Ted to Nick

Whose Standards? Ted to Nick ...

On Wed, 24 Apr 1996 Ted Nellen, to initiate the discussion, wrote:


I'd like to make some comments about the briefing papers overview before I begin to pour over the Lehhmann piece on "High academic standards and school reform: Education leaders speak out." As I read the overview with all of its highfalutin notions and lofty ideas, I had to cry, then scream, then laugh hysterically. These fucking hypocrits!! These leaders of states and industry are speaking of public schools, to which none send their own darlins. It is these very governors who chisel money from public education budgets so we have more students in our classes every new year. Whose Standards? I have trouble finding enough chairs for my students to sit down.

They use the word support so many times but never provide it. Thank goodness they aren't in the atletic supporter business. I agree with their sentiments and their notions. Their rhetoric is just fine. It's their actions that are troublesome and weak. I just wish they would keep their promise of support. They promise support and then return to their capitals and chisel more money from the edifice of education.

In the business world, people get fired. In public education no one gets fired. In private schools, students are allowed to attend or asked not to return. In public schools we take anyone who wants to come and we have laws which force the unwilling into our schools. These business leaders can say all they want about public schools maintaining standards, but we don't have the money nor the power of inclusion/exclusion to enforce these lofty ideals. A kid can say "Fuck you and your standards" and there isn't a thing I can do about it. He says that in private school or industry and he is out of there. Let's have a reality check gentlemen. I say gentlemen, because I would wager that 90% of the people at this conference were white men. How many non white males are in positions of power? I'm a white male and I say these guys are full of shit! was what I said in theForum, and I say it again, Whose Standards? These guys make lots of money, give themselves raises and then fire many of the workers to trim the fat. They are full of crap and the summit was a crock too.

Technology can be effective in schools if our business leaders charged fair market value to education and to students. Cost was first on the list of barriers in effective use of technology. Aren't these the guys who can lower the price so cost is not a barrier to implementing technology in education? Governors can provide the funding for Professional Development, another barrier. They are the guys who allocate the funds. They have identified the problems, but refuse to fix the problems. They are the only ones who can. Teachers go to these types of conferences on their own monies. How many of these guys had their expenses picked up by their company or state?

This overview points out how out of touch with reality they really are. They provide great rhetoric but do not provide the real support we need to implement these grand ideals. Public education is in dire straits in this country not for lack of standards but for lack of money and real support from our leaders. The division between the haves and have nots is widening.

That's enough for now. I will await your replies and move on to the "High academic standards.. " briefing paper.




To which Nick replied...

On Sat, 27 Apr 1996, Ted, in reply to Nick's message of 4/26/96, wrote:


Agreed that standards aren't met and that grandstanding is being done. Also agree that all of us do not need to be at the party. Having small disconnected groups meet and plan is perhaps fine. And yes the direction always has to happen top down with teachers having their own discussions within their own schools under the umbrella of state and local standards. So the generic discussion of standards by the members at the summit is appropriate knowing that the local level planners will make appropriate standards. New York standards will not and are not the same as Texas stan- dards, which means it will come down to the schools in the end. The template starts at the top and we fill it in. That is the ideal world, then reality rears its ugly head.

No sooner did this summit end then the state's educational representatives began making noise. New York started by announc- ing the rigid Regents requirements for graduation. The irony here is that Richard Mills is quoted in the brief as saying "I can't see pushing these as a traditional mandate or regulation." This was contradicted when the Regents announced on April 24, in Regents to Insist on Passing Board's Test for Diploma" their plan to implement more stringent regents requirements. He said he "promised to create", oh how I love those words: "promise to create." Anyway, "He promised to create a coordinated program of teacher professional development." And then he referred to the haggling he will have to do with Gov Pataki for the funds. So he promises without the needed funds he knows he has to fight for. So much for his promise, blame Pataki. This announcement was followed by a NYTimes editorial April 25, suggesting he couldn't back up the promise for funds to pay for the needed retraining of teachers and/or addi- tional tutoring needed to assist students from $300 million dollars floating around the system. $300 million floating around?? I'm scared. This is not well thought out. Comer and Geiger both agree that "Top-down reform without bottom-up activi- ty is never going to be successful." John Ferrandino, superin- tendent of high schools, said in New York City Faces Big Regents-Diploma Hurdle that he appreciated the push for higher standards but expected some midcourse corrections in the Regents plan before the year 2003 as well as some changes in teaching strategies and financing." "Midcourse corrections" are the optimum words here.

Utah followed suit and even posted its core curriculum on the Internet.

The education leaders quoted in the "High academic standards and school reform: Education leaders speak out" briefing paper provides great insight into the hurdles we at the local level will face as we begin to implement standards. First off, I believe we are being asked to do more with what we already have and with probably less in the future. The educators pointed out the shortcomings, the lack of funds and resources, and general lack of support we receive to make it so.

I can't argue with why standards, that is obvious. But don't start comparing American education with any other country in the world. Perhaps state to country, but not country to country. We force our kids to continue to a certain age. We have special ed programs. We have mixed cultures in our schools. In Japan schools all kids are Japanese. Our schools are loaded with recent immigrants which makes implementing these standards difficult at best. In my 11th grade class I have kids who haven't been in this country two years. What standards do they come with? Sure if we had continuity in our culture and schools as other countries do then we would be okay. Heck, just shut the borders. This discussion is for later in our dialogue.

The consensus of the educators was that they agreed "standards alone are not enough; they are a starting point, not a panacea. For standards to be relevant, related changes must be made in testing, teaching and allocation of school resources." So the first move has been made in New York. Will they follow it up with the support to make it so? Will we get the resources necessary? I have 4 classes of 34 students each whose reading scores range from 4th grade to freshman college. Will I see some relief? Will I have the resources in Chapter I, or paras, or resource rooms to implement these standards? I want standards. I want to be able to implement them. Don't tell me to do this and that without giving me the tools with which to do this and that. Resources are just under-utilized. The school buildings are empty nearly half the year and day. Another consideration might be to put kids in grades that are reflective of their intellectual level. If a 16 year old reads at a 4th grade level and I don't have the resources at my school to help him why not put him in the fourth grade. The idea of stigmas is ridiculous. If part of the plan were to have kids at their correct level, there would be no stigmas. Advance kids more quickly. So as that 16 year old begins to achieve in the first semester of 4th grade, the second semester will be as a fifth grader and so on. That 16 year old will have success at the level he/she belongs and will accelerate faster and more effectively. This is how it is done in sports for example. I started in Karate with my 8 year old daughter at the same level: white belt. I progressed through the levels faster, and eventually reached my age level. Were I put into my age level, I would never have survived. This is the great educational mistake we have made. Bilingual pro- grams didn't work and we insisted on putting all 16 year olds in the same class.

James Comer adds: "When we say 'set standards and things will improve" implies people aren't working hard enough." He continues, "But I do think that most teachers are trying, and these other problems, the problems of selecting the right people and providing them with support, are really the things that have not been addressed, and the reason we're in trouble." Ted Sizer adds: "If the larger society only talks about tests and stan- dards, and doesn't talk about the ways that those teachers and students together can prepare to meet standards worthy of the name, nothing is going to happen." And Donald Stewart sums it up when he says: "that dwelling only on standards 'fails to emphasize the need for investment in improved curriculum, improved professional development, better delivery of educational services, and special help for those students, largely minority and poor students, who are quite incapable of meeting higher stan- dards because they do not have access to the same resources and opportunities for learning as other students. All of that says to me that standards alone fail to respond to overall needs or systemic change."

This is great stuff. Setting standards is step one. Step two is supporting the local schools in implementing the standards. So instead of leaving everything else as is, or worse, cutting from existing resources, provide more money, resources, and creative alternatives. The traditional form of education was good, but is faltering now. Simply setting goals without the means to achieve those goals is foolish.

On this point, my hero, Ted Sizer, says, "There's an irony in that we're saying standards should be higher in many communities, but at the same time we're cutting the budgets and we're not changing the insides of the school -- so once again, we'll blame the victim. It's outrageous." James Comer warns: Quite frankly, I don't trust the states when it comes to poor minority group students -- and without the opportunity-to-learn standards, they're going to do what they've been doing, and that is, allow- ing local tax conditions to create great disparities."

This tax disparity is the major problem in New York City. The mayors of New York City have allowed corporations to get away without paying their fair share in taxes. The fear that these corporations will leave forces the NYC mayors to lower their taxes. Federal and state funds do not make up the difference. In New York City, we spend millions of dollars protecting the United Nations, without receiving compensation from appropriate governments. Where does that money come from? Education is one source. New York City, like some other cities, is a global village supported only by its own funds. The world uses NYC, but they do not contribute to the tax coffers. This is a great disparity.

I am all for interdisciplinary skills. However, when we try to implement them we run into too many road blocks. I proposed with a history teacher that we team teach American Lit and History. We did our homework and found from case studies that successful endeavors such as ours required: that both teachers be in the room together for a double period and that they have a common prep period. When we proposed this idea, which had started from the principal, we were told that we would each teach our respec- tive class then the students would go to the other teacher for period two. So we would not be in the same class together with just 34 students. That is not team teaching. Secondly, we couldn't have a common period because of in house duties, which made scheduling it impossible. Our principal pleaded poverty.

On another matter our Chapter I funds were eliminated. Our governor and mayor promised support for this program during their election bids. The ringing of their swearing in was still in our ears as they drastically cut these Chapter I funds. I don't trust these guys. They tell us about standards and then cut our funds and then blame us for the lousy job we do. Whenever we come up with innovative plans and ideas, we are rejected because of funding or it flies in the face of tradition.

Yes, Nick, the meetings at different levels are important. However, the top always get their say, and when it comes time for us to implement these ideas we are without the resources promised and the wherewithal to make the edicts so. And then who looks like the bad guys? Top-down and bottom-up have to work together. Dernis Doyle says it best: "I guess the next step would be to put some teeth into it. Money always helps."


Ted 8-)

To which Nick replied...

On Thu, 2 May 1996, Ted, in reply to Nick's message of 4/29/96, wrote:

The forum was very disappointing especially with Hartley bemoaning the lack of a telephone in the classroom. He may be the rest reason a telephone shouldn't be in the classroom. That none of the summit participants participated in the forum was contrary to what I believed was the purpose of the forum. I don't believe for one minute the govs et al read the forum. It was just an example of more lip service and pretending that we were participating.

I liked the your near mantra: We're coordinating, stepping in, sitting down with students. Great line.

Yes, standards are coming, but I always thought they were here. It was as you say, as if it were willy nilly become the 'gods' descended upon IBM and made it so. And also as you say, it will have to be attached to a budget. Yes, the vested interests that make money have had their say, now it is ours, the implementers.

The suggestion that standards are not currently in place certainly comes from the summit and from the Americans' Views on Stan- dards section, and it is insulting.

The paper "The Americans' Views On Standards" is based on an extensive review of public opinion over the past six years by Public Agenda. It presents seven findings which reflect the feeling of the American people towards education. Finding #7 "Raising Standards presents opportunities but also Pitfalls" presents some rather startling contradictions. In its introductory statement we read: "Support for academic standards is broad, and especially among the public and community leaders, it is remarkably firm and well thought-out." Our leaders better support this since they are the ones who have to sell it. In the eyes of the public we expect nothing less, especially in election years. Double-talk lip service rhetoric we have come to expect. Now where is the cavalry? Well thought-out is a statement that I find paradoxical when speaking of public and community leaders. Standards are the major concern of the American people we are told, except that standards will not supplant safety, order, and discipline. Are not these three part of the standards package? If not, then of what standards are we speaking? Another pitfall suggests more anger from the public because they want the students to be exposed to more of the basics. Here we are to the back to basics discussion. I do not hold to the "back to basics" tenet. I prefer better basics. Back to basics scares me. I do not want to go back anywhere, Wolfe wrote magnificently on this subject. The third pitfall was the jargon used by educators. Has any one ever spoken to a car mechanic, computer salesman, a sports enthusiast, a professor, an ad exec, or a politician? Jargon is their language. Jargon is not a pitfall, it is just part of doing business. Jargon is jargon to outsiders.

The other six findings in and of themselves portray a definite ignorance about education and its functioning.

Finding 1: Support for academic standards has reached the consensus level among the general public. Americans are convinced that public schools are not expecting enough from their students. As a result, there is broad support for proposals to set clearer and higher academic standards and to enforce them. Americans agree that students should not be promoted or given a high school diploma unless they demonstrate that they have mastered the required material.

On one hand we hear that students should not be promoted if they do not satisfy the required material. On the other hand, in NYC, we cannot keep a kid back. So we offer diluted afternoon classes, or evening school, or summer school. These diluted courses do not equal the same hours as the failed or missed class and they do not offer the same intellectual stimuli the original class offered. Thus the Regents diploma Mills is forcing on us will not be achieved by the student in any of these three make-up classes. That student clearly should be forced to make-up the class next year. So what if he/she is in ten grade two years in a row. As to setting the standards early and often, I agree. However, what happens to the 15 year old immigrant. That student has not had the indoctrination for the last 15 years. How do we deal with tat child, and there are thousands of them. The standards do not provide for the newbie. Funding for this situation is either non- existent or is cut. We will not put this child in the proper grade by intellect but instead we place him/her in a class by age. This is a ridiculous practice. If we expect to achieve a goal of setting standards then we need an intelligent plan in its implemen- tation. Same old same old, is not any good any more.

Finding 2: Support for standards is broad-based -- shared by all major groups of the population. Although many educational issues are controversial, with sharp divisions among different demographic groups, support for standards is nearly universal. Americans of different ages, income groups, and racial and ethnic backgrounds express strong support for standards.

In NYC we know controversial. When former Chancellor tried to implement a rainbow curriculum upon the City of New York, Queens residents rebelled. Eventually, the chancellor was fired. With the diversity in this country, standards will never be achieved, unless they are diluted. The Euro-centric set of standards many reject are in fact the back to basics stuff people clamor for. Afro-centric, Sino-centric, or Latino-centric standards are also unacceptable. We talk of standards, but whose standards? We are about to hammer out global standards. The people's enthusiasm will fade as Finding 3 suggests because when reality sets in, they will balk. People do not accept tradeoffs. We see that very clearly in NYC. The questions of multicultural education, interdisciplinary curriculums, and office hours are still hotly debated questions. If standards are to be implemented then we need to change the structure of our school day, school year, and methods of presenta- tion. The old system served us well, but has now outlived its usefulness. If we do not do something radical with the structure of our schedules and delivery, standards will fall by the way side a neglected child.

Finding 3: Support for standards is firm Support for academic standards is high now, but will it fade if standards are actually put in place? Opinion research suggests that the public's support for standards has considerable depth, and that people are willing to stand by their commitment even when they consider tradeoffs -- such as the possibility that more youngsters may drop out of school or be failed.

Except when it is their own kid or culture.

Finding 4: Standards will help children from all backgrounds learn. The rationale for the public's strong support for academic standards is simple: people think that if the standards are clear (and high), most students will learn more. And people completely reject the proposition that standards should be lowered for youngsters from inner cities or other disadvantaged backgrounds. Indeed, many Americans -- especially African-American parents and inner-city residents -- believe that one of the biggest problems in inner-city schools is that expectations are too low.

Here is a perfect example of forcing the issue or not seeing it clearly. We lower the expectations because the receiver is unable to at this time understand and process the information I am trying to pass on. The receiver is not stupid, just unable to accept at this time. Try again later. Now this receiver is a 16 year old in my junior English class. Why can't this student receive. Well, for one thing the student has not received earlier treatments of standards. So do I work with this student and neglect the other 33? Do I neglect this student and work with the other 33? But the other 33 are not on the same page. In fact, I have 34 students on 34 pages. Help. So, all kids on page 7 sit in the page 7 group, all kids on page 13 sit in the page 13 groups. As you understand page 7 go to page 8 group. Not all students in page 7 will go to page 8 group at the same time. Our educational system still operates under the factory mode. Our head is saying one thing and our feet are doing something different. We are out of synch.

Finding 5: Higher academic standards respond to three very deep-seated anxieties about the current direction of the country. In addition to making educational sense, the idea of higher standards appeals to deeper public concerns about the overall direction the country is taking. Academic standards strike people as a reform that actually addresses their economic insecurities and their sense that the country is vacillating morally and ethically. People also think raising standards is an educational reform that is pragmatic and rooted in common sense -- a sign that leaders, whom they often see as "out-of-touch" with their own concerns, are finally on the right track.

Whose Standards? Texas has different text books then the rest of the country. Tennessee is revisiting Scopes. NYC schools distribute condoms. Some places do not accept that the Holocaust of World War II existed. Some places do not separate church and state. Columbus has gone from hero to villain in a lifetime.

Finding 6: Teachers support standards as well, but... Teachers broadly support proposals to raise standards and expect higher standards to improve students' academic performance. But even though large majorities of teachers voice support for higher standards, they do not generally see low standards -- or young- sters finishing school without the basics -- as a widespread or urgent problem. Perhaps since teachers are generally satisfied with public schools' performance in teaching academic skills, their support for standards is less vigorous than the public's. Although teachers' support is genuine, it is less intense and less dominant in their thinking. Classroom teachers are receptive, but it is questionable whether they will be the driving force behind higher, more rigorous academic standards.

Teachers have to be part of the conversation because this cannot be just a top-down discussion. Bottom-up activities and demonstra- tions will fine tune the standards. When it comes time to implement these standards the ideal will quickly evaporate.

Let me close with an analogy. How many teachers have prepared the perfect lesson over the weekend, only to have it crumple in class? Plans are good and necessary, but when it comes to implementing them, we find the hidden pitfalls. Merely saying we want to set high standards is not enough, we need to provide the support to do so. We have standards, we want to implement them, but we keep getting hamstrung by the very people who tell us to enforce them. Yes, Catch-22 does come to mind.


Ted 8-)


To which Nick didn't have time to reply...

...so Ted on 6/4/96 wrote:

I assume we probably have enough for our purposes. I didn't get to the last part but here is a concluding remark.

Since we began this dialogue, the governors have returned to their respective states and have handed done ultimatums, suggestions, mandates, and edicts. The receivers of said proclamations have found their resources cut and diminished. In Connecticut the pressure for excellence was so severe an elementary school in an exclusive Connecticut neighborhood was found to have altered test scores. In New Jersey is taking on an age old educational tradition of financing. In New York, Mills has promised assistance from a governor already stating he cannot oblige Mills' requests. In New York City, a recent study has shown that fewer students are graduating from high school on time and that funds are running out. In addition welfare recipients are rejecting CUNY because of workfare.

The standards are being raised by demanding more testing. In our school, I am the English test coordinator. It is a nightmare. We don't have enough proctors for the tests we have to give. We don't have enough graders for all of the tests. As we increase the requirements we have not provided for the instructional time. We have to loose the belt of the fat man as he continues to gorge at the table. Already there is a scent of unrest in unions. Time will tell.

Upon some lists I read messages from teachers speaking of how each state, municipality, district, county is taking on this subject of standards. I just don't think this Summit and its issuance of standards is going to have as an important of an impact as "The Nation of Risk" had.

Let me know what I can do.


Ted 8-)


To which Ted added on 6/4/96...

I neglected to detail the nightmare.

It is a nightmare because we give more tests to more students in less time now then ten years ago. Once when we administered a Regents or RCT to one grade we now administer it to the whole school. Once when it was rare for a studnet to have two tests on one day, that has become common, 47% of our school has two tests on one day and many have two tests being given at the same time creating conflicts. 25% of our students are in triple conflict. And we have lost one test day over those same ten years. So we have seen a Regents board demand more tests to more students in less time. This is the same scenerio I see for the standards about to be hurled at us. More productivity with fewer resources.

Would you want NYTimes links to articles related to our topic for hypertext linking?



Ted 8-)


To which Nick replied...

To Nick from Ted
To Ted from Nick
Introductory Node