Grades Based on Age and Focus on Standards and Testing Obscures Purpose!

In the mid-19th century, the one-room schoolhouse with one teacher working with children at varying stages of learning, each pursuing different academic objectives, began giving way to Horace Mann’s vision of an education process. Mann was influenced by the Prussian education model that organized students by grades, based on age.  The Prussian model was designed for organizational efficiency and discipline. Mann’s model and focus remains the process of choice, today, in private, parochial and public schools.

If there is meaningful research to show that this is the best way to structure classrooms and organize students and teachers for learning, I hope someone will share it with me.

In a one-room schoolhouse, a teacher’s priority was to help every child get from where they were upon arrival for their first day of school, to where they needed to be when they left school to embark upon life as an adult citizen. Some students only needed to learn how to read and write; others needed to prepare to find a job or to take over their family’s farm or business; and, some  aspired to go to college to become teachers, doctors, and other professionals. Each student was guided by their inherent abilities, their unique interests, by their own dreams for the future and the dreams of their families, and by a caring teacher.  That teacher’s only purpose was to help each child prepare for whatever future to which he or she aspired.

It is my assertion that the existing education process, to which so many educators are loyal, has obscured that mission and purpose, for generations.

One of the characteristics of organizations, irrespective of venue, is that if leadership is not diligent in remaining focused on and reminding the organization and its people of its core mission or purpose, the process that was created to serve that purpose becomes the entity’s focal point. Over time, that mission or purpose becomes obscured by the clutter of the process. This is what happened when administrators and policy makers  committed to moving students from Kindergarten or first grade to twelfth grade, as a class.

The existing education process requires that “students at each grade level” be able to meet certain criteria before they are deemed ready, as a population, to move on to the next lesson or grade level. The shift in focus from preparing individual students for their unique future to preparing all students of a given age to advance as a group is subtle, but with each school year the degree of separation between the original purpose and the secondary agenda, expands.

When formal academic standards were established, teaching to the standards and meeting their arbitrary time frames grew in importance. No longer were we teaching individual children according to their unique level of academic preparedness or pace and style of learning, rather we were marching to the cadence of the Prussian fondness for order and organizational efficiency. The standards also opened the door for high-stakes testing, that was viewed as a method of assessing the effectiveness of schools and teachers. Not only did we begin teaching to the standards, we began teaching to the tests.

What high-stakes testing measures, however, is not the effectiveness of teachers and schools. It reveals, instead, the ineffectiveness of the education process in helping individual children learn as much as they are able at their own best speed; despite the efforts of public school teachers. Educators must cease viewing the results as an indictment against themselves and use it as evidence to show what they are asked to do does not work for all kids.

Can you imagine a teacher in a one-room school house telling a child, I’m sorry but time is up! I need you to move on to the next lesson, along with your classmates, ready or not?

I’m certain some of you are thinking, “but we don’t teach in one room schoolhouses!” And, of course, you are not. But, “are you teaching kids to prepare for their own unique futures or are you “teaching to the standards” or “teaching to the test?” You need not feel guilty after answering truthfully. Neither should you feel powerless to bring about a transformation.

The appropriate question educators and positive leaders at every level should be asking, is: “has our fundamental mission and purpose changed?”  And: “should mission and purpose be driven by structure and process or should it be the other way around?” It is this author’s assertion that mission and purpose should always drive structure and process and assuring that this is the case is the responsibility of positive leaders.

At one time, holding a student back so they could repeat a grade (be given a second chance to master the subject matter) was not uncommon. Gradually, educators gravitated away from that practice because it was perceived to be the greater of two evils.

A decade ago, writing about this issue in Educational Leadership, Jane L. David[i] wrote, describing the reality in public education:

 

“School systems cannot hold back every student who falls behind; too many would pile up in the lower grades. Moreover, it is expensive to add a year of schooling for a substantial number of students. Therefore, in practice, schools set passing criteria at a level that ensures that most students proceed through the grades at the expected rate.” (March 2008, Volume 65, Number 6).

 

By sacrificing so many children to preserve the process we demonstrate that the process was then and continues to be viewed as more important than our students.

Had “mission and purpose” been driving “structure and process,” educators and policy makers of an earlier time might have asked the question positive leaders should pose, relentlessly, “who exists to serve whom?”

What I have endeavored to create is an education model designed to remain loyal to “mission and purpose” amid the dynamic changes taking place around us. It offers a process that gives educators the freedom and support necessary to: form close, long-term relationships with students; elicit the support of parents; help children experience, celebrate and expect success; shield them from loss of hope that comes with repeated failure: and, to apply leading-edge methodologies, tools, and innovations for the benefit of their students.

Please examine my model at http://www.melhawkinsandassociates.com/education-model-white-paper/

 

[i] Jane L. David is the Director of the Bay Area Research Group

The Pathology of Secondary Agendas in Public Education!

Over the years in teaching, like so many jobs people do, our core purpose has become obscured by secondary agendas. It might help to look at a simple example from another venue.

In a government organization for which I do some part-time testing, reduction of spending to avoid exceeding one’s budget has become a top priority. Someone in the command structure decided to eliminate overtime as this was a big contributor to over-spending. Overtime now requires prior approval by top leadership.

It was fascinating to observe how quickly the “no-overtime mandate” became more important than saving money. This problem occurs anytime multiple testing assignments are scheduled on the same day in my immediate geographical area. When this happens, my organization’s solution is to send someone from an hour or two away to handle one of those assignments; thus obviating the need to pay me 4 or 5 hours of overtime.

The practice makes sense until one compares the actual expenditures for the two test sessions. On close examination, one would find that bringing in another test administrator from an hour or two away more than doubles the cost of paying me between 4 or 5 hours of overtime. Not only must they pay the second test administrator’s testing time, they must also pay that person’s two to four hours of round trip travel time, plus $0.535 per mile in travel reimbursement.

The end result is that adherence to the overtime policy, instituted to reduce expenditures, has become more important than saving money. In just one of these examples they spend about $250 to avoid paying me an extra $100 of overtime. So much for saving tax dollars.

This is what happens, often, when our core purpose becomes obscured by secondary agendas.

In thinking about the core purpose of public education, at one time homework and classroom work in preparation for a quiz or test, were intended to be viewed as practice. Their purpose was to give teachers an opportunity to use the mistakes students make to, first, identify where their students need help and, secondly, to help those kids learn from mistakes. The same is true for mistakes on quizzes and tests. In many classrooms, the scores of practice assignments are recorded in a gradebook and are factored into computation of grades. Practice assignments, and especially quizzes and tests often signal the end of a given lesson and time to move on to a new lesson.

Compare practices and performances of a band, choir, or athletic team. Practices in preparation for a concert or game are to help improve performances in the concerts or games and are rarely graded. Even mistakes that occur during the performance are singled out so the performer or athlete can continue to work on those areas in which their performance is weak and rarely for grading purposes. While level of performance throughout a semester may influence grades, individual mistakes are rarely tallied for record-keeping purposes. Mastering the skills are the clear objective.

In the academic arena, grading and then recording scores of students’ homework, classroom work, quizzes and tests often seem to have become more important than using a student’s mistakes to help them learn and master the academic material.

Grading practice assignments, quizzes and tests that were originally intended to signal that there is more work to be done seems to have become an end, in and of themselves. It signals that work on one lesson is completed and that it is time to move on to a next lesson, grading period, semester, or school year.

In today’s education environment, schools and teachers are under tremendous pressure to keep their students and classrooms on pace, per their state’s academic standards and in preparation for statewide competency exams. The unintended consequence is that the original mission of schools and teachers, which was to help children learn, has become obscured.

There is no way to pinpoint when this change occurred and it is not the fault of any one person. It is simply one of the pressures to which any logical process can be subjected. It happens all the time in production-, assembly-, and service-delivery processes in private enterprise but the effect on product or service quality almost always results in a quick reduction in customer satisfaction. Many business failures occur because producers of goods and services do not monitor customer satisfaction closely. Successful producers are always listening to their customers and are able to take immediate corrective action.

In public education, customers such as employers and the military have been expressing dissatisfaction for decades and they are not the only ones. I have heard any number of college professors who teach freshman and sophomore classes complain about the lack of academic preparedness and self-discipline of many of their students.

Understand that this is not the fault of teachers who are doing what they are being directed to do. Making sure their schools are not diverted from their core purpose is the responsibility of leadership, however, starting with principals and ending where the buck stops in any public school corporation.

It is incredibly difficult for leaders, in any venue, to admit that what they are doing is not working and is producing unacceptable outcomes and the further removed they are from their end customers, the more difficult it is. High level administrators of public school corporations, along with their advocates, must be challenged to recognize that the education reform movement, misguided though it may be, is motivated by the same type of customer dissatisfaction as a struggling business entity. What distinguishes public education from producers of consumer goods and services is what is at stake.

In public schools, our nation’s children are suffering, especially disadvantaged students, and this is having an adverse impact on every aspect of life in American society.

Somehow the superintendents and governing bodies of local school corporations; along with teachers, both individually and collectively; must find the courage to accept responsibility for the problems in our public schools. It is not until we accept responsibility for our problems that we begin to acquire the power to solve them. And, it is not until educators accept responsibility that the failure of disadvantaged students will cease.

Please check out my Education Model and White Paper
I also want to introduce a few new blogs I have found:

https://shanephipps/wordpress.com/
http://www.justintarte.com/
www.davidgeurin.com
www.tsschmidty.blogspot.com
www.marlenagrosstaylor.com/blog
www.brentclarkson.com/blog