Why Our Children Isn’t Learning

Sunday, March 23rd, 2008

Because their educators waste their time on crap like this:

To soothe the bruised egos of educators and children in lackluster schools, Massachusetts officials are now pushing for kinder, gentler euphemisms for failure.

Instead of calling these schools "underperforming," the Board of Education is considering labeling them as "Commonwealth priority," to avoid poisoning teacher and student morale.

Schools in the direst straits, now known as "chronically underperforming," would get the more urgent but still vague label of "priority one."

The board has spent parts of more than three meetings in recent months debating the linguistic merits and tone set by the terms after a handful of superintendents from across the state complained that the label underperforming unfairly casts blame on educators, hinders the recruitment of talented teachers, and erodes students’ self-esteem.

[...]

At a December meeting on how to improve struggling schools in Holyoke, Lawrence, and Springfield, superintendents implored members not to stick them with a label of "chronically underperforming."

"For our teachers, it’s a blow," said Wilfredo Laboy, Lawrence superintendent. "It demoralizes staff completely."

Joseph Burke, Springfield superintendent, said that while he is not crazy about any label, he would prefer "priority one," because "It sounds nicer."

Related: John Stossel walks reason readers through the Byzantine process of firing an incompetent public school teacher in New York.

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19 Responses to “Why Our Children Isn’t Learning”

  1. #1 |  chsw | 

    It seems too easy. I think that a few steps have been left out.

    However, one thing is certainly correct. In NY, the last step always involves lawyers.

    chsw

  2. #2 |  bobzbob | 

    News flash: the members board of education are not “educators” – any more than the board of directors of GM are “autoworkers”. They are managers who job it is to worry about such things as moral and reforming low performing schools. If the moniker makes recruiting good teachers to the school difficult, it is perfectly reasonable to change it. Any competent manager will tell you of the importance of workplace moral. The is the kind of modelling of the private sector that we need more of in schools.

  3. #3 |  Brad Warbiany | 

    You know, Radley, I keep reading your links, wondering why all of these are coming so early… You know, ahead of April Fool’s.

    They can’t all be real, can they?

  4. #4 |  Nancy Lebovitz | 

    I recommend John Holt’s books. He found that 3rd and 4th graders were guessing instead of thinking about arithmetic, and it was because they were panicky about grades even though the school wasn’t abusive. He ended up being one of the founders of home schooling.

    If the system isn’t working, maybe it isn’t because the kids are defective.

  5. #5 |  chsw | 

    Nobody’s claiming that 3rd and 4th graders are defective. Some claim that many parents are not concerned about their children’s education. However, that doesn’t excuse the pathologies of the system itself.

    chsw

  6. #6 |  ZappaCrappa | 

    It all reminds me of Mr. Burns of Simpson’s famed double speak. “Nuclear Meltdown!!! That’s just one of those annoying buzzwords. We prefer to call it a surplus of unrequested nuclear fission.”

  7. #7 |  Dave Krueger | 

    It used to be I thunk our chillen weren’t learnin’ nothin’ ’cause teachers wasn’t gettin’ paid any better wutha they did good or bad teachin’. Sos, I was all for changin’ that sos pay was based on performance. Know what I mean?

    Anymore though, I don’t really give a wit about why the schools is broken. I jess want their pay to depend on how good a job they do because I know how much that annoys the hell outa the teachers union.

  8. #8 |  Robert | 

    News flash: the members board of education are not “educators” – any more than the board of directors of GM are “autoworkers”. They are managers who job it is to worry about such things as moral and reforming low performing schools. If the moniker makes recruiting good teachers to the school difficult, it is perfectly reasonable to change it. Any competent manager will tell you of the importance of workplace moral. The is the kind of modelling of the private sector that we need more of in schools.

    Perhaps you meant morale?

  9. #9 |  David Chesler | 

    I’m all for plain speaking, but the point here is that it is demotivating to be told your school, about which you have no choice and minimal impact, is a failure.

    The statewide exams, which began as John Silber’s idea to measure school performance by measuring students, has morphed into something strange: schools and districts are gauged by the MCAS, but it is also a graduation requirement for individual students, and schools have rearranged their curricula to maximize MCAS scores.

    Some kids have the bad luck to be born into poverty, and to go to a school where the the general poverty, and the attitudes of many fellow pupils, hold them back from their potential. Some do overcome it; some don’t. If you think it’s a good thing to help students who start with that handicap, what different do you suggest be done?

    (Sometimes it’s incompetent or lazy teachers or administrators, and they ought to be reamed to the hightest possible degree. And there are wealthy and over-achieving districts that also let some students fall through the cracks, so I get that it’s not all poverty, but students in such districts often have enough going for them that they even fail better.)

  10. #10 |  Danno49 | 

    OK, fine. Change the label to something nicer. But don’t lie by calling them a priority.

  11. #11 |  Dave Krueger | 

    I’m no expert, so this is only a suggestion, but I think the enthusiasm and morale of everyone in the school system (parents, students, teachers, and even administrators) might be improved substantially by occasionally selecting a trouble maker kid or free-loading teacher and shooting them during assembly.

    I hesitated to post this because when I suggested it to my wife (a teacher) a while back, she made some comment about Afghanistan and then kicked me real hard right in the nuts.

  12. #12 |  MassHole | 

    The whole union thing is a double edged sword. Yes, it does protect bad teachers, but at the same time it protects good teachers as well. Most teachers are trying their best to do a good job for these kids. The biggest problem I see is at the administration level. For example, if a psycho parent comes after a teacher for some perceived slight to their kid and the principal doesn’t stand up to the parent, the union is the only thing protecting the teacher from a which hunt. Like anything, it’s not perfect, but the union is not 100% to blame for poor schools or teachers. David C. above makes a great point. Teachers and schools don’t get to choose the students they teach. If the kids refuse to do their work, the best teaching in the world isn’t going to result in passing grades. So schools in low income or violent areas are going to underperform. A single teacher has a kid for 1 hour a day. The rest is up to the student and the parents.

  13. #13 |  Matthew | 

    Do they honestly think that whatever new buzzword they pick won’t carry exactly the same connotations within a year or two once the kids figure out what happened? How many variations on terminology for people with varioius mental deficiencies have we gone through? The terminology keeps changing, but the way things work stays the same. What a colossal waste of time.

  14. #14 |  Lee | 

    Here in Texas I’ve seen the good and the bad of not having unions. Bad teachers are gone, yet if a good teacher gets on the wrong side of an issue and the principal does not stand up for them, they are gone. Here in Texas I’ve seen it happen over the teaching of evolution.

  15. #15 |  Nick T | 

    Radley, I think you could go after bigger problems with schools than people renaming their terms. Hopefully this was one of many things that were discussed at some meeting where adminsitrators brainstormed ways to improve their schools. Hopefully this was based on real and reliable feedback from teachers and students about improving their schools even in intangible ways like morale. Hopefully it was decided in just a few minutes and they moved on to another topic. As much as we all hate buzzwords, sometimes changing an objectively negative name for something can make a little difference, and so this may not have been a huge waste if the time spent on it was also little.

    Are some of those administrators incompetent and stupid and out to save their jobs instead of educate kids? That’s a safe bet, but this may not even be a valid symbol of what’s wrong with our schools let alone an actual problem.

  16. #16 |  Brad Warbiany | 

    Dave,

    I’m no expert, so this is only a suggestion, but I think the enthusiasm and morale of everyone in the school system (parents, students, teachers, and even administrators) might be improved substantially by occasionally selecting a trouble maker kid or free-loading teacher and shooting them during assembly.

    Sort of a “beatings continue until morale improves” approach?

  17. #17 |  bobzbob | 

    Poor performing schools are not coincidently those in the poor areas of the state. Because the MCAS test measures status rather than growth (knowledge rather than learning) the “poor performing” schools could be doing the best job of teaching, but because they started with kids so far behind they just haven’t caught up. Labeling schools that don’t meet the status goals as “underperforming” can in fact be gross and unfair misrepresentation. I know of an inner city school that shows year to year improvement in scores by student in the 95th percentile for the state, but because it doesn’t meet the status goals (x% of kids are “proficient”) is considered “failing”. But when the adverse conditions are taken into account it is arguably among the best performing schools in the state (public or private). Labeling this school a “priority” rather than “underperforming” could certainly have a positive impact, and be a more fair representation.

    Of course these are subtleties I don’t the average blogger to understand.

    P.S. a big study of the Milwaukee voucher program showed that the non-unionized, independant and free-market driven private schools did no better than the local public schools http://www.jsonline.com/story/index.aspx?id=721737

  18. #18 |  Dave Krueger | 

    Brad, you obviously see right through me. :)

    I guess I was just hinting that part of the problem may have to do with the fact that it’s nearly impossible to eliminate either bad teachers or problem students. I was joking, though. I know there really aren’t any bad teachers or students.

  19. #19 |  Steve | 

    It sounds like the old George Carlin political correctness bit about “shell-shock” to now calling it “post-traumatic stress disorder.” It’s bullshit.

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