Monthly Archives: September 2011

yada, yada, yada: more data and school reform

Below is a slightly longer version of my letter to the Denver Post that appeared this month. I wrote it in response to a guest commentary written by Mark Fermanich, who argued, among other things, that rather than more funding, schools need more data and more training in data analysis in order to improve. Not so according to most teachers I know, so here’s my response:

Years ago, Seinfeld gave us the phrase “yada, yada, yada” to indicate inconsequential blather. Today’s schools could easily substitute the phrase “data, data, data” much to the same effect. Contrary to Mark Fermanich’s recent column claiming that schools don’t do much with data, teachers are awash in it, CSAP data, mostly. This data is used to reduce, rate, and sort, that is to express in numerical terms students’ proficiency at doing something, even complex processes that involve no numbers at all, like reading and writing.

 Data is also used to determine grades schools should get on the state’s annual report cards, and then to compare those schools with the most resources to those with the least, all to perpetuate the illusion that students are on a level playing ground. Now with the passage of SB191, even teachers’ job security will be correlated to student test scores.    

 Generating and analyzing all this data imposes enormous costs on students and teachers in terms of time and energy and on the state in terms of money. Imagine what might happen if even a fraction of the resources spent on the back end of schooling—assessment—were reallocated to the front end of schooling—the improvement of teaching and learning.

 I’m not arguing that we shouldn’t hold schools accountable for student learning. Of course we should, and test data is one way to do that. But we should also devote resources to creating high-quality instructional materials, enhancing learning experiences for kids, and providing worthwhile professional development for teachers.

 If we used our education dollars for that, all the data, data, data would take care of itself.




My interview on NWP Radio

So, this was pretty cool.

A couple of weeks ago I got to participate in the harrowing experience of live radio and talk about Tough Talk, Tough Texts in the context of what teachers can do to support kids as they talk about difficult subjects, like 9/11. Here’s what the episode was about according to the NWP Radio site:

September 11th, 2011, marks the 10th anniversary of the devastating attack on the World Trade Center. How is this subject being surfaced, taught, and talked about in classrooms? What critical literacy practices support students in finding a voice as they navigate the complexities of challenging topics, such as 9/11? Tune in to NWP Radio to hear an array of perspectives from NWP teachers and colleagues such as Holly Epstein Ojalvo, editor of the New York Times Learning Network, and Jennifer Lemberg of the Holocaust Educators Network.

The other “NWP teachers and colleagues” featured were Corey Harbaugh from the Third Coast Writing Project and me from the CSU Writing Project. (Jennifer is also a TC for the NYC Writing Project.)

I learned a ton from my fellow guests. Listen in and tell me what you think.

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