A May 9th post entitled “Setting high standards, and sticking to them” by Maine Commissioner of Education Stephen Bowen at the Maine Department of Education Newsroom prompted me to reply there. However, the webpage advises: LEAVE A REPLY WITH YOUR COMMENTS. WE’LL SHARE THEM IN FUTURE POSTS. Not being content with that, I’m using my own virtual space to post the thoughts I did there:
It is worrisome that Mr. Bowen and the Maine DoE continue to recite the tired old adage, “.. students [shouldn’t be] considered proficient in English simply because they’ve sat through four years of high school English classes.”
• “Proficiency” is too high a standard. Very few people in any field are experts at it. Why we would expect students to master every possible subject has not been explained.
• Proficiency based on 4 years of “sitting in a classroom”. I would hope you would be thinking more highly of Maine’s teachers than that. No teacher gives a passing grade to a student who has merely SAT in the classroom. Teachers provide lessons, instruction, assessments, tutoring, strategies, opportunities for collaborative learning and more. If a student does not achieve at least some demonstrable amount of learning, s/he is not passed on to the next grade or class. There are occasional instances of principals and/or superintendents who override a teacher’s grade for any of a variety of reasons, but they are few and far between.
Standards-based learning sounds wonderful. But I have not yet seen an example of it working in a comprehensive, statewide public education system. I hope Maine does not go down the road of implementing an unproven strategy before it is ready.”
The Maine DoE News later tweeted “Nice explainer about proficiency-based (aka standards-based) diploma from our partners @newenglandssc http://bit.ly/lzofkT“. The referenced document is a one-page hand-out from the New England Secondary School Consortium which creates the impression that most teaching and learning is purely linear, rather than random, networked, messy and subjective. Mr. Bowen’s own post explains that in a standards-based system, “…students would only advance to the next level once they’ve met the standard, or demonstrated they’re proficient in a particular skill.”
Whether or not Maine implements a standards-based diploma in the near future (the idea has been around since 1997 when the Learning Results were first published), my primary concern with Mr. Bowen’s comments has to do with this idea that all kids just sit through classes (doing their nails? sleeping? tweeting?), get promoted and graduate from high school – without putting in a lick of work or learning a darned thing. It’s not true.
Yes, I’m sure a few students manage to get through school without doing a whole lot of anything. Almost every teacher can tell you a story about the kid whose parents complained about the work being too hard and how poor Johnny can’t get a fair shake from bad old Mr./Ms. WhatsIt and so the principal sighs, “Just give him a 70 and let’s move on”.
Many teachers will also have tales of students who couldn’t put together a grammatically-correct sentence while in the classroom but miraculously produce 25-page research papers of such depth and scope as to take your breath away when at home (where Mom and Dad just happen to be). But those cases are unusual (I hope).
The reality is that most teachers work very hard to engage their students every day for 175 (or more) days per year. Most students respect those teachers and also put in a full year’s work to learn what’s important. Yes, they get grades. Yes, they get a credit for the class. But to say that they aren’t proficient (or, preferably, competent) because of that is detrimental and demeaning to the Maine public education system for which Mr. Bowen is now responsible.