The Reflective Educator

Education ∪ Math ∪ Technology

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Day: January 24, 2011

Retaining students? Not a good idea.

We had a silly ceremony when I was in first grade. It was called "the first grade graduation ceremony." We all stood around and our families all came out and we celebrated our graduation from first grade. We were even given little certificates to hold onto to remind us of the experience. I have no idea if my mom still has mine, but I doubt it.

We stood in line and each name, except one, was called. I still remember the look on my friend’s face when his name wasn’t called. When they should have called his name, he twitched a little, like he was expecting to be called. His face changed and a look I had never seen before on another person’s face came over him. That look on his face told me that he understood what had happened and felt a deep sense of shame he didn’t know how to handle. I didn’t know what it meant then, but later in life, I learned it well (but that’s another story).

When I think of that moment, I have a weird discomfort that follows and I remember thinking at the time, why isn’t he graduating? My friend wasn’t graduating because he’d been retained. He’d been held back another year. He had attempted first grade, and been found wanting.

The fact that I still remember this moment, from nearly 30 years ago so vividly should tell you something. The moments that we think kids will get over and forget about are actually the ones that kids remember most. If it would be a painful memorable experience for an adult, it’s a painful memorable experience for a kid. We can’t absolve ourselves of guilt simply by thinking that we aren’t doing permenant harm to these children. We are.

The research on retention, as I understand it, is quite clear. "[T]he cumulative evidence does not support the use of grade retention as an intervention for academic achievement."

If grade retention is so bad, why are schools still doing it? Doesn’t anyone read education research before they enact these kinds of policies in schools?

Improvement, not Innovation, is the Key to Greater Equity

Here is an excellent presentation by Ben Levin.

Improvement, Not Innovation, is the Key to Greater Equity from CEA ACE on Vimeo.

Here’s a great quote from his presentation. "How many of you have been involved in a pilot project? Okay almost all of us… How many of those pilot projects are still in operation? Virtually none of them…" In other words, schools have been spending too much time on innovation and not enough time implementing strategies which are known to work.

His observation that we have cycled through many times in education in innovation. Here’s a picture of what I think he means.

According to Ben Levin, we should "take what we know to be effective practices and ensure that these practices are used in every classroom…We could go into school after school after school and look for the practices we know that work, and not see them being used." I’m not sure that I want every classroom be identical, but maybe he is right, there should be more similarity. If something is known to work, and it works in every context it is used, then it should be used in every context, in every classroom.

I like what he has to say, but I’m going to push back a little. Obviously not every single new school program has died, maybe only most of them. However some of them have thrived and expanded and turned into things schools just do. We need a balance between what we know works, and a small number of educators pushing at the boundaries of what we know.

To do this, we need to become better at sharing, and we need to break down the barriers we place between schools. We need to find ways to allow educators to move more freely between schools and thus share their expertise. You can talk all you want about a good practice in education, but these things are complicated, and unless I see it in action, I’m not likely to implement it. We need more sharing of what we already know.

 

Clark Kent or Superman? Why you should blog

Blogging is like becoming a super-hero. It is a costume you wear and while you are in this costume you can say almost anything and speak your thoughts in ways you would never do while at work. You can choose a pseudonym, design the appearance of your costume, and feel like you have a kind of imperviousness if you choose anonymity. Even normally mild-mannered people can have their ferocious opinions shared and scrutinized.

You are a superhero while you blog because you give a voice to ideas that would otherwise remain trapped in your head, and through the proliferation of ideas will eventually come about the change our society so desperately seeks. In some areas of the world, just having a blog is considered a an act of heroism as the state seeks to control the minds of its citizens. When you blog, you become larger than yourself. You become a symbol of a movement, and a leader. You become a risk-taker and an adventurer.

When you go to work, of course, you shed this costume and become like Clark Kent. While secreting recognizing the inadequacies of the system, you follow orders and act meek to preserve your job and your public identity. You might have some small acts of rebellion, but by and large, you follow orders and lay low. Inside you might be a super-hero, but to everyone else you are merely ordinary. No one blames you for being Clark Kent at work.

There are many of us who have yet to done our costumes and join in sharing our thoughts. We could use more super-heroes! We need a stronger voice in the blogging community. Become a super-hero today, and start a blog. We need your voice.