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Sun Feb 10, 2013, 09:41 PM

A warning to college profs from a high school teacher

During my years in the classroom I tried to educate other adults about the realities of schools and students and teaching. I tried to help them understand the deleterious impact of policies that were being imposed on our public schools. I blogged, I wrote letters and op-eds for newspapers, and I spent a great deal of time speaking with and lobbying those in a position to influence policy, up to and including sitting members of the US House of Representatives and Senate and relevant members of their staffs. Ultimately, it was to little avail, because the drivers of the policies that are changing our schools—and thus increasingly presenting you with students ever less prepared for postsecondary academic work—are the wealthy corporations that profit from the policies they help define and the think tanks and activist organizations that have learned how to manipulate the levers of power, often to their own financial or ideological advantage.


"A warning to college profs from a high school teacher"

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Response to caraher (Original post)

Sun Feb 10, 2013, 10:07 PM

1. And when they do get into college

they will be taught to conduct research aimed at proving or indicating only what those corporations pay for them to find and indoctrinate them to become corporate zombies for meager pay, maybe if they are really good bronw-nosers.

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Response to caraher (Original post)

Sun Feb 10, 2013, 10:22 PM

2. I don't believe that they are being taught to

learn things for themselves today. I believe that they are being instructed as to how to pass a test. This will result in less educated students.
From what I have seen, kids these days don't know how to study. They can't write an outline for a paper. They don't know how to do proper research.
Maybe I learned how to do these things a long time ago, but I do not have any faith in the current system, since they have changed things back in the 2000s.

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Response to caraher (Original post)

Mon Feb 11, 2013, 12:10 AM

3. My kids are now in German schools

and the difference is night and day. It's strictly school here. 5th grade on is regarded like high school and they days are very compact with all responsibility falling on the student. In the US I felt like it was a circus environment with "morning announcements, carnivals, fairs, book sales, bake sales, raise money for this...that... no bullying seminars"

They don't make time for that crap here. A big factor besides absence of "corporations" in the schools here is the absence of parents. The teachers are highly regarded and parents have little involvement. I must say I like it better that way. It gives the students more sense of personal responsibility, not "mom now what??"

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Response to caraher (Original post)

Mon Feb 11, 2013, 12:13 AM

4. Its the start of the New Dark Ages...

The Catholic Church once consolidated and controlled education for their purposes throughout Europe...it did not turn out very well for anyone and cost humanity a 1,000 years of progress in favor of crusades, indulgences, witch burnings and papal power struggles followed by schisms and reformations.

What the Church once had the corporate elite now seek - unchallenged power over the lives of billions. The "right" to determine what people do, say, even think. Orwell's 1984 and Animal Farm were not mere cautionary tales...all pigs are created equal, but some are more equal than others....2+2=5....war is peace....Oceania has always been at war with Eurasia...

We already have eternal war thanks to the MIC. We are getting dangerously close to the ability to have thought police with the unlimited power of drone strikes, executive authority to murder and "patriot" acts that have gone unchallenged. We lost out very soul in Guantanamo and our President who swore to end it and close it down is now patted on the back for trying and giving up?!?!?

Climate change and wealth inequity will be the final nails in Western democracy and civilization. The rich and powerful truly live in a world apart from the rest of us - they do not believe in climate change because they believe they will be able to buy what they need while the poor - first in the third world and slums and then in the former middle class starve or drown. They do not believe in education because the leadership positions and wealth of the corporation are hereditary rights...passed on like lands and titles. They care not for the general welfare or the common defense because they will hire private security and pull the draw bridges to ride out the outrage of the unwashed masses.

Of course they are wrong. They too will pay and pay in full, but the price to all will be blood and pain and untold horrors that could have been averted. Krugman's article regarding the idiot faction and this letter from a frustrated teacher paint a pretty future. I am losing hope in it completely.

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Response to Moostache (Reply #4)

Mon Feb 11, 2013, 12:26 AM

6. I have said this before...

we are headed back to the dark ages, where only the elite are educated.

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Response to awoke_in_2003 (Reply #6)

Tue Feb 12, 2013, 02:32 PM

17. +1

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Response to caraher (Original post)

Mon Feb 11, 2013, 12:24 AM

5. Bingo!

K&R

Thank you so much for posting this. I highly recommend that everyone click on the link and read the entire article. This is the best description of what is happening to our schools that I have seen in some time, maybe ever.

I am probably giving away my age here, but my kids graduated HS and entered college before NCLB was enacted, thank God. Now, people have no recourse at all, short of educating them at home, and that's not a good thing either. I honestly believe that NCLB was in fact enacted to do exactly the opposite...leave every child behind, allowing the privateers the opportunity to jump in and
"save the day."

A question to ponder: Has anyone ever wondered at the fact that naysayers are correct 100% of the time, but ignored 100% of the time?

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Response to caraher (Original post)

Mon Feb 11, 2013, 12:41 AM

7. It's not just high school into college.

Money for early intervention is drying up, and money for special education for kids 3-5 is scarce, too. I wouldn't be a kindergarten teacher for anything in the world. In two to three years, elementary schools are going to be inundated with kids who have missed out on desperately-needed services because there's no funding. No, let me correct that - because funding is diverted elsewhere.

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Response to caraher (Original post)

Mon Feb 11, 2013, 01:21 AM

8. Teaching to the test is designed to instill subservience to authority.

There is no reasoning or reality checking involved in teaching to a test.

There is no time to question what the test maker considers the "correct" answer. There is no time to consider if the question to be responded to is a meaningful question to ask.

There is only the time to memorize the "answer" desired by the test maker no matter how nonsensical the question or the expected answer, or both. Yet that is what teaching to the test is all about. This is the purpose of No Child Left Behind (a meaningless catch phrase itself) and ditto for Race To The top.

Making school funding and teacher pay and job security based on teaching to the test is designed to ensure that no real learning takes place. Learning involves more than just regurgitating Pavlovian responses to arbitrary questions. Learning involves being able to ask the correct questions and researching and testing the validity of possible answers.

As an example, consider what would be a "correct" answer to the "question" on a "True" or "False" test: "Have you stopped beating your wife?"

Popular understanding of "free markets" and "free trade" is economic gibberish designed to promote the corporate agenda, yet how would such terminology be "taught" when teaching to a test that is produced by corporate controlled textbook publishers and when the teacher's job depends solely on teaching the "correct" answers?

The U.S. has essentially "privatized" education, and it bodes ill for the future of America.

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Response to AdHocSolver (Reply #8)

Mon Feb 11, 2013, 08:06 PM

10. Take the Fundamentals of engineering some time.

Universities spend 5 years 'teaching to the test'. I happen to think its a good system. Colleges that don't produce students that pass the test; risk losing their ABET accreditation. Eliminating ineffective programs by evaluating those being taught makes perfect sense.

Obviously not every subject can be taught and tested by multiple choice tests, but that isn't an acceptable reason for not trying to figure out which students aren't getting anything out of physics; by something as simple as giving all of the students a standardized tests.

I agree NCLB is/was not a good program, but I don't agree with some of your other complaints. If you feel like teachers should control the material on tests; they need to take an active role in preparing those tests.

There are engineers from every state that decide on the test questions for the FE and the PE exam, it is a system controlled by engineers and there are many organizations that control the direction of the industry. State engineering boards consist of government and private sector engineers.

If educators don't like the way the members of the profession are treated, perhaps they should look to other 'industries' that don't feel victimized by the powers that be.

Obviously any system is going to have problems, but what standardized tests do is level the playing field.

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Response to Blanks (Reply #10)

Tue Feb 12, 2013, 12:27 AM

11. There is a world of difference between grade school teaching and college level teaching.

There is nothing wrong with developing a curriculum to achieve learning goals. However, schools and teachers should be allowed flexibility on how they spend their time and effort to achieve those teaching goals. The way classroom time is organized in many schools precludes the teachers having the ability to organize their classes.

Having students memorize answers to standardized tests guarantees that ten minutes after the test is completed, most of the students will have forgotten most of what they had "learned". I speak from experience as I taught middle school and high school over a two year period.

Most of my jobs were spent working in technical fields in electronics and computer programming. In several of the jobs, I worked with engineers. Some of them were brilliant, some of them should have gone into nontechnical work (I wouldn't be surprised if they did well on their tests since they got hired), and the majority were, as in many other fields, at various levels of mediocrity. Testing doesn't necessarily prove quality.

The "one size fits all" regurgitation of "facts" (which may not even be "factual") does not guarantee understanding or the ability to do anything useful.

I am critical of many facets of education in the U.S. No Child Left Behind and its ilk are never going to solve the problems. They are just obfuscation that makes matters worse.

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Response to AdHocSolver (Reply #11)

Tue Feb 12, 2013, 12:20 PM

15. I realize the engineering field isn't perfect.

I've worked with some people that I've wondered how they did it (and a lot who probably wondered the same about me).

I don't hear engineers complaining about being victimized by the system very often though (OK - ever). That's my point here: engineers have control over the engineering field. Does that mean that there aren't bad engineers - no. Of course there are bad engineers. What it means is that when you set out to be an engineer; you know what it entails. You can decide if you want to get your PE, or if you are content to work for a contractor (a lot of federal government engineering jobs also don't require a PE).

When you apply to take the PE exam; your education and experience are reviewed by a board of engineers and they decide if you are qualified to take the test. If you are doing something that someone feels is unethical; they can report you to the board for discipline.

It is a field regulated by the people who work in the field. I think that's what educators should strive for. That would require coordination with folks from other states (perhaps threatening local control) but if educators stood together and fought to establish the standards themselves, they wouldn't be subjected to the abuse.

I'm merely pointing out that other professions (attorneys, architects etc) have these state boards that maintain contact with national organizations and prepare tests for their own members and maybe educators should consider modeling a system after some of the other professions to take control of this standardized testing debacle.

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Response to Blanks (Reply #10)

Tue Feb 12, 2013, 06:48 AM

13. Appropriateness depends a lot on the purpose of the test

Last edited Tue Feb 12, 2013, 09:00 AM - Edit history (1)

For certain kinds of basic knowledge that you need in engineering you're absolutely right, a standardized test makes a lot of sense. I don't think political science, for instance, really fits the same mold! There are no rival schools of thought regarding the basic scientific and mathematical facts underpinning work in engineering, but the same is not true in other areas.

And even in a scientific or technical field, it's still worth bearing in mind that the ability to pass such tests only demonstrates a facility with a common set of basic facts and skills and not overall competence. "Common sense" and a certain kind of creativity are also crucial in separating a glorified technician from a truly talented engineer, and good engineering schools will cultivate those through lab courses, research or co-op experiences, the value of which cannot be captured on standardized tests.

In physics, it's very well-known that physics GRE test scores are a terrible predictor of graduate school success, particularly in experimental specialties. And the general test is no better. Incoming graduate students from programs that teach to the test routinely have perfect or near-perfect scores but do not outperform students from other programs who score maybe at the 50th percentile. There's enough of a mismatch between what it takes to score well on a long exam of short multiple-choice items and the real work of physics research that the test mostly measures test preparation itself rather than readiness for graduate study and aptitude.

It's not that standardized tests are bad in every setting; it's that they are taking over in inappropriate situations. It's like the GOP economic program where "more tax cuts" are the reflex solution to every problem. Sometimes a tax cut is a good idea; the problem comes in when it's considered the solution to every problem. Similarly, we've reached a point where the operational definition of effective eduction is invested entirely in standardized test scores, to the exclusion of any other measure, and that is problematic!

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Response to caraher (Reply #13)

Tue Feb 12, 2013, 11:57 AM

14. I appreciate your thoughtful response.

and I accept that you are probably more of an authority on what subjects are appropriate for standardized tests; there are, however, a couple of things that I would like to point out.

First of all; the fact that the physics test is not an indicator of graduate school success; says more about graduate school than it does about student preparedness. If the people who are deciding what information they want future students to posses are involved in the preparation of the test then there is no excuse for the tests not being a good predictor. If they aren't involved in the preparation of the tests; then it isn't a good comparison to the engineering field. I mentioned physics because it is the foundation of (most) engineering. I feel that we are not putting enough emphasis on teaching the fundamentals of physics (and math) in the earlier grades in school, and as a result we aren't preparing people at an early enough age if they decide they might want to pursue a career in engineering. If someone completes high school without adequate exposure to physics, chemistry and advanced math; forget engineering because 4 semesters have been added to their college experience. There is no reason why we aren't better at determining science aptitude early on.

As far as the PE exam:

And even in a scientific or technical field, it's still worth bearing in mind that the ability to pass such tests only demonstrates a facility with a common set of basic facts and skills and not overall competence. "Common sense" and a certain kind of creativity are also crucial in separating a glorified technician from a truly talented engineer, and good engineering schools will cultivate those through lab courses, research or co-op experiences, the value of which cannot be captured on standardized tests.


You'd have to take the test for me to argue about it. The questions are very good indicators of whether you 'get it'. They require some level of creativity. I can understand how you might not believe it possible, but they have very interesting questions some of them can be solved quickly if you see what they are asking (find the shortcut); while they can also be solved using a longer method. Some of the questions can be guessed based on an understanding of the subject based solely on the answers. On average you have six minutes for each question so you don't have time to over-think too many. I disagree with your assessment of it. Also I'd like to point out that the PE exam is taken after 4 years in the field; so it's pretty much the responsibility of the individual engineer to acquire the knowledge. The foundations were taught in school, but obtaining the advanced knowledge required to pass the exam is a matter of personal responsibility.

I understand that giving standardized tests for every subject is not the solution; that is why I have never advocated for it.

My main point here is this: if educators want to decide what the tests look like (or whether certain subjects should be evaluated in some other manner); they need to involve themselves in the process - take the lead. That's why I brought up engineering; that's what engineers have done. The system isn't perfect and despite my high opinion of the test; I recognize that it probably isn't fair for everyone, but at least everyone knows what it's gonna look like beforehand.

Perhaps I lack imagination, but I don't know of a more efficient system of evaluating teachers to make sure that they are teaching than to simply test the students. I think an efficient system is optimal because we want educators teaching and not administering tests. I realize that is not a popular opinion.

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Response to Blanks (Reply #14)

Tue Feb 12, 2013, 12:41 PM

16. The real problem is that public education isn't the kind of "closed system" engineering is

I'm sure the PE certification system serves the engineering profession well. I do know a little bit about how it works (my wife is an EE and my son is an ME), and I think you're certainly right about a key element of what makes it work: the profession controls the process and writes the exam.

Your critique is very appropriate when it comes to graduate level physics. There the wounds are indeed self-inflicted by a profession that lets a component of admission run (to be sure, in consultation with physicists) by a standardized testing company, and leadership within the profession could lead to more meaningful testing and more rational admission standards.

But the larger problem is that K-12 education is not producing people for a specific profession, the way ABET-accredited engineering schools are. Engineers are the ones who establish what good practice is in their line of work and develop instruments to ensure practitioners have appropriate preparation. Engineering students are, as a group, elite students who have succeeded in high school; some who mainly come from poorer schools do need remediation to catch up, but on the whole you're looking at a system that doesn't need to worry about the same problems a public K-12 system has,

What gets tested, and how it gets tested, is driven as much or more by politics as by educational best practices, and it's certainly not for lack of leadership by K-12 educators. The movement to privatize education has an outsized voice in all of this. There's far more money and political influence than teachers can muster themselves behind the effort to impose a model of education that measures teacher effectiveness primarily - or even entirely - in terms of student performance on these tests. And politically-popular programs that index everything to progress on test scores frequently guarantee "failure" on the part of individual schools or teachers, used to force an agenda of unproven "innovations."

So I think your experience with engineering would be applicable in a more rational educational setting, which a profession like that has the ability to cultivate. But in the witch's brew where politics, money and education swirl together, ideas that may appear sound in principle in some ideal setting lead all too easily to damaging results.

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Response to AdHocSolver (Reply #8)

Wed Feb 13, 2013, 08:58 AM

20. And it doesn't matter if its actually true or not.

It is "the answer," and that's final! You don't actually have to know much at schools now - it's all about test taking.

You know our education system sucks when elementary school kids are being forced to take standardized tests instead of being allowed to grow. These meaningless tests are not for the students - they're to determine raises and worth of the teacher.

This does nothing for learning, and encourages teachers to fudge test results to keep their jobs (and who wouldn't, given the choice of unemployment or easily changing test scores to save your job?).

Our education system is so obsessed with standardization and teacher performance that we no longer care about the students anymore.

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Response to caraher (Original post)

Mon Feb 11, 2013, 11:09 AM

9. Good article

I taught at a community college for a short time and if I related an example from real life, some kids would ask if it was going to be on the test. That was all they cared about. Not critical thinking by any means.

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Response to caraher (Original post)

Tue Feb 12, 2013, 03:32 AM

12. Unfortunately for us, many of those corporations also own/control the schools.....

- K&R


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Response to caraher (Original post)

Tue Feb 12, 2013, 05:59 PM

18. The worst of it all is when a person boasts how they don't like reading.

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Response to caraher (Original post)

Tue Feb 12, 2013, 06:17 PM

19. I am attending a community college.

It seems that many of my classmates are spending a lot of time taking remedial classes to learn things they should have learned in high school. It seems to be a particular problem with the younger students.

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