Friday, March 23, 2007

Superintendent God

I guess the NY Times article wasn't enough. Now the Fayetteville Observer is in the act of promoting the miraculous school district of Madison, Wisconsin.

Superintendent Art Rainwater, or God as I call him, has eliminated the achievement gap. No really, it must be true... it was published in a newspaper and everything.

Today, Rainwater said, no statistical achievement gap exists between the 25,000 white and minority students in Madison’s schools.
Of course, God works in mysterious ways. God in his infinite wisdom refuses to tell the secrets of his success, unless of course everyone confesses their sins.

But he won’t consult with educators from other communities until they are ready to confront the issue head on.

“I’m willing to talk,” Rainwater tells people seeking his advice, “when you are willing to stand up and admit the problem, to say our minority children do not perform as well as our white students.”

Only then will Rainwater reveal the methods Madison used to level the academic playing field for minority students.
God did make one mistake. He forgot to have the Wisconsin Department of Education update its data.


Of course perhaps I am looking at the wrong achievement gap. God is much wiser than I am.
Update: Corrected the link to the story.
Update #2: Right Wing Professor had a look and came to the same conclusion.

Hard Work and School Choice

I am blushing... first Edspresso and then Sara over at The Quick and the Ed linked to my post on choosing a school for my upcoming move to Anchorage.

Both make the excellent point that getting information on schools is difficult even for tuned in, education savvy, web literate parents like myself.

My research had me downloading data from three different websites, making two excel charts, and at one point comparing six adobe acrobat files side by side.

I had to figure out what a "scale score" is, research Alaska standards, make several phone calls to the schools and one to the math curriculum coordinator at the district, and then sort through all the data.

Even after all this, truthfully I would be hard pressed to tell you which of the six schools I considered was the "best". For every plus I found, there was a negative. Nothing was explained clearly. In the end, I am almost sorry to say that it came down to convenience.

The base schools are walking distance from base housing.

At first I felt a little guilty for choosing the schools on base, but then I realized that choice isn't an end... its a means. Just because it's there, doesn't mean I have to choose it. It serves its purpose right now. Some parents decided that the charter schools were the best option for their kids. Perhaps they lived in wrong neighborhood, perhaps the schools were closer, perhaps their philosophical differences with the neighborhood schools was just to great.

I may of chose neighborhood schools right now, but it's nice to know that the option is open for me if I need it in the future.

For now, public schools were the right choice, but it's nice to know that the charter school option is open for me if I need it at some point in the future.

Now if someone could just come up with an easier way to compare the schools, life would be grand.

Update: I am hiring Lynn Truss as my official blog editor. She rightly points out that I should watch my grammar. Of course she is right, though I suppose I could just blame the education system :)

Whole Language Responses

I have had several responses to my "I hate whole language" post, and I figured that I would respond in a post instead of in the comments.

It is probably no secret that I am a "DI" and phonics advocate, and have a huge small prejudice against whole language based upon my experiences with my four school age kids.

I am sure that D-EdReckoning and Nancy Creech will cover the issue much more in depth when they debate the issue on Edspresso next month, but I did want to address some of the points made by my commenter's.

I suppose one of biggest issues with whole language, is that no one seems to be able to articulate it with any great precision. As near as I can figure out, the one common theme among "whole language" advocates is that whole language teachers play an active part in tailoring their techniques to individual children. They use their expertise and experience to identify and address weaknesses. Many might use phonics as a teaching tool, but its only one of many tools to help the child learn how to read.

Mobility61 asks me this:

What kind of teacher would you want for your child? Would you prefer one who is a critical thinker, with a vast store of knowledge of literacy learning and an ability to use any available resource, who is also a learner that is constantly researching and updating her repertoire; or a teacher who follows a teacher's manual and puts children through a series of lessons prescribed by some publishing company far away? To me that seems like a no-brainer.
Rhetorical questions are often a great way to make a point, but occasionally it backfires. D-Edreckonings post on Zig Englemanns unpublished book on Project Follow Through has a great passage that answers this question.
The senior reading teacher and guru in one of our schools instigated an argument with me about reading—what it was, and how best to teach it. In the best cocktail-party style, we were polite, and the small group surrounding us was intent. The teacher’s premise was that the creativeness of teachers should not be trammeled by a lockstep program, like DI. She was well read, and quoted the literature with flourish. After the discussion went on for possibly ten minutes, one of our first-year teachers from the same school interrupted and ended the argument.

She said, “Angie, you know more about reading than I’ll ever know. You know linguistics, and all those theories I don’t understand. All I know how to do is follow the program. I do what it tells me to do in black type, and I say what it tells me to say in red type. But Angie, my kids read better than your kids, and you know it.
And I guess this sums up my greatest problem with whole language. It relies on teacher expertise, and I quite frankly am skeptical about the expertise of teachers.

Meanwhile, eceteacher comments:
It is the enemies of WL, and some poor teachers who call themselves WL, who've made up all this business about not teaching phonics... now think about it; leaving out phonics would make it Part Language, wouldn't it????

The enemy here is undereducated teachers, ones who don't use all their skills but instead grab hold of one technique (phonics could be the one) and think that will work for everyone. As someone who has taught hundreds of children to read, let me assure you that phonics alone will not bring about literacy, and, worse, it will not help children to love to read.
As I have already mentioned, whole language advocates can't even agree among themselves about what whole language really is. It seems to me that any pedagogy that can't even accurately define itself is by definition already doomed to failure.

It seems a little unfair to us as parents to accept the premise that we should entrust ourselves to teachers who can't even articulate a standard method to teaching. Our schools then become nothing more than a crap-shoot... maybe your kid will end up with a good teacher, maybe they won't. Truth be told, this is exactly the same situation we are in now.

At least the "DI" school can define standards and accurately evaluate their teachers. It may be ugly, but I prefer ugly and effective to beautiful and failing.

I will leave with one final word, if whole language is the answer then "show me the numbers".