!) A month back, The Tempered Radical wrote an excellent piece about separating work behaviors from academics, and while I agreed, I also found myself thinking hard about the merits and demerits of this and other pillars of my classroom. I’m usually on the left in every issue that comes up with education, but sometimes I’ll veer somewhere near the middle, a frightening thought for someone who engages in protests and anarchist revelry every so often.

For example, let’s take TTR’s argument. He states,

We feel it’s important that the number grades you see represent academic ability only because then you as parents are given an accurate indicator of their knowledge and skill in each content area.  When grades are inflated because a child “works hard” or deflated because a child “misbehaves” or “fails to turn in assignments,” then parents never truly have a clear picture of what their children actually know.

That being said, we also understand that work behaviors—-coming to school prepared, completing homework assignments on time, following directions, being motivated and excited, participating in classroom conversations—are absolutely essential to a student’s success.  In fact, in many ways, a student’s work behaviors is a more accurate indicator of how successful they will be in the future.

I agree to a certain extent. A fellow teacher of mine made a poignant statement about 2 students we used to teach when she said, “Student A will definitely make it because, in spite of his inability to focus now, his mother and father are on his case, and that’ll turn into him being responsible. Student B on the other hand, intelligent as he is, prefers lazy and doesn’t have anyone at home really checking up on him, so there’s a higher chance that he won’t do well.” Deep but true.

But it brings me to thinking about how best to incorporate TTR’s argument into the numerical grade. Unfortunately, if parents aren’t responding to the work behavior rubrics as they should, then we need to shift the grading policy so it accurately describes everything going on in the classroom. That’s why I’m somewhere in the middle on that.

While I’m at it, I also see a plethora of blogs (including this one) discussing high stakes testing, and frankly, I’m not that much on the fence about the issue. To the contrary, I think the way high stakes testing has affected NYC (and many other cities) schools has been detrimental to everyone but the people who get to manipulate the statistics for their own political gain instead of actually treating the problem. Of course, we also see an influx of third-party members dictating how kids will be tested despite the state standards being written out in clear form.

What seems to be missing from all this discussion, though, is the need for true national standards, and a real national test. No matter what anyone says, one of the big reasons why this country doesn’t have it all together is because states and districts get to dictate what their community needs mathematically rather than a national agenda for what certain students should know by certain grades. I agree that not all 6th graders are made alike, but we have to give a 6th grader a common ground from one state to the next, particularly because for students whose parents are constantly on the move.

But these ideas and others, which I’ll develop in part 2 on Thursday, are theorems and really have been up for discussion possibly since the beginning of education, but I do find myself agreeing with parts of a lot of solid arguments, often contradictory, but usually in line with my thinking at that point and time. If I squint really hard though, I start to see that some of our arguments can really take its own shape, and hopefully if everyone kinda squints, we can focus on our goal: teaching the kids.

jose, who can’t believe he’s publishing this late …