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Jaime Escalante, Alfie Kohn, John Taylor Gatto and Frank Smith

Jerry Heverly, my guest columnist today and next week, teaches English at San Leandro High School in the East Bay community of San Leandro, Calif. When he sent me this imaginary discussion between four very different experts on education, I wasn't sure what to make of it. Once I started reading, I was hooked.

Given the level of erudition of readers of this blog, I think you will be too. Heverly has found a way to dramatize great issues of teaching, and at the same time illuminate what educators like him are struggling with in schools full of disadvantaged students not that interested in learning. He may not have captured them perfectly. The real experts might have answered his questions differently. But his impression of Jaime Escalante, whom I knew well, is very close to reality, so I am going to bow to Heverly's imagination. The point is to illustrate the conflicting influences that teachers must deal with. Feel free to comment here and/or send Heverly a message at heverlyj@yahoo.com.

Jerry Heverly

The following conversation is purely fictional. No such meeting ever took place. This is merely my attempt to guess what these four experts might say to me if I could get them all in one room at one time. I wrote this in a effort to work out my own demons, in hopes that I might increase my understanding of the failings of my own teaching methods.

Jerry Heverly: I want to thank all you gentlemen for joining me here today to try to clear up my confusion about teaching success. I don’t think all of you know each other so I thought I’d give brief introduction for each.

On my immediate left is John Taylor Gatto. Mr. Gatto was Teacher of the Year for the City of New York in 1991. Since then he has penned at least four books including “Dumbing Us Down,” “The Exhausted School,” “Weapons of Mass Instruction” and “The Underground History of American Education.” He presently teaches at the Albany Free School in Upstate New York.

Next to Mr. Gatto is Jaime Escalante, identified as “The Best Teacher in America” by Washington Post writer Jay Mathews and others. Mr. Escalante taught many years at Garfield High School in East Los Angeles before being enticed to Sacramento in 1991. Escalante’s story was made into an award-winning film called “Stand and Deliver.” He died in March 2010 but his spirit lives on in the many teachers he influenced.

Beside Mr. Escalante is Alfie Kohn, noted lecturer on education and author of more than ten books. His works on education include "Punished by Rewards," "The Schools Our Children Deserve" and "The Homework Myth." Mr. Kohn is a former high school teacher who has said he learned most of what he knows about teaching from observing other, more talented, teachers.

And finally our group includes Frank Smith, an expert on literacy and reading education in the English-speaking world. Mr. Smith has published 14 books of his own in addition to editing three others. His tome, "Whose Language, What Power?" describes his brief tenure teaching in a South African teacher’s college. He is currently working on a book about evolution.

Welcome gentlemen. Put simply, I hope the four of you can help me understand how to become a better high school English teacher. I have read most of the books each of you has written and, I must tell you, I’m very confused! It seems as if each of you espouses ideas and teaching techniques that are incompatible with each of the others. How can four such wise men differ so radically in the way you teach or advise others to teach?

Frank Smith: I’m afraid you have the wrong person here. If you’ve read my books you know I’ve consistently made it clear that I don’t prescribe teaching methods. My brief is simply to clarify how human beings acquire language.

Heverly: Yes, Professor Smith, I understand that. But you must concede that you often come very close to prescriptions. For instance you have railed against the “tyranny of testing” haven’t you?

Smith: Yes, I have argued that frequent testing can get in the way of learning.

Jaime Escalante: I tested my students every Friday and as often as I needed to.

Heverly: Why did you feel frequent testing was so important?

Escalante: How else could my students know if they had mastered the skills? A kid comes to class hung over from last night’s party. He didn’t do his homework. He didn’t study. He isn’t prepared for class. I need to show him that that kind of choices will sink his chances for a better life!

Alfie Kohn: The only thing homework does is to alienate kids from school. There’s no evidence that it helps kids learn.

Escalante: You’re loco if you think I can get an East L.A. teenager through calculus without him doing lots of homework. If I didn’t force my students to do homework they’d spend their time in front of the TV or at the video parlor with their homeboys.

John Taylor Gatto: You don’t think a teenager has the right to decide what to do with his time away from school? What gives you the right to dictate what a young person does when he is away from your control?

Escalante: I’m not forcing my students to do anything. I’m leading them to a better future, a chance to escape life working at a fast-food joint for eight dollars an hour. They haven’t lived long enough to realize what life has to offer — and what unhappiness they face if they make the wrong choices at age 16 or 17.

Gatto: Then why not show them their choices? I often arranged for my students to take a day or two off. I used those days to connect the student to someone in the community who could show them what life is like. I had kids with straight F’s on their report cards who apprenticed with comic book artists and physicians and they showed they could hold their own with learned people.

Kohn: Which shows the pointlessness of grades.

Heverly: I gather, Mr. Escalante, that you did a lot of grading?

Escalante: You bet. But I didn’t grade to humiliate anyone. I graded to motivate. I used whatever motivations I could lay my hands on: money, candy, grades, threats … hell, I’d smack a kid in the back of his head with a pillow if that would convince him to do what I demanded of him. My kids knew I cared about them. They put up with things from me that they’d never tolerate from the guy across the hall. I wasn’t trying to get a Scarsdale spoiled brat to raise his SAT score. I was trying to lift impoverished inner-city kids out of the ghetto and into careers and doctors and lawyers. And what we did worked.

Kohn: It was their love for you, Mr. Escalante, that motivated your students; it wasn’t the candy or the grades. I can cite boatloads of research that proves that incentives — and punishments — don’t work. You succeeded in spite of your bribes and threats, not because of them.

Escalante: I’m sure you’ve studied these matters more thoroughly than I have, Mr. Kohn, but I tell you that my kids loved me because I tested them and rewarded them. When a kid got an F on her first report card she was often angry or hurt. That was my meat! Once I had them emotional about their schoolwork I knew I had a chance to reach them. Not everyone, but most kids responded to a strong message delivered to the family mailbox. If I had to I embarrassed them in front of their peers. I could get away with that because we were a team; everyone focused on the same goal, to pass that test — and I learned it was crucial that the test was written by someone other than me, an outsider, and a common foe. A failing grade on a quiz wasn’t Kimo criticizing them; it was the teacher’s attempt to show them the best way to succeed. If you failed a quiz you had to come to class the next day with the proper solution for every question you missed the previous day. Earning a grade was a wonderful lesson for my students, kids who had never had a job or had no experience of the real world. I couldn’t fire them but I could show them that laziness and lack of focus had real consequences. I’ve had many students come back and thank me for that lesson.

Heverly: You mentioned a key point, Mr. Escalante, that I’d like to ask you about. According to what I read your program, at its peak, had about 500 students enrolled in calculus or the classes preparing them for calculus.

Escalante: People didn’t realize how many years it took us to get to that point. My first year in calculus we only had five kids take the AP exam.

Heverly: Yes, but it’s the other three thousand students at Garfield that I wonder about. If I was a math teacher at Garfield, I’d be upset if I had to teach the ones you didn’t want.

Escalante: We never turned down any student who wanted into our program. I hate tracking. Anyone with the ganas was welcome in our classrooms -- I had two other teachers working with me. If they couldn’t tolerate my methods they could take the class from another member of the team.

Heverly: But still, there were thousands of students who weren’t in your universe, right? If I yearn to be a teacher like you, how do I face the fact that I’m reaching only a small percentage of the student body?

Escalante: If you become the kind of teacher I was you will be helping hundreds or thousands of young people better their lives. Isn’t that enough for you? You needn’t settle for dumbed-down classes. You can create your own high standards. Let the others, the lazy teachers, deal with the incorrigibles.

Gatto: There was a time when we educated far more than one seventh of our children. And we did it without formal schooling in many cases. And I can give you the names of hundreds of highly successful inventors and entrepreneurs and explorers who were labeled ‘incorrigible’ by the American educational system.

Kohn: That’s fine, Mr. Gatto, but I think Mr. Heverly is interested in finding a way to work within the existing system, am I right?

Heverly: Yes. I’ve read your books, Mr. Gatto, and, though I admire you greatly I’m stuck with a dream of changing my school for the better; maybe even influencing a few other teachers outside my school if that’s possible. But influence them to do what? Mr. Escalante advises I use candy and grades. He can prove his way works because he has the AP pass rate to prove it. Yet you, Mr. Kohn, you have a thick stack of bibliographic references that prove Mr. Escalante’s methods are wrongheaded. And everything I’ve read in Professor Smith’s books suggests that quizzes and drills and repetition — the things that Mr. Escalante points to as fundamental to his success — that these things won’t work. What is an inexperienced guy like me to think?

Smith: Obviously every teacher has to find his or her own way. It’s platitudinous but true. It’s fruitless to try to prick holes in Mr. Escalante’s record of success. We all learn by imitating people we admire. I would agree with something Mr. Kohn said. Clearly Mr. Escalante’s students admired his hard work and devotion to their welfare. You can call that love if you wish. I once wrote that children don’t learn from what we exhort them to do, but from what they see us doing. It’s not clear to me how much of Mr. Escalante’s methods are reproducible in the average American or Canadian high school unless every teacher is willing to work 80-hour weeks. Are you willing to do that Mr. Heverly?

Heverly: Honestly, I’m not sure. I work about 60 hours a week now, but the difference is that much of that time I’m alone in my room reading about how to be a better teacher. My students do not love me as Mr. Escalante’s did. In fact most don’t even like me. So my experience is that merely putting in the hours isn’t a guarantee of loyalty. One of the things I should probably try to learn from you gentlemen is how to develop that kind of connection to my students.

Smith: I suspect that isn’t learnable, Mr. Heverly.

Escalante: My students bonded to me because they were convinced that I had their best interests in mind. I worked them hard.

Kohn: I’ve observed thousands of successful teachers and in the vast majority of cases the teacher was not the focus of the room. Often I’d have trouble locating the teacher in the room because he or she would be stooped down in conversation with one student. In successful classrooms I’d hear more conversations between students than lectures by the teacher.

Escalante: I saw teachers at Garfield who tried that kind of thing. It didn’t work. Kids in East LA would walk all over any teacher who tried to be democratic. You can’t teach derivatives by having kids chat with each other.

Heverly: Mr. Kohn, I confess that I’ve tried with all my heart to use your ideas in my classroom. I have greatly reduced my use of grades and I have tried, really tried, to dispense with manipulative praise and punishments. But I’m missing something because my lower level classes walk all over me. It seems as if your methods cause my students to lose respect for me.

Kohn: By losing respect I assume you mean that they aren’t quiet when you want them to be?

Heverly: That’s a big part of it, yes. But there is also the fact that they simply don’t seem to care about school or learning or any of the things I’d like to impart to them. My supervisor at my last observation praised my constructivist methods but she was also highly critical of my inability to hold kids accountable. I didn’t need her to tell me that; I already knew my room was so noisy that it interfered with learning.

Smith: They are learning. They just aren’t learning the things you’d like them to learn.

Heverly: Yes, of course. But they pay me to teach certain things and I’m not doing that. I’m talking here about my lower-level kids. The honor students are more cooperative and seem to be gaining in literacy. It’s the disaffected kids I can’t reach. They are failing everyone else’s class, too, so I’m not alone. But that’s no consolation. I need to find a way to reach more kids than I reach now.

Kohn: To what extent do you allow your students to set the rules for the classroom?

Heverly: At the beginning of each semester I hold a meeting under Quaker rules to decide on class rules. I make some suggestions but every student has a veto. But they don’t seem to care about the rules. I think they are so conditioned to believe that the teacher makes the rules that they don’t believe me when I try to surrender some control to them. And that’s true of all kids, even the honor students.

Kohn: It’s true that many kids are suspicious when you first propose that they have choices about how the classroom will be governed, but that shouldn’t be a reason to give up on what you know is right. Fundamentally you are building relationships with kids. That takes time and patience.

(To be continued.)

Read Jay's blog every day, and follow all of The Post's Education coverage on Twitter, Facebook and our Education web page.

By Jay Mathews  | July 29, 2010; 6:00 PM ET
Categories:  Trends  | Tags:  Alfie Kohn, Jaime Escalante, John Taylor Gatto and Frank Smith, imaginary conversation between California teacher Jerry Heverly and four well-known experts  
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Comments

Another worthless article by Jay Mathews.

Posted by: lacy41 | July 30, 2010 9:48 AM | Report abuse

So far Escalante is winning this debate.

There's also an important point to be made here about teaching college-prep and college math and science which is what Escalante was all about: i.e., problem sets.

Trust me I say that if a student doesn't work through the assigned problem sets as they are assigned and as they come do, that student will fail. Oh, maybe there will be a one-in-a-thousand who picks up the principles contained in the problem sets w/o working through them, but this sort of "genius" is so rare that it isn't worth considering for the masses.

I recall a sequence of theoretical physics courses that I took as an undergraduate whereby the professor would lecture for about 10 minutes and the rest of the class time was devoted to students stepping up to the blackboard and putting up their solutions to assigned problems. Now these were courses where everything revolved around the assigned problem sets. You either did them or you failed. But if you did them, you WOULD learn the theoretical physics in the course.

Escalante would probably say, "Told you!"

Posted by: fairfaxvaguy | July 30, 2010 10:27 AM | Report abuse

Heverly: "...But they pay me to teach certain things and I’m not doing that...."

I continue to mystified by just about the refusal of the education establishment, the reformers, the policymakers, the syndicated pundits, etc. to consider the possibility that those "certain things" that must be taught aren't what need to be learned, and the learners know it. They aren't able to articulate what they know to be true, but they know how to act on it. They act out, drop out, walk out, opt out.

www.MarionBrady.com

Posted by: mbrady22 | July 30, 2010 11:20 AM | Report abuse

" and the learners know it."

Right. The learners are uneducated, can't read, can't write, and can't add. But we should figure their inchoate sense of wrongness is dispositive. Never mind that somehow, the kids who *can* read, write, and add are doing better--nope. We should pay attention to the kids who aren't learning and take their word for it that everything we want to teach them is just all wrong.

Posted by: Cal_Lanier | July 30, 2010 3:03 PM | Report abuse

I don't think that Escalante is winning the debate. I don't think any of the participants are winning or losing. I believe that's the author's point; there is no definitively correct way (pedagogy and methodology) to produce successful results in the classroom. It depends upon the subject matter, many student variables and many teacher variables.

Most research studies can be attacked in regards to their methodologies or countered with some other study. Personal experiences and a proven track record count and you can't argue with Escalante's results; however, it seems that the writer is saying that maybe Escalante's understanding of the origins of his success are inaccurate. Causation is very difficult to pin down. There are no silver bullets or universal "best practices."

The only person who is wrong is the individual who believes that there is an objective, reliable formula for what works best in a classroom. I suggest you run in the other direction if someone professes to know the Truth. They either don't know that they don't know or they know that they don't know and are lying to further some agenda.

Posted by: stevendphoto | July 30, 2010 4:20 PM | Report abuse

Kudos to Mr. Heverly for presenting an article that requires more imagination than most.

Gatto: "Then why not show them their choices? I often arranged for my students to take a day or two off. I used those days to connect the student to someone in the community who could show them what life is like. I had kids with straight F’s on their report cards who apprenticed with comic book artists and physicians and they showed they could hold their own with learned people. "

I picked the above quote to focus on - there are just so many variables in education now - and would like to point out the use of the words 'choices' and 'connect' that appear in the first three sentences. For turned-off, disenfranchised students, being able to just make a choice is very powerful, and to connect - Well! That is what makes life worth living; I would guess that the two attributes of choice and connection is where Escalante and Gatto intersect - Escalante was able to show students that they had choices in their future, and his caring, personal style of discipline (among other things) connected him to the students so that they would work for him. That is simplified, of course.

I hope this article continues to expand the discussion into other areas, particularly that of what constitutes a meaningful curriculum.

Posted by: PLMichaelsArtist-at-Large | July 30, 2010 11:54 PM | Report abuse

I think that Escalante, by far, showed the most common sense.

I find it strange that Alfie avoids specifying what subject he taught, where, how long, and under what circumstances. It's as if he wants everyone to believe that he has experience teaching everything to all age groups so he can pass himself off as the great generic education expert.

Posted by: physicsteacher | July 31, 2010 8:29 AM | Report abuse

lacy41,

"Another worthless article by Jay Mathews."

This article wasn't written by Jay Matthews.
Look closer.

Posted by: stevendphoto | July 31, 2010 12:04 PM | Report abuse

What strikes me here is that not all kids are alike. Anyone with two kids knows that what motivates and persuades any two children can vary widely. I would imagine that socio-economic status, parenting styles and general educational experience could result in an even wider set of motivations and punishments. (As an aside how this can vary culturally was covered in an interesting chapter of the new book NurtureShock.) Kids may respond differently and we may need to provide all of those types of motivations. What I do think is important is connecting kids to an outcome that makes sense. One of my beefs with Kohn is that he has never acknowledged that there may be a variance in what motivates kids. Escalante was successful in my estimation because he used far more techniques than most. He spoke to the kids about how he cared about their future, he intervened with their parents, he focused on a attainable goal that connected to a better future, he focused on each step in the process through quizzes and homework. I think the challenge in regards to testing we see now in the public schools is that too many teachers struggle to identify how it works towards the children they are teaching's future. Maybe their is a wider problem, we as a community know their is failure in the system but we don't know how to identify what success is? If we can't break it down, we can't help kids who are not attaining it.

Posted by: Brooklander | July 31, 2010 12:24 PM | Report abuse

This article brings to mind a conversation I had with a very wise woman named Inez about thirty years ago when my children were very young. The women had sent all of her five children to Harvard and other "first-tier" universities. When I asked for her advice, this is what she told me:

"Follow the interests of your child. If he expresses an interest in rocks, run to the nearest library to find books on geology. Help him start a rock collection, and so forth. Above all, keep the natural joy of learning alive."

I followed her advice and my children went on to Harvard, Stanford and challenging careers.

The advice given to me matched that of Professor Frank Smith. He advised, "Respond to what the child is trying to do." (Understanding Reading,1971).

Thank you, Inez and Professor Smith. Your ideas worked for me in my jobs as mother and teacher.

Posted by: Linda/RetiredTeacher | July 31, 2010 1:01 PM | Report abuse

This article brings to mind a conversation I had with a very wise woman named Inez about thirty years ago when my children were very young. The women had sent all of her five children to Harvard and other "first-tier" universities. When I asked for her advice, this is what she told me:

"Follow the interests of your child. If he expresses an interest in rocks, run to the nearest library to find books on geology. Help him start a rock collection, and so forth. Above all, keep the natural joy of learning alive."

I followed her advice and my children went on to Harvard, Stanford and challenging careers.

The advice given to me matched that of Professor Frank Smith. He advised, "Respond to what the child is trying to do." (Understanding Reading,1971).

Thank you, Inez and Professor Smith. Your ideas worked for me in my jobs as mother and teacher.

Posted by: Linda/RetiredTeacher | July 31, 2010 1:04 PM | Report abuse

Forget the movies and let us look at a school that was turned around in New York by a principal, and now years laters without this principal and his methods is now on the list of the worst public schools of New York city.

His name was Frank Mickens and the school he tuned around was Boys and Girls High School in Bedford-Stuyvesant of Brooklyn New York. At the time of Mr. Mickens this was a school with 5,000 students.

How did he turn around this school?

Simple, he got the students that would not allow teachers to teach and other students to learn out of the normal classrooms, and created an environment where teachers could teach and children can learn.

He recognized that the best teachers in the world would be totally irrelevant in an environment that hindered learning.

Instead of calling for class room management he simply removed from the classes the student that were preventing other students from learning.

Many of these students found themselves continuously in an auditorium doing nothing, but simply getting them out of the classrooms turned this school around.

"In interviews during his tenure as principal, Mr. Mickens and like-minded administrators and parents maintained that disruptive students should not be forced on the school, causing distractions for their peers who want to learn."
Legacy of Discipline at a Bed-Stuy School
New York Times

So why is the school now on the list of the worst public school.

The actions of Mr. Mickens were illegal and the disruptive can not be removed from normal classrooms.

Americans can complain about teachers as much as they like, and waste billions of dollars on tests, but this will have no affect on public education for the poverty schools in urban areas.

Mr. Mickens was right, and if you do not provide those who are willing to learn with an environment where teachers can teach and students can learn, education will fail.

The poverty public schools are failing since these schools do not provide an environment for learning. All the failing results of national tests for these schools are not an indication of poor teachers, but simply an indication of schools that do not have an environment for learning.

If local governments can not find methods for legally removing the disruptive from classrooms they need to accept the inevitability of providing an inferior education.

Students can only learn in an environment where teachers are allowed to teach and children are allowed to learn.

Frank Mickens taught us that.

Posted by: bsallamack | July 31, 2010 2:43 PM | Report abuse

Startling about Escalante's "self-presentation" is how he can take for granted the reputation and credibility it took him, with others, so many years to develop. His students trust his strict accountability because they've heard about him and the program from those who preceeded him. They have expectations of their mutual success, and by the methods which students acceed to.

Escalante' job was not to teach his students the history of his earlier partial success, but to capitalize on the authority, respect, and leadership he had gained. How many new coaches come to their jobs with promotional myths about their past with which to establish authority for the task ahead?
How to squander that trust and authority? By talking about it about with the current players / students, rather than getting on with the current job. Which is what Escalante does --- with his students.

Posted by: incredulous | July 31, 2010 2:43 PM | Report abuse

Recruit Training Manual United States Army

Problem recruits should not be brought to the attention of training officers.

Problem recruits are the responsibilities of the non commissioned officers, and training recruits management should be employed with all problem recruits.

Remember it is the responsibility of non commissioned officers to adequately train every recruit. Recruits that enters recruit training are equal, and are entitled to effective recruit training non commissioned officers.

Cases of problem recruits encouraging other recruits to burn down the barracks, should be dealt with by non commissioned officers using training recruits management.

Non commissioned officers should though, report to training officers the burning down of barracks, since these will have to be replaced.

A new recruit training test will be shortly implemented. The results of this test will be used to evaluate the effectiveness of non commissioned officers. Non commissioned officers found ineffective will be transferred to active Army units overseas.

Posted by: bsallamack | July 31, 2010 2:52 PM | Report abuse

(To be continued.)

One dose of this is quite enough.

Posted by: bsallamack | July 31, 2010 3:14 PM | Report abuse

So far I read this “debate” as Kohn is a weakling, hippy liberal whose theories are just that -- no “there” there. Ghetto kids, like the ones that he works with in the South Bronx, have no need of learning in an environment where the feel-good, let’s all get along democratic, caring teacher is mystified in how to control a classroom or teach something worthwhile and testable. He appeals to the pitying liberal do-gooder in all teachers but his ideas have no real merit in the tough, real-world classroom.

Gatto and Smith are cranky, distant, and too elevated to really care or comment in any useful way.

Escalante is supreme because he reiterates that the “low” kids, the inner-city urban types from East LA, can only be reached through traditional, conservative, behaviorist, KIPP-like controlled environments that teach them middle class values through absolute control, punishment, fear and calculus. His methods are indisputable and the bestest ever tough love and no one in their right mind would do anything different from Escalante if they really cared about doing a good job and helping kids escape poverty.

No surprise that Jay felt a tingle over this one. So far it’s misrepresenting all four speakers to such a level I can’t wait to see how the continuation resolves this.

I can guess that Kohn will be portrayed as a starry-eyed refusenik who is so out of touch with the reality of urban classrooms that his well-meaning ideas are shown to be useless and actually harmful to “those” kids and Escalante will be a warm yet strict man’s man of a teacher who really knows what’s up and how to get “those” kids to learn. Hope I’m wrong.

Posted by: GooberP | July 31, 2010 6:44 PM | Report abuse

So far it’s misrepresenting all four speakers to such a level I can’t wait to see how the continuation resolves this.
Posted by: GooberP
............................
I am hoping for a happy ending where gang members with automatic weapons enter and shoot Escalante.

I love the idea of telling students to do your homework and study hard, while the adults simply ignore the violent and disruptive.

Even in prisons there are policies to deal with the hard cases and violent ones.

Apparently in the public schools the students are supposed to deal with these problems on their own.

Better advice from teachers in these schools would be for their students to get the new sneakers with steel toes.

This way they can run when they can, and still have a weapon to defend themselves when they can not run.

In fact this should be standard issue for public school systems with the parents advised about kelvar armour vests.

I can just see Walmart offering sales on these items as Back To School specials in urban areas.

Posted by: bsallamack | July 31, 2010 8:21 PM | Report abuse

bsallamack is right on the money when he says:
"Students can only learn in an environment where teachers are allowed to teach and children are allowed to learn.

Frank Mickens taught us that."

That incidentally is the secret of success of Catholic schools. Even the most mediocre of teachers can flourish in a setting where discipline and attention prevails absolutely.

BTW, this "My way or the highway" is perfectly legal in private schools. It's the public schools who have the problem with this most fundamental of requirements for education.

Posted by: fairfaxvaguy | August 2, 2010 11:30 AM | Report abuse

Yes, this is indeed the "secret" of private and parochial schools and this "secret" has recently been borrowed by charter schools, most of which do not admit to "counseling out" the severe behavior problems. Show me a charter school with high test scores and I'll show you one with a parent "contract" regarding behavior. Of course, some traditional schools have contracts too, but they can't enforce them.

On a trip to England about twenty years ago, I found that the government schools employed teacher assistants whose job it was to work with severe behavior problems. When a child acted out, the assistant quietly took the child out of the room and counseled him. The regular teacher was able to continue her lesson without interruption.

Just dealing with the problem of the disruptive student in urban schools would be an enormous improvement. In fact, just recognizing this huge problem would be a significant step in the right direction. The majority of children in low-performing schools are well-mannered and eager to learn, but their right to do so is often compromised by a few students whose severe problems disrupt learning for the entire class.

Posted by: Linda/RetiredTeacher | August 2, 2010 2:05 PM | Report abuse

That incidentally is the secret of success of Catholic schools. Even the most mediocre of teachers can flourish in a setting where discipline and attention prevails absolutely.
Posted by: fairfaxvaguy
........................
Always been a believer in Catholic schools and have known poor parents that are not even Catholic teachers that sent their children to Catholic schools.

I met a public school teacher that formerly taught in Catholic schools and she told me that teachers in Catholic schools can even teach to different levels in the class. I think she was regretting moving to the public schools since she had a student from hell in her class.

There were also two problems students in this primary school that had been thrown out of Catholic school.

The reality is that public charter schools are simply Catholic schools without the religion. Dump the problems back into the public schools and create an environment where even the mediocre can teach. Over three quarters of the battle is the willingness of the child to learn and most of the time all that is required to obtain win this is a good environment.

Posted by: bsallamack | August 2, 2010 2:07 PM | Report abuse

That incidentally is the secret of success of Catholic schools. Even the most mediocre of teachers can flourish in a setting where discipline and attention prevails absolutely.
Posted by: fairfaxvaguy
........................
Always been a believer in Catholic schools and have known poor parents that are not even Catholic teachers that sent their children to Catholic schools.

I met a public school teacher that formerly taught in Catholic schools and she told me that teachers in Catholic schools can even teach to different levels in the class. I think she was regretting moving to the public schools since she had a student from hell in her class.

There were also two problems students in this primary school that had been thrown out of Catholic school.

The reality is that public charter schools are simply Catholic schools without the religion. Dump the problems back into the public schools and create an environment where even the mediocre can teach. Over three quarters of the battle is the willingness of the child to learn and most of the time all that is required to obtain win this is a good environment.

Posted by: bsallamack | August 2, 2010 2:09 PM | Report abuse

Just dealing with the problem of the disruptive student in urban schools would be an enormous improvement. In fact, just recognizing this huge problem would be a significant step in the right direction. The majority of children in low-performing schools are well-mannered and eager to learn, but their right to do so is often compromised by a few students whose severe problems disrupt learning for the entire class.

Posted by: Linda/RetiredTeacher
.................................
I agree with you and it is about time that the majority of children that enter primary schools were considered.

Those yelling "the parents" need to face the reality that the majority that enter primary schools well behaved, and that it the toleration and accepting of the disruptive by the school system that create the epidemic problem of disruptive students in the middle schools.

Instead of reorganizing public schools based upon test results the Federal government should force the reorganizing of public schools that are not safe and do not have the basic environment where teachers can teach and students can learn.

Posted by: bsallamack | August 2, 2010 2:21 PM | Report abuse

The blog and the comments so far convey the same message: one size does NOT fit all! It is so seductive and easy to find the 'one true path' and expect that if everyone would just follow that path, all would be well. Escalante's methods worked for his students in East LA but not so well in Sacramento [and perhaps not so well for all in East LA, as he says there were two other teachers kids could choose if they found him intolerable.]
No one test or even several tests, of students or teachers, can really capture what they know and do. Thoughtful, comprehensive evaluation can help willing students and teachers but do little to help those who have too many outside issues. As a very wise guidance counselor told me, the reason kids dropped out of school was often that school was the one thing in their lives which they could change at the time.
So, put decent people with reasonable training in classrooms, support them with resources and discipline, and hold students, teachers, parents, and budget-approvers accountable. That is the best we can do and it will be fine for the great majority.

Posted by: aspnh | August 3, 2010 6:36 PM | Report abuse

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