THE Global Justice Movement Website

THE Global Justice Movement Website
This is the "Global Justice Movement" (dot org) we refer to in the title of this blog.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The Wall Street Model of Education

We recently received a series of e-mails between two brothers, Mike and Dan, discussing the state of education today. There are a number of allusions and references that we left in that might confuse the casual reader, but there's enough information to get the point — you don't need any more. We thought it might make a good posting for today.


I worry about the application of Wall Street models to education, although I have always been highly impressed with KIPP ("Knowledge Is Power Program") as an organization. No Child Left Behind (NCLB) has mandated performance goals that I suspect are unattainable. I think the minimal goals have led to an inflation of testing data tied to yesterday's skills, and a false sense that schools are continually improving.

Personally, I feel that schools and school personnel have far too much incentive to "game" the numbers. I would not be in the least surprised if we were to see a bubble in education scores, just like we saw a bubble in financial markets. I seriously doubt that NCLB has taken much of a bite in the 30% national dropout rate. This is not because measurements and accountability are bad things, but because the wrong things are being measured. As the computing aphorism has it, garbage in, garbage out.

This is not a rant — or, at least, not much of one. It's just an explanation of how complex teaching even a single subject such as reading is. As my reading professor frequently repeated, "reading is rocket science." Most elementary teachers teach a minimum of 4 subjects. During the fall, I'll read the latest research on best practices in teaching math. Very exciting!

The scientifically validated practice of providing opportunities for students to respond 8 times per minute is to get students responding to new information immediately. If students aren't responding systematically, they aren't learning.

There are many different ways and levels of responses. Your brain is far more powerful than you give yourself credit for. Think of all the responses per second you make while riding a motorcycle at 80 miles per hour on the Beltway! Learners like Olivia, who are being raised in a language rich environment, have a tremendous advantage when they enter school over children of poverty. Their brains have had exponentially greater opportunities to respond than the brains of many of the children I have worked with in Title I Schools.

At six, Olivia can fluently read a label that says, "Smoked Spanish Paprika," has tasted how the spice changes the flavor of the melted cheese, knows the difference in the aroma between that and regular paprika, and is responding in complete sentences in daily conversations with lyrical fluency and phrasing.

I'm sure you are aware of the rat studies where the brains of rats raised in engaging environments have been compared to those of rats raised in impoverished environments. How the learning environment is structured matters developmentally. If we want to take a bite out of the 30 percent national dropout rate, we need to find ways to make learning environments systematically more engaging for all learners. In too many examples, what No Child Left Behind has left behind is sterile learning environments in which nobody is being uplifted, because everybody is "teaching to the test," i.e., telling students what they need to pass a test, not to learn. There are far better ways to handle the accountability issue than the current setup.

I totally agree with your argument that self-improvement is critical. I decided to enter a master's program so that I can become dual-licensed. I knew that I needed to become better at differentiating instruction, assessing progress, and become a more effective collaborator. In my experience, however, teachers learn best in collaboration with knowledgeable and supportive teams. I would never have been able to launch a Kindergarten class in a Title I School last fall without collaboration with a 17-year veteran who introduced me to the Reading and Math Specialists. I already knew that Rambos don't last long in the classroom, not even in Kindergarten. Thus, I gratefully accepted the guidance of Veteran teachers, which helped me manage a steep learning curve. Trying to go it alone simply hasn't worked for me.

We need to get past the fallacy that Super Star teachers and Super Star, i.e., highly paid administrators, are responsible for student success. Why do you think the young lady, who was obviously an asset to the field of education, ultimately left the field of education? Obviously, the promise of cash was not sufficient incentive to soldier on within a toxic working environment. The prevailing mindset in the field of education, based on the same failed Wall Street model that led to the S&L crisis, is fundamentally flawed. A teacher who relies on self-improvement alone won't make much of an impact. There is simply too much ground to cover in too little time to try to go it alone.