Thursday, August 19, 2010

Analogize This

I disagree with the "factory model" of education: the idea that students are a "product" and that schools are responsible for "quality control." On the surface, it sounds somewhat reasonable, but the analogy quickly breaks down. Here is a more accurate analogy to consider:

I have hired you to teach 30 children how to ride a bicycle. You will have 50 minutes, 5 days per week, to hold your class. You may, however, offer extra help on your own time. You may not require your students to attend. There will be no additional pay for this time. You will have 180 non-consecutive days to teach every child how to ride. The children will be tested at the end of that time. I will not tell you every skill that will be required on the test.

Your success as a teacher will be determined by your children's performance. Your continued employment, and perhaps your pay, may depend on these results. If 100% of your children do not pass, you will be required to improve annually until this goal is reached. If, at any time, your children do not meet or exceed the previous year's passing rate, you have failed.

Let's meet your class:

You have 30 students. You may exempt one from taking the test.

Two students do not own a bicycle.

Two students own bicycles that are in poor condition.

Two students own bicycles that are the wrong size.

Four students do not have a safe place to ride other than school.

Five students are largely unsupervised after school.

Two students have marginal intelligence.

One student is missing a leg.

Two students do not speak fluent English.

Two students are regularly abused.

Six students live with only one parent.

One student lives in a shelter.

Three students live below the poverty line.

One student will be absent over 40 times.

Two students do not want to learn how to ride a bicycle.

Two students need, but do not have, glasses.

One student has a morbid fear of bicycles.

Three students already ride proficiently.

This adds up to more than 30. Some students fit more than one category. Some students are not included in any of these categories. If you think my example is extreme, you have not been in a public school recently. I could have made it far more extreme and still been within the bounds of reality. Drugs, alcohol, gangs, pregnancies and more: all real issues I didn't even touch.

What other factors might affect a student's readiness to learn?

Think about it. How do you think you'd do with this class? How would you approach it? What would be a fair way to measure the effectiveness of your teaching? In what ways are you or are you not responsible for the outcome? What should be considered "success?"

Now, imagine you have 5 classes like this to teach.

Now, imagine you are teaching Algebra.

Question: Has this example affected the way you think about education reform? Discuss.

Very Truly Yours,




Suldog said...

It is always preferable to have analogies come from those who have been there and done that! As usual, you bring sanity to an insane discussion.

You can no more trust standardized testing to receive a true picture of effectiveness (by reading the results and not delving behind the numbers) than you can read about someone batting .400 in baseball and just take it as gospel that the person is a great hitter. Did the hitter do it against 60 mph Little League pitching or against Major League fastballs, sliders, and curves? How big of a sample are we talking about - full season or 5 at-bats? Anyway, point taken.

James said...

Excellent examples and writing here. I come from a family of teachers and it seems that as the parents become less involved, the teachers are expected to achieve more, with that twain not meeting.


Don't even get me started on Corporate (Charter) Schools, please.

lime said...

now imagine you are the certified special ed. bicycle riding teacher and each of your students has an IEP outlining their bicycle riding goals and objectives and you are held legally liable to reach those goals or the school can be sued if you don't. imagine having to outline in depth how you intend to teach each of your students and document all your efforts. imagine you have students with all the issues you've listed. imagine you have ones who rarely make it to school and move to you from a school which had no bicycle riding classes but you are expected to have a one legged student who can't comprehend your instruction and has never even seen a bicycle riding one like lance armstrong in less than a school year.

yeah, that's why i am a chiropractic assistant instead of using my special ed degree.