Monday, October 26, 2009

Fixing Harvard’s Gaffes

According to the MCPS gifted and talented screening data, in 2006-2007, schools identified a minimum of 16.7% of their second graders as "gifted and talented." While the exact formula by which a student is "identified" remains undisclosed, the data in the report shows that the number identified can go as high as 86.5%. About 86 schools identified 50% or more of their second graders as GT (out of about 115 schools for which GT identification figures were released).
Marty Creel, Director, DEIP, who leads the MCPS GT program, is quoted as saying, "We're not identifying these kids as geniuses, but as ready to work above grade level," adding "the county has made remarkable progress in getting students to that mark."
Taking Mr. Creel's pronouncement for granted, we must accept that the system is claiming that ~75% of their schools have 50% or more second graders "ready to work above grade level." Obviously, the grade level curriculum is not sufficiently rigorous, at least for our second graders.
Childress, et al., on page 134, of Leading for Equity, claim "Effective differentiation of instruction requires diagnosing student needs, developing potential solutions, putting them into practice, and reflecting on their effectiveness. This is a professional endeavor, not a technical task. The strategy of differentiation respects and elevates teachers' roles as critical to the learning of all of their students."
Before we begin to elevate "differentiation" as an effective teaching practice, shouldn't a competent "diagnosis" of "student needs," have led the charge for a recalibration of the curriculum? Childress et al., continue in the same paragraph, "As we saw in several instances earlier in the book, principals used a variety of tactics to accelerate the learning of African American and Hispanic students, including abolishing on-grade-level courses and putting data in students' hands." Isn't the data pointing to the reality that "on-grade-level" courses at all schools are failing to meet the academic needs of our students?
As, for "putting data in students' hands," how does that happen?
Childress, et al., insist that "In the end, the strategy in MCPS was based on the assumption that every single child is capable of meeting rigorous standards, but each child starts from a different place." If true, why doesn't the book advocate for tougher standards?
Since "every single child is capable of meeting rigorous standards," and most of our second graders are capable of performing "above grade level," the failure to provide a curriculum recalibrated to student abilities is a serious problem.
Harvard, if it has a genuine desire to promote leadership and excellence in public education, needs to establish an independent, peer-reviewed means of assessing the progress of participants in its PELP program.
Harvard needs to retain an independent accounting firm, with no ties to Montgomery County, to perform an audit of school expenditures before claiming "Money has been important to the success in Montgomery County, and it is true that the district is well resourced. But according to the National Center for Education Statistics, at $12,000 per student in 2005, MCPS was in the same range as many other large East Coast districts with similar cost structures, such as Washington, D.C. ($13,000), and New York City ($13,500), and much lower than Boston ($16,000) and Newark, New Jersey ($20,000). These urban districts have much higher percentages of minority and low-income students than Montgomery County overall but are very similar to some of the schools we saw in the Red Zone." Incidentally, the numbers are for 2005 and recent figures are available. The comparison fails to state how the expenditures in other school systems were distributed. For example, do the other school systems support a multi-million dollar PR division? How much do the other systems pay their administrators?
Harvard also needs to undertake an independent assessment of MCPS performance data before claiming any success or failure on the part of our school system.
Any bona fide academic institution is aware that research papers must undergo a stringent per-review process before being accepted for publication in respected scholarly journals. The process often results in several revisions and re-revisions of the paper. The Harvard PELP needs to embrace that paradigm before making any claims about any school system participating in the project. Absent such a process, Harvard's PELP is simply a part of the school system's PR machine, albeit with a mightier printing press.

1 comment:

  1. Is Harvard's Childress aware of the recent Office of Shared Accountability report on the closing of the secondary learning centers that said "DIFFERENTIATION DOESN'T HAPPEN" in the classrooms that they dumped the special needs kids into? Maybe the Harvard Public Education Leadership Project can explain where the "Leadership" is when MSA scores for students with disabilities tank because teachers just are not able to differentiate for a classroom of thirty kids with performance levels that can span six grade levels.

    One size doesn't fit all...and to think that teachers can accommodate profoundly gifted, above grade level, grade level, and more than 2 years below grade level ALL IN THE SAME CLASSROOM is just not reasonable.

    Where is any mention of students with disabilities in the Harvard book?


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