Sunday, January 28, 2007

Dissent Is Not Whining

I think Dan Meyer's anti-anti-NCLB post reflects his experience as a young suburban(? "outside Santa Cruz?") high school math teacher. While there is ample debate over how to define the discipline of mathematics, how it should be taught and assessed, etc., the idea that one's Geometry students (for example) might be required to take a Geometry test written by the state at the end of the course is not that shocking. A teacher who had the basic raw materials: students with a reasonable amount of background knowledge, appropriate instructional materials, a curriculum aligned with the test, etc., but objected to being held accountable for his students' performance could look like a "whiner" in this case. My observation has been that math teachers are the least likely to complain about NCLB. It just fits the way their discipline is generally taught.

On the other hand, there are few NCLB tests that English teachers feel adequately sum up what a student should know and be able to do in the discipline of English. And teachers of other subjects are both unhappy with the de-emphasis of their disciplines and fearful of changes that would be caused by being included in its testing regimen.

So in Dan's experience as a math teacher, his practice is less affected by NCLB than it would be in other subjects, and he can be more sangine about its implications. Still, it is hard to reconcile his obvious pleasure in creating his own lessons and techniques with his dismissal of other teachers' unhappiness about their own loss of autonomy:

You guys complain that NCLB forces you to drill-and-kill your students, that it sucks the life out of learning, that you’ve had to abandon your best lessons, and that it stifles your creativity.

Does Dan think this can't happen to him, that his 500+ Keynote slides can't be swept away by the stroke of an administrative pen? The fact is, it probably won't happen to him, because again, high school teachers are relatively insulated from this phenomenon, compared to elementary teachers. But if it did happen, it wouldn't be because his methods had failed, but because of the scores of the school or district as a whole. His methods might have been succeeding, but they'd be swept away like those of his whiny, lazy, slacker colleagues.

Also, regarding The Wire, I haven't seen the fourth season yet, but I don't think Dan appreciates the extent to which the dehumanizing effect of simplistic quantitative analysis ("gotta get that clearance rate up!") is a persistent theme throughout that series. There is no way they'd be anything but anti-NCLB.


Dan Meyer said...

Yikes. Young? Suburban? Highschool? And Math?

Guess I should be grateful for that fourth strike.

Dan Meyer said...

Er, heh. Here I am belatedly declaring a New Year's resolution to be less sarcastic around the blog'sphere and in life.

You write me off pretty solid in that first paragraph, Tom, but I appreciate the link.

My current situation doesn't do my credibility any favors but the fact of it is that I spent my first three years teaching Title I in an extremely heterogeneous, poor environment. My post on NCLB needs to stand apart from my "bona fides" however. This is either true or it isn't.

So, speaking unsarcastically now, you do me dirty on all but one account. (I don't understand how to take "young" as anything but offensive or irrelevant, but perhaps that's youth for you.) And that's the math teacher business.

Which is probably fair. I won't know just how fair until I crack open the Lang. Arts released questions and ask around the English dept. Which is going to happen soon, promise. Regards.