Monday, April 6, 2009

Research Shows Poor Children Don't Remember Things

OK, the research doesn't exactly show that. But, as the article in today's Washington Post explains, it does show that the stresses of living in poverty can lead a decrease in working memory. That means that children who grow up in poverty have a more difficult time remembering new information and making connections with it. For teachers, this is really important in helping us understand how to help children who live in poverty. It also helps to explain the achievement gap.

What concerns me about this research is that I can just hear the way some people will interpret it. Some will say (and have said already on some other blogs) that this research shows that we can't make the kind of significant gains that are required in DCPS. I hear (too many) teachers in my school saying things like, "Until we change the socio-economics of the community, we can't turn around the school" or "I can't teach a kid who doesn't show up ready to learn" (both are direct quotes).

Here's what I say: suck it up. Is teaching in DC difficult? Yeah, definitely. But if you can't hack it then go work somewhere else. If teachers make excuses for why we're not succeeding with our students, then they shouldn't be teachers. Now, I don't think that teachers who don't raise test scores should be fired, and I don't think that all teachers should be expected to be martyrs. I personally am not confident that I could get the most difficult 10th graders at my school to pass the DC-CAS, even if I had two years with them. But I do think it's possible, and I intend to continue to seek out resources, development, and constructive criticism so that I one day will be the type of teacher who can make those gains.

The effects of poverty make it more difficult for children to remember things. Having a family life that does not value education might lead students to be apathetic. A long history of low-quality teachers will make students angry. Teaching high-needs children is difficult. But we're paid to be teachers to everyone, not just the kids who don't have issues.

Phew, that was quite a rant. I'm going to go eat a cookie.

35 comments:

Glenn Watson said...

I have not read the study and have no idea if it correct or not, but lets just say it is.

If it was correct and kids living in poverty do have a harder time learning than kids who do not live in poverty then what should we make of the following situation?

One classroom, call it classroom A, filled with kids living in poverty and scoring say 20% worse on a standardized test. A second classroom, call it Classroom B, filled with kids not living in poverty who are scoring 20% better on the same test.

Who should we blame for this? Who would Rhee blame? Who should be fired?

Progressive Educator said...

I also have a scenario, which I have seen with my own eyes.

Classroom A: full of students living in poverty. They take a standardized test and don't score as well as we'd like.

Classroom B: down the hall, full of students living in poverty, from the same neighborhood. They take the same test and score 20% (or more) better.

Why would that happen? Because even in classrooms full of poverty, teachers make a difference.

Progressive Educator said...

Now, I have a question. I'm not being sarcastic, either. I honestly want to know the answer to this: If you believe that

"Until we change the socio-economics of the community, we can't turn around the school" or "I can't teach a kid who doesn't show up ready to learn"

why do you choose year after year to work in DC Public Schools?

How can you possibly be happy in such a situation where you make no meaningful, recognizable difference?

Why wouldn't you choose to go someplace where there is (in your perspective) more hope?

Don't you think your position would be better off given to someone who really thinks they can help turn the place around?

I'm not saying leave the teaching profession, but don't you think you'd make a greater difference elsewhere?

lodesterre said...

There are plenty of studies showing the effect that poverty has on education. It is a more complex issue than generally acknowledged. One study, Alexander and Entwisle (1996) showed that low income (socio economic status - SES) students progress at identical rates as their respective classmates during the school year but lose ground during the summer months. Other studies show the gradual deterioration that the effects of poverty can have on a child's education.

Catherine Snow, Peg Griffin and Susan Burns, in their book Knowledge to Support the Teaching of Reading, point out that there are effective schools in poor neighborhoods. These schools are likely to have these characteristics, and I quote,:

* high demands made of the students, reflecting high expectations for achievement

* students are organized, goal oriented, knowing why they are being asked to do a task, how the task builds on prior schoolwork, and how it might be expected to lay a foundation for future work.

*teachers provide well-paced instruction and optimize opportunities for interaction with students.

*the school schedules maximize use of time for academic tasks.

*Resources such as the library are used effectively.

*Professional development is provided for teachers.

*Principals are involved with the teachers and in their professional development.

* The schools are given public recognition for their success.

Take a look at that list and ask yourself if many of our schools meet the criteria on this list. Some do but most fall way short of the mark. However, one fact cannot be brushed aside - the high expectations and demands that a teacher has and makes on their students makes a big difference - not always visible but there nonetheless.

Sam said...

This helps explain so many of my frustrations. I teach many really bright kids, kids who after I explain complex ideas and content, understand it and process it well. Yet, it is these same students who cannot remember the formulas for Area, perimeter or volume. I have kids who are very quick witted and have terrific senses of humor that only someone with an incredibly high IQ could come up with, who "forget" simple mathematical concepts such as the Pythagorean theorem or the difference between circumference and area.

Poor memory makes sense. The kids have seen these concepts for years before they even had me as their teacher! I have 11th graders struggling with simple facts that are usually taught in the fourth grade. Was it that the teachers didn't cover it? Or is is their memory? It can't be that they ALL had such bad teachers every single year! My own theory is that these concepts are just so ridiculously removed from their daily realities that the only purpose they serve for them is to do well on "the test". Therefore, every summer they get tossed out, like an old worn winter coat.

Dee Does The District said...

Studies also show that urban school children can outperform their suburban peers during the school year, but regress significantly over the summer.

I hope Arne Duncan pursues year-round school options.

Anonymous said...

Just a thought, but poverty may have a greater negative impact on education for children of a subculture which does not place a great value on learning nor sees education as a way out. Those of us teacing in high poverty schools have our work cut out for us and continue to believe our students can and will succeed through our hard work and persistence.

Anonymous said...

Progressive Educator and Harry Potter - regarding what you call teachers who “can’t hack it” and who “make excuses” for not being able to “turn things around.”

Please consider other cases, e.g., rehabilitation doctors and hospice nurses:

I bet you wouldn’t tell a doctor who devoted his life to treating patients with spinal cord injuries that if he acknowledged that he didn’t think he could get all his patients to walk again without crutches, then he was a failure who should get into another line of work. No, you’d praise him for being willing to devote his life to helping people survive under adverse conditions.

Or if you met a hospice nurse, I bet you wouldn’t tell her she was wasting her time taking care of people whom she knew were going to die, no matter what she did. No, you’d probably praise her for her compassion and ask how to arrange hospice care for your grandparents when their time came.

So please, when teachers make comments about their students’ situations, don’t assume that the teachers are unfit just because they think it will take more than good teaching to turn things around. Teachers, like dedicated professionals in other helping professions, can be devoted to the people they’re helping without thinking they must be miracle workers in order to be worthy of keeping their jobs.

Anonymous said...

Answers to Progressive Educator’s questions from a hypothetical good teacher:

why do you choose year after year to work in DC Public Schools? >Because this is my community and I want to help the children in it as best I can.

How can you possibly be happy in such a situation where you make no meaningful, recognizable difference? >I don’t see it that way at all. I think I am making a difference, I’m just realistic enough to know these kids need more than good teachers to really make it in life.

Why wouldn't you choose to go someplace where there is (in your perspective) more hope? >I think there’s hope here – just not enough action to completely “turn things around.” Please don’t project your feelings on to me. I don’t have to feel totally convinced that I can turn things around in order to feel good about myself or my students or to think I’m making an important contribution to the community.

Don't you think your position would be better off given to someone who really thinks they can help turn the place around?
>It sounds like you’d like me to live up to your idealized version of what a teacher should be. I do think I could “help” turn the place around, but I’m not egotistical enough to think I can do it without the system addressing the things that I recognize are beyond the control of teachers, and I’m not afraid of saying so. I think it’s common sense. It doesn’t mean education would be better off without me in it.

I'm not saying leave the teaching profession, but don't you think you'd make a greater difference elsewhere?
> no, I love teaching and I’m good at it. This is what I want to do. Just because I can’t solve all the problems of my profession doesn’t mean I’d be better off leaving it.

Anonymous said...

Answers from a hypothetical teacher with the correct mindset, from the same anon:

Why work in DC Public Schools?
>Because this is my chance to turn things around.

Could you be happy making no meaningful, recognizable difference?
>No – if I can’t raise scores significantly, I’m obviously a failure and will get out of teaching. I might get out anyhow by that time, because I’ll be so burned out, or I’ll get fired for not being able to turn things around.

Why not go someplace where there’s more hope?
>There’s an incredible high-profile opportunity right here in the nation’s capital.

Wouldn’t your position be better off with someone who thinks they can help turn the place around?
>Yes – and I’m that person. I really think that I can help turn the place around and I think anyone who doesn’t have that mindset should get out, no matter how good their teaching and no matter how much the kids and parents love them.

Don't you think you'd make a greater difference elsewhere?
>Only in a system even worse than DC, where I could prove myself to be an even bigger hero.

Glenn Watson said...

I also have a scenario, which I have seen with my own eyes.>>

We are not talking about a scenario "you" have seen. We are talking about a scientific study that shows a definite provable trend. Any teacher should understand the difference.

Glenn Watson said...

The NEXT time I see Rhee or any other superintendent tell a failing student to get off his butt, turn of the TV, pull up his pants, stop whining, stop blaming others and get to work, will be the FIRST time.

I don't remember anyone ever blaming a teacher for any of my failures when I was a student. Today, its an epidemmic.

I have seen both poor and rich students succeed and NEWS FLASH, of course it is harder for poor students. That undeniable fact means that no matter what, poor students are going to, on average, do worse than rich students. Why anyone has to be fired because of this is beyond me.

IMO, if a kid in America fails a graduation exam or a whole class there is only one person on God's good green Earth to blame. That kid.

The Washington Teacher said...

Hi Mr. Potter: I wrote about something similar on March 12th on my blog, The Washington Teacher. Inequality in k-12 education. I suggested that my readers look at a Bolder Approach to Education website which is a deliberate effort by leaders from various fields in education, social welfare, housing, and civil rights. Their position statement reveals that ".. research has documented a powerful association between social and economic disadvantage and low student achievement." They argue that our national education policy has been crafted around the expectation that schools alone can offset the full impact of socio-economic status on learning. They support that schools Can ameliorate some of the impact of social and economic disadvantage on achievement BUT NOT ALL. We also have to have the help and support of our community, our leaders, our churches, our government, businesses, volunteers, parents, social service agencies, mental health agencies, mentors,etc.

Many including our DC schools chancellor deny that socio-economic status has a significant impact despite what the research states. According to bolder approach : "evidence demonstrates that achievement gaps based on socioeconomic status are present before children even begin formal schooling." Lets not get stuck on stupid. A schools only approach is not the answer.T his is what Bold Approach states is a major reason why the association between disadvantage and low student achievement remains so strong. The problem is not being tackled by all of the stakeholders.

We (collective we) must approach this from a systems approach and bring in all the critical stakeholders to address the multi-faceted issues in our poorer neighborhoods like Ward 8 where I work. For too long we have only been treating the symptoms and not addressing the problems. We have to address high adult illeteracy rates, poverty, lack of accessible health care, HIV and Aids, high unemployment rates, unskilled labor, poor parenting, mental health issues like depression and PTSD, substance abuse addiction, dysfunctional families, child abuse and neglect, educational neglect, truancy, criminal justice involvement, gangs, in our urban communities.This takes a village and not just talented teachers working in silos but a country interested in addressing the real impact of problems associated with poverty.

Many of us (collectively) love to stand on our soap boxes and give lip service to having equality in public education but as the Mary Levy's FY 2008-09 study suggested we actually give poorer schools in DCPS less money. Reporter Bill Turque addressed this in a recent Post article when in fact this study came out about our DC schools at the end of last school year. This study by Levy has been a subject at council hearings and has been confirmed by DCPS Chief Financial Officer.

Poorer schools can address the achievement gap but they have to go about it with a different model than what might work for students in a west of the park school. For those of us who work in these poorer schools, many of us know that this 1 size fits all model doesn't work for all. We may only have from 8:45- 3:15 to give our students everything they need in terms of educating them ,like it or not. I believe that our poorer schools require additional resources and different strategies. Given the inequality in funding and in kind resources - this is what makes our challenge difficult and potentially unobtainable. It is not low expectations but a reality that we face a different reality and don't get the minimum resources we need to do the best job we are capable of.

I hear your sarcasm Potter in your entry and I hope it is out of frustration. As a 17 year veteran- I have yet to see a superintendent or chancellor level the playing field in terms of dollars and or resources for our poorer schools. While Rhee's office admits it was a mistake that 31 DCPS schools were underfunded this past school year in 2008-09 despite higher enrollment figures and it won't happen again- Do you really think memory challenges aside- that administrators who were unable to hire the required certified teachers and had to deal with either not enough teachers or substitutes teaching classes for the whole year, or teachers teaching in classrooms with 40 plus students and minimally 31 schools will be as uccessful as their more affluent counterparts who received the required funding they were entitled ? (my question is rhetorical).

I also encourage you and your readers to check out my blog entry on Inequality in K-12 public education. I enjoy your blog even though we may not always see eye to eye. Thanks for allowing me to weigh in on this subject.

The Washington Teacher said...

Before the spelling police attack me, I left out the s in the word successful near the end of my post. There may be 1 -2 more errors. Pleez forgive me. Given that there is no spell check, I hope you won't beat up on me too bad. I can spell reasonably well and when I can't I use a dictionary. ;--)

Anonymous said...

Glen Watson: "The NEXT time I see Rhee or any other superintendent tell a failing student to get off his butt...........it will be the FIRST time."

Bravo - you're right and I never thought about that before. President Obama says it all the time. But Rhee? She just wants to fire teachers.

And on the PBS series, she even defended the kids who acted up at Hart - saying "They're only 12."

Candi - thanks so much for your insights and wisdom.

Mr. Potter said...

Candi-
I absolutely agree with you (and the research) that the effects of poverty on education are powerfully detrimental. I think that Chancellor Rhee gets this too. I've even heard the chancellor say that "teachers did not cause the achievement gap and are not the source of the problem, but they are the solution." I interpret this to mean that she understands that kids don't fail just because the teachers are bad. However, she also seems to get that kids can overcome these challenges with the help of excellent teachers.

No one can underestimate the crushing effects of long-term poverty. But if we collectively don't believe that we can educate our children at the highest levels, then we never will. Of course it will take more than positive thoughts, but I really believe that we can -- as a society truly focused on having excellent teachers teach our most troubled students -- overcome the challenges. And if we really don't believe that all children can learn, then what are we doing?

Anonymous said...

Mr. Potter - please use your critical thinking skills, which I feel sure you possess, to discern between dogma and reason.

We can believe that all children can learn, without thinking that all it takes is a great teacher to make it happen. That's simply egotistical - the teacher as savior.

We can think all children can learn, without thinking that every child learns in exactly the same way and in the same amount as other children. Do your have siblings? children of your own? If so, certainly you've noticed differences among them that cannot be attributed to lack of a determined and dedicated “excellent” teacher.

Anonymous said...

Regarding “learning at the highest levels” – I’d like to know what you mean when you say that. I wonder if it’s rhetoric or if you’ve you thought about it? Does it mean that everyone can get 800’s on their college boards and qualify for Harvard (and only get turned away because they were late to apply)? Does it mean with the best teachers everyone can learn the same information? What does it say about innate differences in talents and interests among kids? I wonder if students are perceived as fully the product of their teachers’ efforts. If an industrious, motivated kid makes A’s in English and C’s in math, is the English teacher considered to be a better teacher? What if the situation is reversed with another kid?

These are not just rhetorical questions. Though I don’t necessarily expect an answer to each one, I wonder if you’ve given thought to these kinds of issues and if not, if you’re willing to now.

Mr. Potter said...

Anon-

You're right when you suggest that not every child is the same. Of course I don't expect (or think it's possible) that every child will get perfect scores on their SATs or go to Harvard. I do not think that every child must perform at the single highest level. I mean that, as a whole, the children we teach in DCPS can perform academically at the same levels as their more affluent (and lighter skinned) peers.

When I (and others) talk about the importance of teachers, we're talking about in aggregate. When you look at schools like mine, what you see is an entire population of students performing at a lower level than their more affluent peers. My school has never had a student pass an AP literature or math exam, while suburban schools have 90% pass rates. The children that take the exams at my school are motivated and hardworking, but they simply have not had an opportunity to be educated like their suburban counterparts. This is a problem, and it is one that an excellent teacher can solve.

I do not believe that every single child can be fixed by me. But I do believe that the kids at my school can and should be performing at higher levels. There are children in my school who have solid families and excellent supports, and they are not learning at the same levels as the kids at Sidwell Friends are. The difference is the quality of the education they receive, and not the effort they put in.

In functional schools, we see a spectrum of academic performance. I believe that the spectrum should not be lower for poor minority children. I think teachers can, with hard work smart thinking, lift that spectrum up so that we eliminate the huge and depressing gaps in learning that we see today.

Progressive Educator said...

I agree with Mr. Potter. When we say children can succeed, we are talking in aggregate. I wouldn't expect ALL children in an underserviced school to succeed when even children who've had every educational advantage in life don't ALL succeed.

Now, the study about poverty notwithstanding, it's a fact that lower income schools get a disproportionate number of underqualified teachers. (I'm not talking about NCLB's definition of "highly qualified." I mean truly competent and knowledgeable teachers).

Poverty + underqualified teachers = a double whammy for kids.

We educators (and all members of the WTU) won't eradicate poverty nor will we save every child's future, but we do kids wrong by hiding from this issue. The least we can do is insist that we and all of our colleagues meet the highest standards of teaching practice and pedagogical knowledge(or for service providers, the highest standards of providing services).

A study conducted in 1998 by the Education Trust found:

"Students who have several effective teachers in a row make dramatic gains in achievement, while those who have EVEN TWO ineffective teachers in a row lose significant ground, WHICH THEY MAY NEVER RECOVER!"

I know a student who didn't learn how to read KINDERGARTEN level words until fifth grade. When students asked him what took so long for him to learn how to read, he said, "I never had anyone to teach me." He was telling the truth - it was not poor home support or student laziness in his case.

Yes, there are kids who come to school not ready-to-learn, but what about the many who come ready-to-learn and the teacher is not ready-to-teach?

I'm not letting administrators off the hook, and I'm glad they are using the (WTU-approved) 90-day plan, finally. However, the reason our TEACHERS union has made national news is because change begins with us TEACHERS. WE are the ones Rhee has to negotiate with. We must ensure that we are a strong competent group (even if it means getting your own PD somewhere this summer, since so many people complain that DC's PD is so bad).

If all kids in the system showed up tomorrow smiling, well-dressed, well-fed, well-rested, with homework done, brought to school by two supportive parents, then what? Unless we take our own competence and credibility into our own hands, some of us would still have nothing to offer these kids because the teaching skills are just not present, even if the children are.

As for the rehab doctor, I expect my doctor to know about new medical advances and to help me walk as much as is possible for me. I'd prefer the doctor push me rather than doubt me. As you know, there are doctors out there who have lost their med school motivation and are no longer happy at what they do.

And the hospice nurse? Her job is not to cure, but to make patients comfortable. If she told me, people cannot be made comfortable before they die, I would find another hospice!

Anonymous said...

Harry Potter:

“the children we teach in DCPS can perform academically at the same levels as their more affluent (and lighter skinned) peers.”
>That’s a belief and a hope and a very politically correct view, not a statement of fact. How would you know that? What about DCPS students compared to their more affluent and same-colored peers – or is it just a racial thing?

“The children that take the exams at my school are motivated and hardworking, but they simply have not had an opportunity to be educated like their suburban counterparts. This is a problem, and it is one that an excellent teacher can solve.”
>Here again you define the problem and the solution – excellent teachers - and in my opinion cut yourself off from finding additional, more complex solutions – better academic preparation in the lower grades (including not just good teachers, but good materials), parental supports, reading at home, innate talent and interests, etc., etc.

“The difference is the quality of the education they receive, and not the effort they put in.” >Again, you’ve determined the solution – quality of education - and seem to be looking no further. When I was in high school, I worked harder in some subjects than my peers in the college-bound classes and didn’t do as well. We all had the same good teachers. I think it was my innate ability, not my motivation and certainly not the fault of the teachers.

“I think teachers can, with hard work smart thinking, lift that spectrum up so that we eliminate the huge and depressing gaps in learning that we see today.”
>I think progress can be and should be made. I also think you’re sold on the idea of the hero teacher – the teacher against all odds. I say, let’s get realistic community supports in place to give the poor, minority kids the basics that the more affluent kids already have, so they can be more receptive to good teachers when they get to school.

Progressive Educator:

“I wouldn't expect ALL children in an underserviced school to succeed….”
>I’d like you to say that in front of Michelle Rhee and see how she responds. Really – everything I heard her say indicates she’d disagree strongly.

Regarding PD
>Why is DC’s PD so bad two years after Rhee has been in charge? I think she could have worked to improve that quickly and relatively painlessly from the start, but simply wasn’t motivated to. I suspect she just intended to fire a bunch of teachers and hire “great” ones who’d been through the TFA summer training, no PD required.

“…some of us would still have nothing to offer these kids because the teaching skills are just not present.”
>Those teachers need to be identified, given real opportunities to develop the teaching skills they lack and if they can’t/won’t, THEN it’s time for them to look for another job. Rhee doesn’t want to do that. She wants to fire “at will” and then hire completely inexperienced teachers whom she nonetheless thinks will be better than the current crop.

As for the Rehab doc – they are known for being more dedicated to their patients for their determination to help people who may never get completely well, and less respected by their peers for not being in high-profile specialties that offer more exciting medical advances and bigger bucks.

And the hospice nurse- “If she told me, people cannot be made comfortable before they die, I would find another hospice!”
>not a good analogy – the teachers who acknowledge that their students’ home life has an effect on their learning aren’t giving up on the kids. They’re being realistic and not seeing themselves as heroic figures – just good people using their skills as best they can.

Kat said...

HP said, "The children that take the [AP] exams at my school...simply have not had an opportunity to be educated like their suburban counterparts. This is a problem, and it is one that an excellent teacher can solve."

Make that teacherS. Every AP teacher has experienced the frustration of teaching a dense and rigorous, tightly scheduled curriculum while also providing reading/writing instruction the kids SHOULD HAVE ALREADY HAD. How the hell are kids supposed to pass the AP exam when half the year is spent remediating their knowledge?

But it's not just AP teachers. Talk to the 9th and 10th grade English teachers who have to teach parts of speech or sentence parts -- content the kids should have had in elementary school. Meanwhile, their suburban peers are already tackling grade-level (and beyond) material.

Glenn Watson said...

as a whole, the children we teach in DCPS can perform academically at the same levels as their more affluent (and lighter skinned) peers. >>>>>

Why do you think that? What evidence or examples do you have that the average achievement of an entire inner city, (not just one or two cherry picked schools) can ever match the achievement level of whiter affluent suburbs?

I have taught in an expensive private school and inner city public schools. The quality of the faculty was never the issue when it came to student achievement.

The reality is the children of doctors' lawyers and engineers do better than children from broken homes and with chronic underemployment.

unconvinced said...

You can't negate the impact of sheer cognitive ability in terms of academics. Unfortunately, a lot of the kids in DCPS have true learning disabilities caused by lack of pre-natal care, lead in the water and in paint, parental drug use, STDs and other.

I am not saying that NO poor child can achieve, but that as a group, it is logical that children from dysfunctional homes regardless of race will be outperformed by affluent peers. If this wasn't so closely tied to race, people would not be so quick to sush it...but really think about poor white kids and poor rich kids...it still happens.. and no one goes up in arms about it.

unconvinced said...

I meant to say rich white kids nor poor rich kids

Mr. Potter said...

Kat-
Great point that it needs to be excellent teacherS. I don't think that just one good teacher can fix these problems. But I think that an entire system of excellent teachers who believe in their students can change lives.

Unconvinced-
I agree with you that there are issues of cognitive ability tied to prenatal care, etc. However, there are lots of students in my school who do not suffer from learning disabilities, who have stable homes, and whose parents support them and help them at home. And even these kids do not perform at the same levels as the wealthy kids who go to suburban schools. These kids are just as "smart" as their more affluent counterparts, but have not been given the same educational opportunities.

Anon-
I don't believe all teachers who work in high needs schools should be heroes. But I do believe that they should be excellent. And if they're not -- and not actively seeking out the help, resources, and development that will make them excellent -- then perhaps they should transition to a less demanding school system.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Potter, as Glen Watson would say, How do you know that "These kids are just as "smart" as their more affluent counterparts, but have not been given the same educational opportunities."

I was smarter (or at least made better grades) than some of my more affluent counterparts and not as smart as some less affluent kids. I was smarter than my own brother and sister, but not as smart as some of my cousins. We all had the same teachers.

So sorry, it's not just the teachers, and unless you have detailed information about those kids in the suburbs, you can't know how smart your kids are in comparison.

You may be excellent where you are and find that you're even more excellent in a school with affluent kids. What happened, did you get better, or did the kids have something to do with it?

You may find yourself teaching in a school with no administrative support (even worse, a principal who hates you, for some unknown reason), a few disruptive students that no one helps you with, and soon you find that you’re no so excellent any more, in fact, you’re on the 90 plan (principal grudge, remember). Is it you or the changed environment?

If your answer is – “it’s always the teacher,” then I’d say, yes, you’re locked into the idea of the hero teacher and as smart and dedicated as you are (I can tell), you are wrong about excellent teaching being the ultimate path to improved academic achievement.

Mr. Potter said...

Anon-
You keep thinking about this debate in terms of individual kids and individual teachers -- how do I know that this one individual kid is as smart as some other individual kid, how can one individual teacher fix it. But I'm talking about the kids and teachers in aggregate.

Take this example. My school has not had a student pass an AP exam in over a decade. Is it because absolutely NONE of the kids are smart enough? I don't think so. I think it's because ALL of the kids have been given a raw deal. As a group, they have been undereducated. Now, there are some kids who were probably in a little over their heads. But affluent public schools in the suburbs have AP exam pass rates in the 90% range. I just can't accept that 90% of rich kids are smarter than 100% of poor kids.

I think the same is true of our entire school system. Yes there are kids who come in with additional difficulties, but there are also kids who don't. And those kids who don't are the victims of the subtle racism of lowered expectations.

Research has shown us a couple of things. First, it has shown us that under-performing students can succeed when they have excellent teachers for several years in a row. Second, it shows us that students who have bad teachers for several years in a row are significantly less likely to succeed.

I'm not talking about every individual child being saved by an individual hero teacher. I'm talking about an entire system being revolutionized by an army of effective, motivated, and extraordinary teachers who firmly believe that their kids can succeed. And in order for that vision to become a reality, the teachers who do not believe that all kids can learn, and who make excuses for their students' failures, need to step aside.

Anonymous said...

Sorry Harry, a vision doesn't become reality just because a lot of sincere, determined, dedicated people believe it to be true. This is doctrine, and a feeling of being very special.

Have you heard of "the great disappointment?" It's in reference to a group of American Christians in the 1800's who believed they had determined the very moment that the world was going to end and Jesus would whisk them into heaven.

Didn't happen. They were very disappointed, but then realized that they had miscalculated the time, which they recalculated and alas were very disappointed again. The group broke up after that.

American education is too important to be left to a vision, which could then be abandoned when it doesn’t materialize exactly as advertised. It’s got to be based of solid scholarship, experience and research.

I don’t doubt the research you cite about the effect of excellent teachers. I just say there’s a lot more to it than that. I’m not the only one saying it – respected educational experts say it, excellent veteran teachers and parents say it and so does President Obama.

Some of those teachers who you characterize as “teachers who do not believe that all kids can learn, and who make excuses for their students' failures” are not that way at all. I see that as rhetoric to attempt to shame and dismiss any teacher who doesn’t share an exact mindset and set up as superior those who do.

Please consider that many teachers do believe that all children can learn – but that some kids need a lot more than an excellent teacher to make it happen. They’d like to see the kids get that support.

And what you write off as “making excuses” is instead making a realistic assessment, that can then be used to find a realistic solution, that might be a little more complicated than just having teachers who lack the proper vision “step aside.”

Glenn Watson said...

Yes there are kids who come in with additional difficulties, but there are also kids who don't. And those kids who don't are the victims of the subtle racism of lowered expectations. >>>

No, the smart kids you talk about, who still fail, are not victims of racism. They are victims of their fellow students, usually of the same race, who behave so poorly and create such a chaotic environment that real learning is all but impossible.

The bad students drag the good ones down and that is something you do not see as much of in suburban schools.

Yes, you can fix some of this with classroom management skill. But while the inner city teacher is trying to manage his class the suburban teacher is actually teaching. That the differance, not lead paint.

The solution is not to put the best teachers in bad situations out of mispalced white guilt. The solution is the get those poorly behaved students out of there.

Of course we can't do that because too many of those poorly behaved students are Black.

So instead we continue to let a minority of poorly behaved students victimize the rest and almost no one has the guts to say ENOUGH!

Anonymous said...

Right, Glen – and how is it that so many of those smart kids are unprepared for AP classes?

Is it that they had “bad” teachers in grade school or that some of those teachers were pressured to give good grades even though they knew that the kids didn’t qualify for them – for various reasons beyond the teachers’ control (e.g., kids not doing their homework, disruptive kids that couldn’t be removed from class). If they gave lower grades, if would look as if the schools were failing and the teacher was bad, and the principal wouldn’t like that. Even though the teachers were in no danger of being fired, thanks to tenure, they knew what they were supposed to do – inflate the grades and look the other way.

If it weren’t for a standard measure like the AP exam, those kids and their teachers might never find out how unprepared they were.

Also Harry, it sounds like you’re blaming the past teachers for poorly preparing the kids, and that you’re not putting full responsibility on the AP teachers for the low pass rate. Isn’t it the teacher “standing in front of the kids every day” who has total responsibility (Like Rhee during her teaching days in Baltimore)? Is it OK for teachers to blame past teachers but not to place responsibility on any other factors in the kid’s lives? Seems like according to the “excellent teacher” principle, an inspired AP teacher, with smart, motivated kids should be able to rise above past learning deficiencies and get some passing grades out of their advanced students. If that teacher “makes excuses” (i.e., blames other teachers, comments on their students lack of prerequisites) should they “step aside,” or is teachers-blaming-teachers in a special exempt category. That is, it’s acceptable for a designated “good teacher” to place responsibility on a designated “bad teacher” for student failure, but suggesting that any other factors may be responsible is “making excuses.”

Let’s apply the fire-the-bad-teachers concept to AP teachers. If they can’t get any of their motivated, well-behaved kids to get a passing grade on the AP exam after a year of trying, they should step aside and turn over their advanced classes to someone with the proper vision. Then that person and that person’s replacement can’t get anything above a 2 either. Then one of those teachers suggests that part of the reason for her lack of success may be related to grade inflation in the lower grades – that these A’s and B’s she sees don’t translate into preparedness the way she’s seen in another school she’s taught in (heaven forbid if it was a “suburban” school). She requires a certain amount of homework in order for kids to stay in the class. She suggests that smaller class size might help the pass rate or identifies a few students in the class who really need remedial work. All of this is perceived as making excuses and not believing in the students or in the power of teachers to make a difference. Meanwhile the AP program is languishing, the College Board is making a bundle off of DC kids, and teachers who wanted to make a difference under difficult circumstances are cast off. None of this helps the kids.

Kat said...

I find it fascinating that we're debating AP in a system where many schools don't make AYP. Do we now have that luxury? (For what it's worth, my school's AP kids don't pass the test. Never have.)

Anonymous said...

Yeah, me too. i certainly don't want to make trouble for AP teachers, but technically, they should be held to the same standards as everyone else, right?

and they do have a test at the end of the year to prove how they performed. I'd be interested to know if the grades kids get in the class reflect their grades on the AP exam.

Sam said...

Well, it was really interesting when the Washington Post used to rank DC Metro Area High Schools according to their AP class availability, over 5 DC high schools made it to the top 10: Friendship, Coolidge, Bell to name a few...Late the Post realized what a stupid way to rank that was and they changed it to PASSING rates. Immediately, all DC High Schools went to the bottom of the list. Including Friendship, who offers AP courses to 100% of their seniors and their passing rate is 0%.

I agree partly with Glenn on how the horrible behavior of some kids just ruins it for other kids, and the best way I can show this is by thinking about the very few DCPS schools that don't suck: Deal, Hardy, Lafayette and Mann.. Yes, Lafayette and Mann are pretty wealthy..but by middle school about half the kids come from out of boundary. Now, why are these schools better? not because they have better teachers, after all they still get excessed people from the pool of DCPS teacher and they don't even have the luxury of TFA or DCTF..all their teachers are "real" teacher. The schools are better because the environment is conducive to learning and kids who misbehaved are sent back to their neighborhood school.

BUT to Mr. Potter's point, Yes DC has some AWFUL teachers who need to be put out ASAP. There are colleagues of mine who only do "EdHelper" worksheets every day and have never even pretended to do an actual lesson.

Glenn Watson said...

AP is supposed to be for kids who can do college level work. If the school is letting every Tom, Dick and Harry into the AP class then its a joke.

I'm teaching AP for the first time this year and it is the most challenging class I have ever taught. AP is like a microcosm of the entire school. Some kids do not belong but they are there anyway and can pull the others down if there are so many they overwhelm to capable kids.

I have the same problem with honors classes, which are supposed to be a step below AP but are too often filled with remedial students.