Monday, September 18, 2006

"Crtical Thinking, Not Standardized Tests" in Context

KDeRosa has a great post up on the latest editorial “Critical Thinking, Not Standardized Tests” over at the Los Angeles Times. He does such a great job, that I am not going to even bother covering the content of the editorial…

Of course, as you may suspect, I am a master googler. Using my awesome skills, I decided to look at the background of the author who would write:

In fact, test scores (on the annual standardized state test) are like the closing prices on the stock exchange. They fluctuate for any number of reasons. A bad breakfast, a case of the jitters or skipping a line and filling in the wrong bubbles can wreak as much havoc as not knowing the difference between "abjure" and "adjure."

Of course our first instinct is to assume that he is making excuses for his students. I mean after all he does work at an elementary school in the Los Angeles Unified School District. He probably works in a failing inner city school comprised of Hispanic immigrants and poor African Americans. I am sure his school has no money for field trips or school supplies… right?

WRONG! With a bit of googling this is what I was able to find out.

Jeff Lantos actually works at Marquez Charter Elementary School in Pacific Palisades. Yes… that’s right, Pacific Palisades, enclave to the rich. Its medium house value is $1,759.500, and the average medium income is $133,000.

And of course Jeff Lantos doesn’t worry about standardize test scores. Why worry when your schools scores are well above the national and state averages. His students parents can afford to supplement the liberal education that they are being given.

Oh, I know… how do I know that he provides a liberal education. Well, it is an assumption on my part based on his biography located here at his schools website. To quote:

His teaching philosophy is to reinforce
the reading, writing and math
with as much music, art, drama and
dance as possible
. His goal is to
make the classroom a place of delight
and joy; then learning will seem an
extension of that. When learning is a
joy, everyone benefits.

Dance??? He teaches 5th grade… and he supplements math with dance! Maybe they learn algebra while doing the electric slide. Certainly sounds child-centered to me. Yes, it’s easy to ignore the basics when you are teaching privileged rich kids who take field trips to Boston and Big Bear.

Now rich people have a right to education just like everyone else. I am glad that their kids are getting an excellent education, but it’s all too easy for the spoiled teachers who instruct them to take for granted the importence of things that are a given (such as his students test scores). What would his tune be if he worked at Hyde Park Elementary School. It’s all a matter of context. I want success for all students, and I am more likely to take someone serious if they work with average or below average students.

Ironically even his successful high scoring students could probably do a lot better if they had proper instruction. Successful is relative when your in a system full of mediocrity.


KDeRosa said...

Good find, Rory.

I remain unimpressed with these scores. This school has every advantage in the world, and yet by fifth grade, a quarter of the students were not proficient in math and English. 35% were not in Science. The hispanic and economically disadvantaged students fared much worse.

rory said...

Agreed. The local parents should be disappointed, but comparatively to the district and state as a whole the overall scores are decent. Its not a surprise that even the affluent kids don't do better considering they have teachers like Jeff Lantos. I would also imagine that many of the parents in Pacific Palisades are liberal types that don't mind the touchy feely teaching that makes the kids feel good, but doesn't impart the basics.

KDeRosa said...

The local parents should be disappointed, but comparatively to the district and state as a whole the overall scores are decent.

That's an artifact of being located in an affluent community. Affluent communities tend to have more highly educated parents who tend to be smarter and who tend to have smarter kids who tend to perform better academically (all other things being equal). The actual teaching in the school may be just as "bad" as the teaching in a low SES school that performs far worse.

Dennis Fermoyle said...

As long as you're on the topic of kids from affluent communities, I thought I'd get in my two cents worth. Believe it or not, I don't have an ulterior motive here, I just think it's interesting.

My community is mostly working class, so kids from the upper-middle class are definitely in the minority. The biggest difference I've seen between these kids and others are that they work harder at school. Some of them do have more ability than other kids, but some of them have a difficult time. In fact, a couple of them were so poor in reading comprehension, that I found their overall performance amazing.

This fits with what I've learned from teaching about social classes in sociology. One of the characteristics that distinguish upper-middle class families from others is the emphasis they put on education. They do that because their success is usually based on their careers, so parents realize that for their kids to do as well as they have, education will be the key. On the other hand, the lower class tends to be characterized by a feeling of hopelessness, and of course, this would be reflected in the attitudes they bring to school. This isn't to say that this can't be overcome, but it's just one more thing that makes educating poor kids difficult.

By the way, although I'm sure upper-middle class people in California might be different, those in our community are pretty conservative. They are very concerned about their kids' education, and if they thought inferior methods were being used, they would raise the roof. I would guess many parents in the California district would be the same way. But why would they think those methods are inferior? They are constantly presented to both teachers and parents as the most modern and effective methods. And I say that as someone who has always had trouble buying that.

I think you guys are being too hard on Lantos. I think he's someone who believes in what he's doing, and he might be very effective in his situation. Just think about what you're angry with him for: preaching, practicing, and believing everything he learned when he went to college to learn to do the job he's doing. If he's wrong, who should you be angry at?

Dennis Fermoyle said...

One more point, Rory. One of the most popular books on education in recent years is LIES MY TEACHER TOLD ME by James Loewen. Loewen is a college professor and he says that public schools, and history teachers in particular, are doing a poor job because we are boring kids with too many facts. He says we need to become MORE progressive. For every person like KDeRosa or you criticizing us from the right (traditional side), we have someone else coming after us from the left. And they are the ones who are teaching teachers.

rory said...

Dennis, I was raised in Los Angeles, not to far from Pacific Palisades so my guess as to them being liberal is based on first hand knowledge. Of course they are the type of liberals who use "better schools" as an euphemism for "white schools". Dennis I think you are underestimating the influence of genes. High IQ people tend to become upper middle class. High IQ people tend to have high IQ students. Its the IQ that affects the performance of the children, not the culture of the neighborhood. I do believe that there are teaching methods that can close (not eliminate) the achievement(iq) gaps, but constructivism and child centered education just helps contribute to the problem.

Unfortunately, I think that many parents are uneducated about curriculum and teaching methods. They really don't know that schools can be doing better, especially in middle class neighborhoods.

Yes we might be hard on Lantos, but he put himself out there when he wrote the article. I admire him for being a caring teacher, and I know he is a victim of his education, but if you feel passionately about schools, then you have to use every "true" argument you can to point out the errors of the other side. You have to admit, that reading the article most people would of assumed he was from a lower to middle class school.

KDeRosa, I am in total agreement with you. Put me in the IQ is genetic camp. The biggest teaching advantage there is in affluent communities is better behaved children. I firmly believe that if we swapped an affluent schools teachers and curriculum with a poor schools curriculum and teachers there would be zero change in performance.

Dennis Redux: I am a big history buff and an avid reader. I do agree that history could be presented in a more progressive manner. I have always thought that its not important which date something happened, as much as the whys and how’s. So you can count me as agreeing with this argument for the most part. I also think that most history is better left up to the higher grades. My elementary school kids can barely even read their history books, let alone put history in to context. History when presented in K-5 should be presented as part of a reading curriculum IMHO.

p.s. You have to admit that his background was a good find though. You make a great devils advocate, but I sense that you aren’t a true believer in the “progressive” camp as you use to be.

KDeRosa said...

They are very concerned about their kids' education, and if they thought inferior methods were being used, they would raise the roof.

You'd be surprised. Most of them buy into the progressive methods just like the teachers. The child-centeredness makes it oh so alluring to them.

He says we need to become MORE progressive. He says we need to become MORE progressive. For every person like KDeRosa or you criticizing us from the right (traditional side), we have someone else coming after us from the left.

But he is wrong and I'm right. Big difference. Sorry, I couldn't resist.

BTW, I just received "Myths and Misconceptions about Teaching" from Amazon. It's written by a special ed teacher, so it might be a little more palatable for Dennis. I've skimmed through it quickly. It is excellent. I'll try to get a post up on it in the near future.

elementaryhistoryteacher said...

Interesting post and comments. All I have to add is the "whys" and "hows" of history are more important than actual dates....and don't forget the connections from time period to time period.

george said...

May I remind bloggers everywhere that writing cute and clever stuff is no substitute for the truth. One of the essential truths that Jeff Lantos talks about in his recent L.A. TIMES article is THE IMPORTANCE OF MAKING CONNECTIONS WHEN LEARNING. Whether you teach in the high rent district or the wrong side of the tracks, good teaching is very much about helping students to make connections. And making connections isn't something measurable by trivial-pursuit-type tests.

rory said...

Awwwww, you think my writing is cute and clever. You give me tooo much credit. Of course, I never said that making connections was not importent. My problem with Jeff Lantos is that he discounts the importance of tests, which DO give an accurate measure of how much a student has learned and RETAINED. Of course, I also have a problem with teacher's who work in ideal situations making broad assumptions that undermine efforts to improve schools for those disadvantaged students that need schools with real reform.

Anonymous said...

I am a former student of MR. JEFF LANTOS, and I went to Harvard College. That's right, Harvard. I went to UCLA for Law School, and I turned out just fine. Jeff is a wonderful teacher, and my mother says that he teaches at a college level. In class we only sang in the beginning of the day, and dancing wasn't needed. We learned algebra at an 8th grade level. So there you have it. I'm on his side.

Anonymous said...

Mr.L rocks!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!