"...I spent one day a week for two years working with a dedicated faculty in a middle school as they completely changed their curriculum and their way of teaching to be in line with the concepts of the Standards....When the staff started their project, the students' state test scores ranked them seventh out of seven middle schools in the district. In the last year of the state testing, they had improved to third in the district..."
I'd like more specifics about this case (I don't know why that was excluded). But I salute Mr. Price and this school for their hard work and for acknowledging that standardized tests actually measure something. Much of what we hear from the radical reformers is that the power of the Standards is indeed unmeasurable. I firmly believe some of them see a decline in standardized test scores as some sort of badge of courage.
Portfolios, we're told, are the best way of assessing students, even though a portfolio only shows a kid might have known something at sometime or perhaps that he was part of a very smart group or that he has a smart mother. Testing demonstrates retention and most importantly requires STUDY, the forgotten word in American education. Study is the great equalizer.
Escalante, in "the Greatest Teacher in America" is quoted about the AP exam, "This kind of test motivates the kids to do something. If you take it, it's a good guage. It's the only way to do it....This is the only way to prove the teacher is teaching, Say I'm preparing for the Olympics, You say I'm ready for the Olympics, but the only way I can prove it is if I compete against the Russians. We don't have anything in the District like that."
I am my school's sponsor of Students Run LA, a program dedicated to training students to run the Los Angeles Marathon. This year twenty students from our school completed the race along with 1200 other students from the LAUSD How is this possible? Because 26.2 miles is a real standard; one you can't fake.
I can imagine how much success we'd have if I simply exclaimed to our students "Hey, folks, let's start training so we can comply with the California Framework on Running. It's really great fun and you'll feel more powerful in a running sense and we'll document your training by compiling a runner's portfolio which will prove what a great and "authentic" runner you are. And we'll always run in groups, and you'll rarely run by yourself because that might harm the self esteem of the slower runners."
Compare that to, "Folks, we're going to train to run the LA Marathon. We're going to have some fun and make new friends, but mainly you're going to prove to yourself and the world that you can meet one of the toughest standards in the world...to run 26.2 miles through the streets of Los Angeles. And when you finish, you'll receive a medal and a t-shirt to impress those who haven't done it. And if their self esteem is harmed by your success, too bad. We'll invite them to run with us next year so they can experience the same feeling as you. Through your desire, dedication and hard work you will achieve your goal and you'll feel like you can accomplish anything else you desire. It will be your effort and you will be the one who'll prosper." I wonder which approach would work better?
Teachers know what educrats don't; it's almost impossible to teach a child who willfully wishes to remain uneducated. And most teachers know, until we implement concrete methods of motivating our students to take responsibility for their own education, significant improvement is highly improbable. And we also know real reform might occur if teachers see students finally required to demonstrate competence. The malaise of the current situation would improve as teachers help students achieve real standards.
As affirmative action disappears (whatever your politics, I hope no one thinks it will be necessary forever), clear standards would mark the way towards success. Students not making the grade would be directed towards the largest volunteer tutoring program ever. Imagine how great it would be if the whole State was motivated to help kids, particularly those who come from difficult circumstance. With clearer measurable standards for kids, measures to make teachers more accountable would be easier to implement and those not producing would be driven from the profession.
If you've read this far you're a hearty soul indeed and you might be encouraged by what arrived in my mail today, along with thousands of other teachers. The AFT has taken the bull by the horns and called for real standards in American education. It's called "Responsibility, Respect, Results". This is a program that we who believe in real standards must surely embrace.
If you're not in the AFT, try to get a copy of the Sept. 1995 "American Teacher". And if you still belong to the NEA, I ask you "WHY?"
Dan Hart SFHS LAUSD Los Angeles, the Gang's All Here!!