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May 02, 2008

Comments

Brad Jolly

John, I think it's great that you're back to regular blogging. Regarding your comment that teachers in 4 out of the 5 schools were unclear on the district's long term vision: are you talking about 1 or 2 teachers at each school, or are you talking about the general consensus of the teachers in the meeting? If the former, then the onus lies on the one or two who need to get a clue.

Brian Herman

John, I'm bothered by the teachers' concern over "the number of students who arrive unprepared for their grade level." I believe that remediation strategies are the wrong approach, that's looking to address the symptoms but not the disease. If students are arriving unprepared for their grade level then the district and schools have failed the community by allowing an unprepared student to progress to the next grade.

While I often rail against the notion of "the good old days" I do recall that over the course of my primary education in SVVSD I was personally aware of 4 kids who were "held back" and didn't progress to the next grade with my class. These students did not master the required skills at their grade level and the district and school had the courage to have the difficult conversation with the parents and did the right (albeit painful) thing for the student and ultimately for all the students who moved ahead as well.

When we blindly move children ahead because we fear the response of the parents we damage everyone. No one is served by this except perhaps the parents of the lagging student. The unprepared student will continue to do poorly and will become a drag on the system, reducing the pace and effectiveness of instruction at the next level.

You hear the horror storries of the high-school student who doesn't know how to read. "How can this happen?!" is the cry of the policticians and public. The answer is simple... way back in grades 1-3 we took a child who couldn't read and instead of holding on to him until he learned to read, we just let him move ahead with his class. You don't learn to read by osmosis nor by being thrown into more difficult courseware. Moving the child forward will actually prevent him from learning to read by moving farther and farther away from the teachers and courseware that are focused on teaching reading. The same is true of all learning... if you don't master the basics you can not pick them up while being trained in the advanced.

I urge the district not to think of ways to shove unprepared students forward but instead consider holding them back so they can master the skills they'll need at the next level.

Brad Jolly

Mr. Herman is exactly correct.

In just about any other form of human endeavor, people would go to jail if they knowingly ignored grossly substandard results. Imagine what would happen to a drug company CEO who knew that many of his supposed 100-mg pills of whatever actually contained 20-50 mg of the medicine. Consider what would happen if an oil company executive knowingly sold half-empty barrels of oil but marked them "full."

John, you have a background in banking; would your banks long tolerate a teller whose drawer came up missing hundreds of dollars every day?

Unfortunately, in an unaccountable government-based system, this sort of thing is not only tolerated; it is S.O.P.

Bud Hunt

Remediation is a tough issue - and worthy of more attention than this blog comment - but I find it interesting that all of your metaphors, Brad, involve quantities. That doesn't seem to me to be the right way to think about learning and achievement.

I certainly am concerned about the achievement gap - but I don't know that "filling the pail" metaphors are useful here. Then again, neither are "lighting a fire" ones, either.

John Creighton

Intervention, remediation and retention (to use the education words) are issues/policies that need to be updated. We identified this as one of the issues that needs short term attention at the board retreat this past weekend.

It is easiest to imagine strategies for students who attend Kindergarten (even preschool) in St. Vrain schools and continue on. We also need strategies for students who arrive at a St. Vrain School in late elementary, middle school and high school.

I plant to write more about the retreat soon.

Brad Jolly

Bud, it is not about the metaphor.

You don't like the medicine or oil metaphors? Fine. Take any professional scenario where there are standards that are supposed to be met, and see whether the general principle holds.

For example, suppose a karate school started passing out belts based on how many classes a student sat through, regardless of whether a student could competently perform the appropriate skills. How long would it be before the sanctioning body decertified the school?

Suppose a psychiatrist certified as sane every patient who came in front of her. Would that psychiatrist have a license very long?

In most professions that claim to have standards, there are serious consequences for ignoring gross violations thereof. Why is education different?

To John's point about "strategies for students who arrive in St. Vrain" as older students, why should the strategy be different? If the student is operating generally around grade level, leave him there. If the student is generally above grade level, offer advanced grade placement. If the student is generally below grade level, put him in a class at the appropriate level.

Dave Eiffert

It's not about the metaphores precisely because there are no metaphores which accurately portray the unique circumstances of public education.

All of the metaphores used in this discussion presuppose some sort of authority enforcing a given set of standards. I know of no govorning body in public education with the authority to force a child to repeat a grade if the parents refuse to cooperate.

There seems to be the automatic assumption that these students are "blindly" pushed ahead by lazy and/or indifferent Teachers and Principles? What about the parents who, against the recommendation of the Teacher and Principle, refuse to allow their child to be held back? If they disagree, what authority can prevent them from enrolling in a different school or even a different district? Where is the govorning body that says that child will not advance until he or she is proficient no matter where they go?

It's silly to discuss an important issue like this using clumsy metaphores that ignore the unique circumstances of the actual issue.

Annette Higgins

As I read through some of these posts. The resonant theme is "Remediation, Who is at fault?" That blame is being shifted from the parents to the teachers.
I appreciate Mr. Hunt's comments. I believe that this is a complex issue and not simply solved by offering one solution for every student.

Brad Jolly

There is no "automatic assumption that these students are blindly pushed ahead by lazy and/or indifferent Teachers (sic) and Principles (sic)." There is merely the observation that students who are not even close to grade level are promoted regardless. I am not talking about special needs students here; there are plenty of typical students who fail to achieve for a number of reasons.

I completely agree with Mr. Eiffert that sometimes parents go against teachers' recommendations that a child be retained, and that is often a real problem.

Let us then at least be honest and say, "we have no academic standards. We have goals, and if a child meets them, fine, but if not, that's fine, too." The SVVSD has put a lot of effort into pretending otherwise over the years, but the kids know the real scoop.

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