If you blame teachers because some kids can’t read then you are a dunce.

Conservative criticisms of Wisconsin school teachers based upon state reading scores are  completely off base and only help to underscore the growing Republican indifference to anyone other than the privileged classes.

Even though Wisconsin is above the national norm, when only 34% of students are reading at  or above the level of proficiency, there is some cause for alarm. But the worry should not be over whether the teachers are doing their jobs.  On the contrary, the numbers point out that, when all factors are taken into consideration,  the teachers are doing the best they can with who and what they have to work with and under adverse circumstances that are the result of many in our nation’s upper classes ignoring the plight of the poor.

In my home state, Maryland, our scores are not that much different from Wisconsin’s.  But there is a huge disparity among the school districts.  I happen to be ‘fortunate’ enough to live in Howard County, one of the top 5 wealthiest counties in the United States.  (Don’t get the wrong idea, I’m just a chauffeur and live above the master’s garage.)  Our eighth grade students typically score in the 90th percentile.

But in Baltimore City and certain other urban areas, the students score much, much lower. Same state curriculum guidelines, same teacher pool (Baltimore actually offers higher salaries because they find it is a pretty tough teaching gig) and the same teacher unions. Different demographics, different environments, different levels of crime and safety, different class sizes, different family structures.  Different scores.

So, it’s not necessarily about instruction, it’s about social and economic inequality. It’s about school districts where many of the students come from broken, dysfunctional and impoverished homes and others are recent immigrants that have difficulties speaking English versus schools where the students drive  Accuras and BMWs  and have wealthy parent who help them with homework and maybe even pay for tutors. Which kids do you think would likely score higher?  Which teachers have the tougher job?  Which kids are more likely be successful in this world and have children of their own with similar promise?

Not that these scores are altogether that accurate nor is standardized testing the right way to go, but scores across the country have gone up. Every state has some version of the High School Assessments, which every Maryland student is required to pass to graduate.  Wisconsin has a very similar set of assessments.  I’ve taken a few of these sample tests,  and though I’m no dunce, I found them  very challenging

I’ll bet that most of these critical Tea Party folks, especially Beck, Limbaugh and Palin, would have a hard time passing these tests, if they could at all.  Though they might  be able to handle the Wisconsin eighth grade reading test OK,  I wonder if they could earn a ‘proficient’ on the highs school version. From what I’ve seen and heard, reading is not high on their list of priorities.


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  1. #1 by logiopath on March 5, 2011 - 12:24 am

    Chris, for once I think we agree. My explanation is a bit complicated, but let me explain. For some reason, the cultural schema of some among urban dwellers (as well as some in rural areas as well) is seen as lesser in value than those of the middle and upper classes. When they come to school, they enter a world that values typical “middle-class values,” and the curriculum they must learn is based on a different language, so to speak (the same goes for ESL instruction, as well).

    School leaders need to take an honest look at four possible threads: 1) Teach the “out” children the dominant schema before entering school (like an advanced Head Start program); 2) Teach the “out” children in THEIR cultural schema–in the same way that instruction in a child’s native language has been shown more effective than English only instruction; or 3) Find a mediating position, like an immersion program for language instruction, and have children from both cultures learn together.

    Another approach is a bit more eugenic in nature, but was suggested even by mayor Tom Bradley of Los Angeles: remove children from urban areas, and educate them in boarding schools. The problem with this is that it is extremely elitist, and smells of the Indian schools of the past two centuries.

    A good book to read on this subject is Ways With Words by Shirley Brice Heath. She spent ten years living among families in a textile mill town in the upper south (like Danville, VA or Gastonia, NC–she does not name the location). She examined three communities: lower class white, lower class black, and middle class “townspeople,” who lived in the small city. The difference in the groups had more to do with class than race, and how each group valued the available education. Of course, the lower class blacks fared worse in school. The lower class whites were a little stronger, being more likely to graduate high school. However, both classes were about equal as the children entered the mill. The middle class did the best, of course.

    How do I evaluate this? The schools were best tuned to the mileu of the middle class Townspeople, both black and white. The other classes simply did not have the perceived need for formal education. However, maybe they WOULD have if the system was not so skewed towards the middle class worldview.

    So, maybe it is time education decision makers stopped looking at how “bad” the situation is in the cities, and start looking at ways to change the curriculum to meet the community needs of urban children. Education is education–and knowledge is knowledge. Maybe we would be a richer society, in general, if we would come off this Pax Americana curriculum and started seeing things through other eyes.

    Just a thought.

  2. #2 by logiopath on March 5, 2011 - 10:51 pm

    Okay–all of this has to do with schemas, and instructing into the schemas of a child’s mind. Children no longer learn as fast because of the schema of computers–and paper and pencil learning does not reach the mind of most kids.

    Please leave this one, please, my ego is damaged when you delete my comments.

    • #3 by Christian Beyer on March 9, 2011 - 10:46 am

      And a good thought. Very interesting and it makes a hell of a lot of sense.

  3. #4 by logiopath on March 9, 2011 - 8:53 pm

    Oh, how you indulge my fragile ego!

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