Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Chapter 11: Pterodactyl

Chapter Eleven:  Just Say No (Child Left Behind)

It’s good to be king and it’s good to be smart.
Who says?
That’s why this word “smart” is everywhere these days.  From kids to phones it’s good to be smart.  Smart educators, those who are well versed in scaffolding, unpacking, digging deep, jig-sawing, turn-keying and, additionally, ramping up – these smart educators, I say, have been smart enough to pick up on this smart word.  Where to put it?  What would a smart use of “smart” be?
“I’ve got it!  Let’s put it to the National Governors Association!  Aren’t they the ones who signed off on the NCLB money?”
“Yeah, so?”
“Well, those guys ought to be able to think of something.  I mean, what else do they have to do at those governors’ conferences?”
“And didn’t they invent the word ‘ram pup’?”
“'Ram pup'.  That was a way of ramming remedial English down the little pup’s throats.”
Cut to the next meeting of the National Governors Association.
Gov. 3:            Great convention, huh!
Gov. 12:          Yeah, that was some lap dance last night.
Gov. 27:          I’ll say.  I had to send my secretary to the ATM for more cash.
Gov. 8:            What lap dance?
Gov. 27:          I told you to slow down with those – what were they called?
Gov. 14:          Totalitarians.
Gov. 27:          Yeah, Totalitarians.  You were totaled.  What was in those anyway?
Gov. 14:          What wasn’t?
Bloomberg:     [At the podium]  If I could have your attention ….
Gov. 41:          Say, what’s that guy doing here?  He’s no governor.
Gov. 33:          He thinks being mayor of New York makes him better than us.  Hey!  Bloomberg!  Get the hell out of here!
Gov. 19:          Yeah, where’s Gov. 1?  He’s supposed to moderate.
Bloomberg:     Pipe down.  I’m just calling the meeting to order.
Gov. 29:          You just want to show your mug on national t.v.!
Bloomberg:     You think I need national exposure?  Nobody knows who the hell you are.  They wouldn’t know you from a pothole in one of your streets.
Gov. 29:          Oh yeah ….  [Getting up from table]
Gov. 43:          [Holding him back]  Take it easy.
Bloomberg:     Come on!  Come on!
Gov. 1:            [Stepping to the podium]  Thanks, Mike.  I’ll take it from here.
                        [Bloomberg takes seat at front table.]
Gov. 1:          All right, this meeting is called to order.  We have important business to get to so let’s get started.
Gov. 17:          Yeah, let’s get to the budget crisis.  We’re all in trouble.
Gov. 26:          No, first we have to figure out how to get rid of all these public employee entitlements.  Where’s the governor of Wisconsin?
Gov. 38:          We’ve got a crime problem!
Gov. 6:            Let’s start with immigration.  It’s getting way out of hand.
Gov. 1:            Hold it, hold it.  We’ve got an agenda.  You should all have it in front of you.  As you can see, our top priority today is the word “smart”.
Gov. 4:            What are you talking about?
Gov. 1:            I’m talking about our education crisis.  Didn’t you get the memo?
Gov. 4:            What memo?
Gov. 1:            The one I emailed last week outlining the agenda.
Gov. 4:            Well, sometimes I forget to check my email.
Gov. 1:            Did anyone get the email?
                        [Governors look sheepishly back and forth at each other.]
Gov. 1:            Okay, well here’s what we have to do.  We have to figure out how to fit the word “smart” into the education discussion.
Gov. 14:          Why’s that?
Gov. 1:            Because all the P.R. firms are telling us that it’s the best buzzword since “Where’s the beef”.  All the advertisers are using it.  Would someone wake up Gov. 8?
Gov. 22:          So what does that have to do with education?
Gov. 1:            Come on, Red.  Didn’t you take the NCLB money?
Gov. 22:          Yeah, so?
Gov. 1:            Well, didn’t you read it?
Gov. 22:          Well ….
Gov. 1:            There were provisions, Red.  They didn’t give you that money for nothing.
Gov. 22:          I was going to get to it.
Gov. 1:            [Shaking his head.]  Now, how many former educators do we have here?
                        [No hands go up.]
Gov. 1:            Come on.  Nobody ever took an education course?
Gov. 39:          My aunt used to teach 2nd grade.
Gov. 1:            Good, now we’re getting somewhere.  We’ve all just accepted a lot of money from this, whachamacallit – No Child Left Back – and listen – if you don’t use it on education ….   It’s not like car insurance money where you can blow it any way you want.  They’re going to check up on this.
Gov. 46:          Who’s committing insurance fraud?
Gov. 1:            Just a hypothetical, Bill.  I know you’ve got a lot of insurance interests in your state.  I could have said it’s not like siphoning oil profits off the top ….
Gov. 18:          Who’s siphoning oil profits?
Gov. 1:            Can we get to the point here?  One of the things we have to do with this money is come up with a marketing plan.  We have to pretend that we took this money because it was in the best interest of the school children in our states.  Can’t you get that through your thick heads?  Bob, would you wake up Gov. 8?
Gov. 17:          Just tell us what we have to do for this money so we can get on with it.
Gov. 1:            I told you.  We have to come up with a marketing plan to sell NLBC and the P.R. people are telling us to use the word “smart”.  So let’s get to work.  What does “smart” have to do with education?
                        [Governors scratch their heads.]
Gov. 1:            Come on, think.  One of you out there ought to be able to come up with something.
Gov. 42:          I’ve got something.  We could apply it to the kids.
Gov. 1:            Now there’s an idea.  See.
Gov. 42:          You know, those obnoxious kids who are always pestering their teachers, the smarmy ones.
Gov. 1:            Not smarm, Slim, smart.  Smarm isn’t going to sell anything.
Gov. 42:          Oh, yeah.
Gov. 12:          But hey, couldn’t we still apply it to kids?  I mean, a smart kid is a good thing, isn’t it?
Gov. 15:          Yeah, No Child Left Around makes your kid smart.  How’s that?
Gov. 1:            Pretty good, not bad.
Gov. 28:          Isn’t that like calling all the kids before dumb?
Gov. 17:          Who cares about them?
Gov. 28:          Maybe they’re parents now.  Do we want to call all the parents dumb?  What’s that going to sell for us?  By the way, what are we trying to sell again?
Gov. 1:            We’re trying to sell NLCB and we’re trying to use the word “smart” to do it.
Gov. 22:          I’ve got it.  Why don’t we use it like an acronym?
Gov. 36:          A what?
Gov. 22:          You know, like BLNC.  Each letter stands for something.
Gov. 7:            You mean the “S” stands for something, then the “T” and so forth?
Gov. 40:          Yeah!  I like it!  How about “S” for smorgasbord.
Gov. 1:            What the hell does that have to do with education?
Gov. 40:          I was just thinking of lunch.
Gov. 1:            Well, before we break, can we come up with some ideas.  There must be a lot of words that start with an “S”.
Gov. 34:          Silly.
Gov. 12:          Sexy.
Gov. 18:          Swish-a-licious.
Gov. 1:            What?
Gov. 18:          Sorry, I was just reading about the Yankee game on my smart phone.
Gov. 1:            Now listen, we want to get out of here for lunch by ten, don’t we?  Isn’t that our goal?
Gov. 9:            That’s a smart goal!  Ha ha.
Gov. 10:          Hey, I like that.
Gov. 9:            What?
Gov. 10:          “Smart” goal.  Why don’t we come up with a goal and call it “smart”?
Gov. 9:            Right, let’s break for our smart lunch.
Gov. 1:            Hold on, hold on.  I think you guys are onto something.  What if we combine the acronym idea with some kind of goal?
Gov. 31:          How can a goal be smart?  That’s ridiculous.
Gov. 45:          Hey, it’s for kids, isn’t it?  They’ll swallow anything – smart goal, why not?  Anyway it’s the teachers that will have to shove it down their throats like everything else.
Gov. 1:            First we’re going to have to shove it down the state school superintendents’ throats.  Then they’re going to have to shove it down the local superintendents’ throats.  Then they’re going to have to ….
Gov. 45:          Yeah, yeah, we get it but it eventually gets down to teachers shoving stuff down kids’ throats.  So let’s just come up with something.
Gov. 1:            Right.  So let’s get back to the “S”.  Keep thinking.  Think of an “S” word about some sort of goal.
Gov. 12:          Sinful.
Gov. 1:            No.
Gov. 18:          Supercalifragil ….
Gov. 1:            No!!
Gov. 48:          Surrreal.  Surreal goal.
Gov. 29:          What the hell is that?
Gov. 48:          I don’t know.  My wife dragged me to an art thing last night and I heard it – stuck in my mind.
Gov. 1:            Sounds good.  Everyone in favor.
                        [48 ayes]
Gov. 1:            What about “M”?
Gov. 35:          Money.
Gove. 1:          No.
Gov. 28:          Mastermind.
Gov. 1:            No.
Gov. 44:          Malfeasance.
Gov. 1:            NO!!
Gov. 8:            How about “magical”.  Kids love magic.
Gov. 1:            “Magic.”  All in favor.
                        [48 ayes]
Gov. 1:            “A”.
Gov. 12:          Hole.
Gov. 1:            Would you get serious?  This isn’t some sort of psychological association game.  Hundreds of millions of dollars depend on this.  Besides, it’s already past nine.
Gov. 12:          Sorry.
Gov. 13:          Aberration.
Gov. 1:            No.
Gov. 12:          Abscond.
Gov. 1:            No!
Gov. 19:          How about “ABCs”.  We learned that when I was a kid.
Gov. 1:            Sounds good.
Gov. 16:          Wait a minute.  That’s not even a word.  That’s just letters.  That doesn’t count.
Gov. 19:          Sure it does.  “ABCs goal”.  See that sounds nice.
Gov. 16:          But what about the “B” and the “C” in there?
Gov. 19:          What about them?
Gov. 16:          There’s no “B” in CLNB – oh, sorry.
Gov. 1:            We’re talking about “smart” anyway, not NBCL.  How about it.  “ABCs”.
                        [48 ayes]
Gov. 1:            Okay, then what’s next?  Oh yeah, “R”.
Gov. 12:          Raunchy.
Gov. 6:            Refrigerate.
Gov. 1:            What?
Gov. 6:            Well, “chill” doesn’t start with “R”.
Gov. 1:            No.
Gov. 47:          Retarded – doesn’t that have something to do with education?
Gov. 13:          You ought to know.
Gov. 1:            No, no, no!  Keep thinking.
Gov. 44:          Repercussions – you know, like what’s going to happen when 20-20 airs that piece on my house in Jamaica next week.
Gov. 12:          Not to mention the Jamaican housekeeper.
Gov. 1:            Okay, repercussions.  What do you say?
                        [48 ayes]
Gov. 1:            Good, almost there.  “T”.
Gov. 12:          Tits.
Gov. 19:          Treasury – that’s where the money came from, right?
Gov. 1:            Yeah – no!  Keep thinking.
Gov. 32:          Tonsillectomy.  Don’t kids get those?
Gov. 1:            NO!
Gov. 27:          Pterodactyl.
Gov. 1:            Come on, what does that have to do with anything?
Gov. 27:          Hold on – kids love dinosaurs, don’t they?  It will grab their attention.
Gov. 1:            True, I never thought of that.  Okay, for “T” – pterodactyl.
                        [48 ayes]
Gov. 1:            [Looking at his watch]  Okay, before we break, let’s just have the stenographer read this back to us.
Stenographer: Okay, resolved:
1.     The word “smart” is to be used in the marketing campaign for NBLC.
2.     The word “smart” will be applied to the word “goal”.
3.     The word “smart” will be used as an acronym.
4.     The letter “S” will stand for “surreal”.
5.     The letter “M” will stand for “magic”.
6.     The letter “A” will stand for “ABCs”.
7.     The letter “R” will stand for “repercussions”.
8.     The letter “T” will stand for “pterodactyl”.  By the way, “pterodactyl” doesn’t start with a “T”.
Gov. 1:            What?
Stenographer: I’ve got spell check.  I thought it was a “T”, too.
Gov. 17:          Of course it does - tear-a-dack-till – you can hear that it starts with a “T”.
Gov. 25:          Who cares what it starts with!
Gov. 34:          If it sounds like a duck ….
Gov. 25:          It didn’t exactly look like a duck, though.
Gov. 12:          I’d like to get my hands on her pterodactyls.
Gov. 1:            So that’s it.  We’ve got, let’s see here, we’ve got “surreal, magic, ABCs, repercussions, pterodactyl” goals.  How does that work?
Gov. 32:          Works for me.
Gov. 12:          I move we adjourn for lunch.
Gov. 8:            [Waking up]  Seconded.
Gov. 1:            All in favor?
                        [48 ayes]
Gov. 1:            Motion passed.  Let’s get out of here.

The S.M.A.R.T. goal: specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, timely.
Of course, the P.R. people later revised the governors’ decisions.  Since they are made for public relations, they are generic enough to be inoffensive to most.  Who would argue that a goal shouldn’t be specific or measurable?  It’s hard to imagine a goal that is attainable but not realistic or vice versa but unfortunately “smart” has both an “a” and an “r”.  How smart is that?  “Smat” goal doesn’t have the same ring.
Teachers have been instructed to use “S.M.A.R.T.” goals along with the new common core standards in creating lesson plans.  This means that lessons should have specific content or skills as their focus, that it is realistic and attainable for the students to learn the material and that the teacher can measure the amount of learning and re-teach if necessary over a reasonable amount of time.  All of this has always been done by teachers as they have taught standards-based lessons without articulating the standard as part of the lesson.  The difference is that now it all is supposed to be articulated, even “shoved down the students’ throats”, as one imaginary governor put it.
So let’s apply the S.M.A.R.T. goal concept to NCLB.  Let’s consider the “AYP” goals – “adequate yearly progress”.  Let's apply the “Specific” to the word “adequate”, as amorphous a word as the English language might spew out.  By the year 2014 all schools are to have made “adequate” progress in such things as narrowing the gap in  the academic performance of various minority groups that have historically diverged significantly as a result of social, cultural and economic differences that, if anything, have only been exacerbated over the past decade.  It was left to each state to define the term “adequate”.  Clearly the attainable aspect of this depended entirely on the definition of “adequate”.   The only thing “realistic” about it is that each state was left to itself to make up their own definitions.  The arbitrary year of 2014, which arrived only13 years after the passage of the NCLB law, was timely only in that it meant that W. would be long gone by the time schools across the country began to fall short of their goals.
How S.M.A.R.T. are the MAP (Measures of Academic Progress) assessments?  In the year 2011 how attainable is it that schools are going to have on line MAP assessments available for all students?  How realistic was it in 2002 that in 12 years schools that were struggling to find rooms and desks would be ready to seat every student at a computer for an on line test?  Maybe the only things that we’ll be able to measure will be the low ratio of computers to students; the number of students unable to take the test; the number of students who failed to complete the test because of technical problems or because they couldn’t type fast enough; the number of students absent on test days; and the number of “U” rated teachers at the end of the year because, after all, it’s someone’s fault that these S.M.A.R.T. goals weren’t achieved.
As recently as spring 2011 I attended a workshop on the new PARCC testing methods. [1]  At this workshop we were assured that by the school year 2013-14 there would be quarterly on line tests aligned to specific standards in math and English.  Furthermore the tests would be marked automatically on line, off site.  Math teachers were assured that there would be software available to determine whether or not a student deserved credit for work done on a problem that showed knowledge of process yet nevertheless yielded the wrong numerical answer.
Even more incredible was the assertion that software would be available by then to mark English essays.  The exchange between the workshop facilitator, Jaime Aquino, and the teachers went something like this:
“Do they have software that can mark argumentative essays?”
“Well ….”
“Do they have it now?”
“No, but they say they’ll have it in time.”
“They are going to have software that can read and evaluate essays for organization, meaning, language and conventions?  They are going to have software that can analyze development and support of an argument and that can recognize and appreciate counter-arguments?”
“They tell me that they will have it.”
Specific – no; surreal – very.
Realistic?  Attainable?  Is this even desirable?  What is the point of marking essays by computer software?  What is the point of taking the evaluation of student work out of the hands of the teacher?
Let’s just consider one last aspect of NCLB – the goal of 100% graduation rates by 2014.  Even administrators have a hard time saying this one with a straight face.  Teachers faced with all of the problems described in this “memoir” only laugh.  Never has anything like a 100% graduation rate been achieved but in the past it was admitted that not only was it not feasible, let alone attainable or realistic, it wasn’t even desirable.  Whose dream is it for everyone to be “college and career ready” – and let’s apply the S.M.A.R.T. rule to that P.R. phrase as well.  How specific is “career ready”?  At least it’s possible to get ball park figures on what it means to be “college ready”.  But if history has shown us anything it is that people find their way in life; some go on to great success in entirely unexpected ways.  People stumble into career B while hotly pursuing career A and career B turns out to be for them.  What made them “career ready” was their open-mindedness, their willingness to try something new, to take a risk, their ability to adapt and most of all their simple desire to succeed.
Now that I think of it, the one thing that best fits the bill for “career ready” is the traditional liberal arts education that is and always has been designed to give students a high level of literacy, a thorough knowledge of basic math and algebra, a grounding in the sciences, American and world history, and exposure to as many other fields of study as possible including music and the arts, performing arts, crafts, auto mechanics, economics and home economics, sports, chess, film, technology and other clubs – in short, everything that a school used to be known to provide.
What does any of this have to do with the main theme of this “memoir”?  By redefining “college and career ready” as the ability to pass an exam based on a standard, the world is left out and the school really does become something that is for the teachers, administrators, and bureaucrats rather than for the students.  The best students should be in schools that offer them as many choices as possible rather than the choice of which Regents test or PARCC exam to study for today.
I have heard administrators instruct faculties to make every class a “Regents” class.  The reason for that is obvious.  The school may sink or swim based on that one statistic.  The school might be closed.  If there is another point that I’m hoping to make here, it is the absurdity of thinking of schools in these terms.  Schools are not capitalist enterprises made to be subject to these new, contrived “free market” rules of “adequate” progress and skewed statistics.  Schools exist to enrich the cultural appreciation of the students who attend them and to bring out the talents of those students as well as tabulating numbers based on their performances on various assessments for the limited uses that those numbers have.  If a school is "under-performing", however that is measured, it ought to be supported and improved, not shut down like a bankrupt pawn shop.
At one of the schools I taught at, there was an annual Shakespeare Festival in the spring.  This took place outdoors and became a real field day.  During this festival there was no Regents prep going on – at least not directly.  There were soccer games, chess matches, performances of Shakespearean scenes and anything else that students wanted to do.  Most of all there was fun and it involved everyone.  Students, teachers and administrators interacted in ways that freed them up from their usual roles.
One year the rumor spread that there was to be no festival.  That possibility energized the students like no Regents exam ever could and they made sure that we did whatever it took to make that festival happen.  Of course there were those who just saw it as a way to take advantage of something but the “best” kids that I’ve been talking about through this story – they were there.  They were the ones that insisted that the festival take place.  It was for them and rightly so.  It was the least we could do.
I’m reminded of the old anti-drug crusade – “Just Say No”.  Slogans and bromides are easy to spout.  Dealing with a serious issue like drug addiction or the fundamental social and economic issues behind the low graduation rate isn’t so easy.  It’s easy to say, “Let’s leave no child behind.”  No one wants children left behind, least of all teachers and parents.  Whose dream is it for everyone to graduate and go to college?  If anyone’s, it would be the dream of parents.  Unfortunately, in politics parents, like every other demographic, are first and foremost voters.
“Let’s give them something that will really get them excited about the democratic / republican ticket.”
“Like what?”
“Let’s tell them that their kids will go to college for sure.  No doubt about it.”
“Yeah, that’ll get them out to the polls.”
“No Child Left Behind – that’s the ticket!”

NOTE: This blog contains an excerpt of the first draft of this book.

UPDATE: June 12, 2013

Since writing this chapter more than a year ago, I've started naming names as a result of facing a level of incompetence and bad intentions beyond even what I was expecting.  (See chapters 35, 36, 42, etc.)  Therefore I will now identify the school that once had this Shakespeare Festival as Jonathan Levin H.S. in the Taft building.  It was during April / May 2012 that the rumor spread that there would be no festival and the students took action.  I and the English department were in charge and we got the festival together in short order in spite of a reluctance on the part of the administration to participate but with the help of many students and other faculty members.
On March 11, 2013 the PEP voted to "phase out" JLHS.  Whether or not this fact was relevant, this year rumor became fact.  Principal Hoxha refused to schedule a Shakespeare Festival, which had traditionally been held in late May.  Again the students responded.  They went to the principal to demand that the festival be held as always.  Seniors had experienced it the previous 3 years and come to expect it.  The Shakespeare Festival was a popular event.
This time Principal Hoxha refused to relent and declared that there would be no Shakespeare Festival on the grounds that there was no "educational value" to it.  There was none.
That means that this year's freshman did not get to experience the festival.  But that is not the only thing these kids will be missing out on.  Imagine the next 3 years for these students in a school that is being "reformed" by being "phased out" over 3 years.
Next year there will be no new freshman class.  The high functioning students in this year's freshman class will be sophomores next year with no freshman in the school.  The following year they will be juniors with no sophomores or freshman beneath them.  In the last year of the phase out this year's freshmen will be seniors and will be the only students left in the school.  They will never know what it is like to be in a "normal" high school where they rise from the bottom of the pecking order to the top.  There will be no way to recover this missed experience.
This is "education reform" at its finest.

[1] This workshop was called “PARCC Assessment Overview” and was held on the campus of BMCC on Sat., March 26, 2011.  It was attended by about 50 NYC teachers and as well as a few administrators.  The facilitator was Jaime Aquino.

No comments:

Post a Comment