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Posted at 9:42 AM ET, 10/26/2010

A funny, scary 'education' conversation

By Valerie Strauss

Here is an amusing but scary video that shows two toy figures in a conversation that tells you everything you need to know about what is driving school reform today: a nonsensical obsession with assessment and data that has brought a rigidity to classes that makes real teaching and learning impossible.

Some of the dialogue:

Male figure: Let’s begin today’s collaborative planning meeting with successes and challenges. Who would like to volunteer some successes? You are all required to volunteer successes.

Female voice: My students are not understanding verse structure. We have been working on it for three days....

Male voice: That is not a success. You need to mention a success for this week.

Female voice: There have not been any this week. Today is Tuesday and Monday was a holiday.

Male voice: See, it was not hard to find a success. Stop being so negative and we can get more done. Does anyone have a challenge to volunteer?

Female voice: I have a challenge. My students are not understanding verse structure.

Male voice: How do you know that they don’t understand? Where is your test data?

Female voice: I haven’t given the test yet but i know they don’t understand the material.

Male voice: Then how do you know they don’t understand?

Female voice: They told me.

Male voice: But if you don’t give the assessment how can you know where your students are?

Female voice: They told me they don’t understand what I am talking about. The students raised their hands said we do not understand verse structure. They also presented a notarized petition and held a press conference. They compared last night’s homework to translating the Bhagavad Gītā into Klingon from its native Sanskrit then translated a passage in front of me to show it is less difficult...

Male voice: But if you don’t give the assessment how can you know where your students are?

Female voice: Fine. I gave a test. They scored a negative 38 percent.

Male voice: That is a low score. They definitely don’t understand verse structure. Have you taught verse structure?.......


There's a lot more. Take a look. It’s hysterical. And frightening.

-0-

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By Valerie Strauss  | October 26, 2010; 9:42 AM ET
Categories:  Laugh and cry, School turnarounds/reform  | Tags:  collaboration, planning meeting, school reform, teacher collaboration, teachers, you tube  
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Comments

Valerie,

I'm with you regarding real teaching and instruction has become impossible - in some districts. However, what you fail to acknowledge is what caused this pandemic of misdirected education and what was "happening" in our schools pre-ed reform.

The public had a warped and very inaccurate picture of how our schools were actually performing. Essentially, no one knew how they were performing and this was exacerbated exponentially by ubiquitous promotion and graduation practices, especially in our urban schools.

The public was led to believe if most students are being promoted and graduating there can't really be a problem. BIG PROBLEM.

Who was responsible for this history? The educational establishment; from school boards to administrators to teachers. They were all playing the game. They played so well in fact that they're no longer trusted and third party impartial players (states) are now responsible for the assessments and reporting the data.

So yes, it is a bit disconcerting but you need to inform your readers as to the real WHY education reform has taken the path it's currently pursuing.

Posted by: phoss1 | October 26, 2010 6:29 AM | Report abuse

THIS IS MY LIFE!

Posted by: someguy100 | October 26, 2010 8:23 AM | Report abuse

Phoss,

I agree that schools have been struggling (not all of them, but many, especially in urban areas).

However, states aren't any better at being impartial, look at the whole stink over the scores in New York state.

The truth is that everyone involved in education has an incentive to make themselves look better.

I agree that if students are being promoted without actually learning material then that is a problem on many levels. However, I think you will find that most of the time it is the administration that is pushing this.

In DC we have credit recovery and summer school. In neither of those do we actually see much learning (there are exceptions of course), but the students earn credit because the graduation percentage is so important that we lower our standards to make ourselves look better.

The video itself looks at one specific issue, the increasing use of educational buzzwords and the hot educational technique of the year to "change" education for the better. Unfortunately, even more so then teachers, there are tons of administrators who have no clue what they are talking about and so latch onto those buzzwords because they don't understand anything else.

Sadly, the video is funny because it is all too true in many school districts.

Posted by: Wyrm1 | October 26, 2010 8:24 AM | Report abuse

This video was sent to me last week and I, like so many other teachers, laughed and cried at the same time. I immediately posted it on my blog.

It so inspired me that I had to try one of my own. teachbad.com

Mr. Teachbad

Posted by: mrteachbad | October 26, 2010 9:04 AM | Report abuse

"They played so well in fact that they're no longer trusted and third party impartial players (states) are now responsible for the assessments and reporting the data."

I'm not sure there are *any* impartial players when it comes to education, whether it is the state legislators who are looking to rise through the political ranks or the for-profit educational companies (i.e. Leadership and Learning Center) that profit off of all the books and buzzwords. (Or for-profit charters like Imagine!) The same goes for some urban teachers... although it's worth noting that the most vocal critics of our "failing" urban schools would themselves not deign to try and teach those kids, not even in a "wonderful" charter school.

State DOEs, meanwhile, are themselves anything but reliable. The New York testing game is widely publicized, but similar softening of tests have been done in several other states, especially those in the Midwest and Deep South. I'm not sure the softening of the tests is necessarily deliberate (although it might be) -- more likely, the states don't invest the time or the cash to field test their state tests for reliability and validity. Hence, you've got state tests that very rarely show consistency when measured against rigorously developed tests like the Stanford Achievement Test, the ACT, or NAEP.

"The public had a warped and very inaccurate picture of how our schools were actually performing. Essentially, no one knew how they were performing and this was exacerbated exponentially by ubiquitous promotion and graduation practices, especially in our urban schools."

That's probably an overgeneralization. Our suburban schools perform at par with the best countries in the world and our urban schools are worse than some third world countries, but we've known this for a long time. We've had instruments like NAEP telling us this for a long time, and anyone living in the 60s and 70s will tell you that urban schools had a bad reputation even then... that's no small reason why the suburbs exploded during that time.

Posted by: joshofstl | October 26, 2010 9:58 AM | Report abuse

"They compared last night’s homework to translating the Bhagavad Gītā into Klingon from its native Sanskrit then translated a passage in front of me to show it is less difficult....."

Study of other languages is so important! But so are the ARTS! I do hope the next homework assignment includes a staging of at least one Act of Klingon Opera with the appropriate Klingon bagpipes, Warship Trilogy,costuming and makeup.

Posted by: PLMichaelsArtist-at-Large | October 26, 2010 10:25 AM | Report abuse

Josh,

"our urban schools are worse than some third world countries"

A lot of children don't go to school in third world countries, take India as an example.

Posted by: jlp19 | October 26, 2010 12:43 PM | Report abuse

So funny, and sadly resonant. "Everyone is required to volunteer a success" reminded me of my last school, where "volunTOLD" was a word. And I was especially distressed when she talks about how her students said they didn't understand, and that's not taken as evidence of anything. Heaven forbid we should actually take students at their word (or teachers, for that matter!)...

Common sense over, standardization and conformity = very yes.

Posted by: TeacherSabrina | October 26, 2010 1:36 PM | Report abuse

@jlp19: Touche.

Posted by: joshofstl | October 26, 2010 1:51 PM | Report abuse

Also, teachers who actually do speak up and reveal that the emperor has no clothes (read: what's going on isn't helpful to kids, it just makes adults look better/feel comfortable) are often retaliated against. Just a few examples:
http://bit.ly/ax6BGp
http://bit.ly/diQUcB
http://bit.ly/chtKW0
http://bit.ly/c89Kit
http://bit.ly/93zMEK

So for those who think that the "warped and inaccurate perception" game starts in the classroom, think again. It starts at the top, and filters down. Those who play keep their jobs, those who don't get fired.

And they wonder why we still need unions...

Posted by: TeacherSabrina | October 26, 2010 1:52 PM | Report abuse

"our urban schools are worse than some third world countries"

A lot of children don't go to school in third world countries, take India as an example.
-------------------------------------------
And most of the kids that do go to school there are extremely grateful for the opportunity.

Posted by: Wyrm1 | October 26, 2010 2:59 PM | Report abuse

I know a lot of people from India (well, we all probably do). And they are extremely grateful. The parents also always make sure their children do their homework, and check with the teachers to find out if their children are behaving in class. They are very involved in their children's education.

Posted by: educationlover54 | October 26, 2010 5:32 PM | Report abuse

I feel as though reading this post, looking at this video and reading the comments that I am in some parallel universe where mixed metaphors appear backwards. Good grief, Valerie. This video makes fun of differentiated instruction and school administrators. Is this what you mean to make fun of? You have it wrong if you think standardized tests and the data that drives them are the same as assessments. The word assessment as used in this video, by educators and in relation to what they are making fun of in the video means, "methods used to check and see if students understand what you are teaching them." One of the methods suggested is to ask them. Maybe the videographer thinks that is absurd, but as teacher coach, I see all students all the time who don't know what is going on and the teacher just keeps going--never bothering to check and see if what they are doing is working.
Standardized testing is generating useless data and it is ruining the country. The things being made fun of in this video are the opposite of that culture.
Oh, but it gets even better....take a look at Extra Normal's videos on YouTube. Additionally, they make fun of Jesus, Obama, homosexuals among other subjects like South Park. Unfortunately, it is the columnist I don't understand. Valerie, I think you owe your readers an explanation. Are you against school administrators who ask teachers to plan lessons rather than walk in cold not knowing where things are going? Are you against asking open ended questions that require students to think? Are you against teachers assessing if students understand the material or not? That is what this video is making fun of. Many teachers feel lesson planning is rigid, that individualizing the instruction is against their history of one-size-fits all direct instruction...oooh, lots of jargon there..maybe Extra Normal can make a video about me. We want to be seen as professionals but this video is like me making fun of my doctor for ordering an MRI stat...and me asking what ever happened to good old phrenology. Valerie, show me one school that as this devoted to differentiated instruction as this video suggests. I want to visit it.

Posted by: JeniferFox | October 26, 2010 6:24 PM | Report abuse

I feel as though reading this post, looking at this video and reading the comments that I am in some parallel universe where mixed metaphors appear backwards. Good grief, Valerie. This video makes fun of differentiated instruction and school administrators. Is this what you mean to make fun of? You have it wrong if you think standardized tests and the data that drives them are the same as assessments. The word assessment as used in this video, by educators and in relation to what they are making fun of in the video means, "methods used to check and see if students understand what you are teaching them." One of the methods suggested is to ask them. Maybe the videographer thinks that is absurd, but as teacher coach, I see all students all the time who don't know what is going on and the teacher just keeps going--never bothering to check and see if what they are doing is working.
Standardized testing is generating useless data and it is ruining the country. The things being made fun of in this video are the opposite of that culture.
Oh, but it gets even better....take a look at Extra Normal's videos on YouTube. Additionally, they make fun of Jesus, Obama, homosexuals among other subjects like South Park. Unfortunately, it is the columnist I don't understand. Valerie, I think you owe your readers an explanation. Are you against school administrators who ask teachers to plan lessons rather than walk in cold not knowing where things are going? Are you against asking open ended questions that require students to think? Are you against teachers assessing if students understand the material or not? That is what this video is making fun of. Many teachers feel lesson planning is rigid, that individualizing the instruction is against their history of one-size-fits all direct instruction...oooh, lots of jargon there..maybe Extra Normal can make a video about me. We want to be seen as professionals but this video is like me making fun of my doctor for ordering an MRI stat...and me asking what ever happened to good old phrenology. Valerie, show me one school that as this devoted to differentiated instruction as this video suggests. I want to visit it.

Posted by: JeniferFox | October 26, 2010 6:42 PM | Report abuse

"students should be able to see all four walls of the classroom without turning their heads"

Posted by: someguy100 | October 26, 2010 6:54 PM | Report abuse

I don't know what I found more entertaining...the video or Jenifer Fox's post.

Posted by: EnricoPolatzo | October 26, 2010 8:24 PM | Report abuse

JeniferFox - sounds like the video hit home.

Posted by: efavorite | October 26, 2010 8:36 PM | Report abuse

Oh, my, God. Indeed this is hilarious, but frighteningly too close to reality.
"Strumming my fate with her fingers,
Singing my life with her words.
.....Killing me softly with her song, telling my whole life,
with her words,
killing me softly, with her song...."

Posted by: pdexiii | October 26, 2010 11:08 PM | Report abuse

I do believe the diatribe of JeniferFox may well prove the point of the video to which Valerie refers!

Here's another amusing tidbit sprung from a similar vein:
http://www.xtranormal.com/watch/7470633/

Posted by: Incidentally | October 26, 2010 11:43 PM | Report abuse

http://www.xtranormal.com/watch/7250093/

For a very similar story on the over reliance on testing.

Posted by: teacher001 | October 26, 2010 11:57 PM | Report abuse

Well, if this JeniferFox is the same as this JeniferFox (http://blog.strengthsmovement.com/?p=198),
there seems to be a disconnect.

Or maybe a lack of a appreciation of satire.
After all, not everyone is Groucho, Chico or Harpo.
You need a Gummo or Margaret Dumont.

Posted by: edlharris | October 27, 2010 12:57 AM | Report abuse

Actually, I think this video is as much or more about "collaborative planning meetings" as it is about assessment and data. In my district we are required to have this sort of conversation with grade level colleagues weekly. We are also required to do teacher research and told what topic to research. Now I have been teaching for many years and believe strongly in collaborating with colleague and in doing teacher research--on topics we choose. What the administrators don't understand is that when they script the conversations and research for us the value of what we are doing goes down. The problem as I see it is that most administrators seem to buy into the attitude that teachers are stupid and need to be told what to do.

Posted by: janedoe5 | October 27, 2010 10:58 AM | Report abuse

JenniferFox,

You are correct--the word "assessment" USED to mean just what it says: assessing a child's understanding, and it can be done informally by listening to the students or in a host of other ways (including testing). BUT the POINT (one of the points) of the video is that ASSESSMENT has come to be synonymous with (WRITTEN) TEST because teachers (PROFESSIONAL) judgment doesn't seem to mean anything anymore.

You need to watch the video again.

Posted by: MathEdReseacher | October 29, 2010 10:56 AM | Report abuse

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