Monday, October 10, 2005

Teacher success and student achievement

Jenny D. went to a conference in Dayton, OH that was also attended by Rod Paige and Checker Finn. Her account of the conference, supported by the conservative Fordham Foundation, was very intriguing.

First of all, two of the ideas from the conference -- establishing a mandatory year of service after high school and establishing a more coherent social studies curriculum -- are very sensible ideas that I think any progressive could get behind. Any chance of reaching across aisles to get these things done?

Second, I find it fascinating that ex-Secretary Paige wonders why teachers don't like NCLB. (Oh, let me count the ways.) Writes Jenny D:

Paige and I talked about my days as a magazine editor when I ranked schools. He also asked me if I thought that the resistance to NCLB on the part of professional educators came from their (the educators') beliefs that they cannot improve student achievement. I said yes, in some cases. But I also said that I thought we ought to be able to improve pedagogy, to study and better understand what teachers do that has a big impact on student learning, and then leverage those moves.

It was interesting. Checker Finn eventually called me an agitator...which I took as a compliment coming from him.

I very much agree with Jenny D. that we need to better understand what teachers do that improves student achievement, but the main thing is self-evident: they care. They form relationships and get involved in students' lives. The rest is important, but secondary.

But we've also got to be clear about what we mean by "achievement." Think about what you've done in your life that you would qualify as achievement. Maybe you got a college degree, maybe you got a good job, you raised children who are kind and good, you bought a book, you took a class that pushed you, you made a difference in someone's life... There would be a million things on any relatively happy person's list. But I wonder, if you really do this thought experiment, would you anywhere --anywhere -- on that list put your score from a standardized test? From any standardized test? I just don't get how passing a test -- by itself -- can be characterized as achievement. It's way too narrow.

I don't know about anybody else but that's one of this teacher's problems with No Child Left Behind.


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