Jun 17 2013

Wisdom from a 2012 CM “it doesn’t matter what their scores are”

Throughout my teaching career, one thing has remained constant: what I’m trying to accomplish.  Back in the early 1990s there was no focus on test scores, thankfully.  My goal back then, as it is now, was for my students to like math more when they complete my class than they did when they began the class.  This is something that is tough to quantify, and it is something that, if I accomplish it, will often, but not always, result in improved test scores since when students like math they will more likely want to spend time studying it outside of class.

In 2008, TFA celebrity and StudentsFirst founder Michelle Rhee had this to say in an influential TIME magazine feature:

“The thing that kills me about education is that it’s so touchy-feely,” she tells me one afternoon in her office. Then she raises her chin and does what I come to recognize as her standard imitation of people she doesn’t respect…. “People say, ‘Well, you know, test scores don’t take into account creativity and the love of learning,’” she says with a drippy, grating voice, lowering her eyelids halfway. Then she snaps back to herself. “I’m like, ‘You know what? I don’t give a crap.’ Don’t get me wrong. Creativity is good and whatever. But if the children don’t know how to read, I don’t care how creative you are. You’re not doing your job.”

Over the years TFA has become all about ‘data’ and TFA alumni became education ‘reform’ leaders who also stressed the importance of ‘outcomes’ like test scores and test score ‘gains.’  So I was pleased to see in a recent Pass The Chalk post where ‘reform’ hero, TFA board member, and Grammy award winning singer John Legend interviewed a 2012 TFA corps member, John Choi, who has just completed his first year.

Here is a quote from Mr. Choi:

“My vision has come a long way from just focusing on data. My number one goal is to inspire students to want to learn the material. Everything else just follows from that. At the end of the year it doesn’t matter what their scores are—but if I can see passion in the subject I would have succeeded in the classroom.”

Good for Mr. Choi.  I hope we hear more like this from TFA.

13 Responses

  1. Educator

    I wonder if Rhee thinks that she should be held accountable for potential cheating under her watch as Chancellor of the DC schools, and leaving the schools there in worse shape than when she began?

    See PBS reporter John Merrow’s investigation –
    http://takingnote.learningmatters.tv/?p=6232

    I bring this up again because there was a lot of non quantifiable destruction that happened in the DC school system and in the community there. Even if test scores increased, at what cost was this? Should we care? What happens if test scores increased but every child in that city grew a deep hatred of learning and school because the schools focused so much on one thing?

    Same goes for teaching – if all we care about are higher PISA/TIMMS/SAT scores, then fine…let’s all focus on increasing our PISA/TIMMS/SAT scores so that we beat other nations’ PISA/TIMMS/SAT scores. But I’d ask, at what cost? There’s a cost to making one measure (PISA/TIMMS/SAT) so important and so high stakes that it will eventualy cost us as a society.

  2. Michael Fiorillo

    “Creativity is good and whatever.”

    Yes, Michelle, whatever.

    • KitchenSink

      Love your relentlessness, Michael Fiorillo.

      • Michael Fiorillo

        Well, she’s relentless in trying to take food off my and my colleagues’ tables, so at least we can return the compliment.

  3. PissedOffElementaryTeacher

    The only creativity Michelle Rhee has shown is in her ability to lie and/or twist the truth. No wonder she doesn’t value it.

  4. 4equity2

    Great post. I teach tough kids. Most have determined two things about themselves by the time they get to me:
    1. They’re no good at math.
    2. They hate math

    My greatest challenge is to change their minds about math and to see themselves as mathematicians.
    This requires that I not only offer meaningful instruction, but that I develop a relationship with them. If they are initially motivated to do anything because they want to please me – I’m fine with that. As long as they learn and begin to find pleasure and pride in that accomplishment. The learning becomes its own reward in time.

    How do you measure that?

  5. RunOn

    Choi is not some anomaly in TFA. We can act like TFA is just one person. But its not. Its thousands and there are thousands of different experiences and opinions. I think if there were a survey conducted, Rhee would be the anomaly.

  6. Michael Fiorillo

    Gary, I’m not sure how else to contact you, but wanted to send along this blog post.

    This site mostly focuses on finance and economics, but I thought you might find this post interesting.

    mathbabe.org/2013/06/19/why-education-isn’t-like-sports/

  7. The interesting thing is that testing, “Value-added” teacher ratings, and firing-to-get-quality, have hammered student achievement in reading.

    So, now kids can’t read, AND they don’t have any touchy-feely, so they hate school more.

  8. gkm001

    The other interesting thing is that the wealthier the community a public school serves, the more “touchy-feely” its philosophy is likely to be, and the more teachers you will find who describe themselves openly as constructivists or as progressive educators. The parents in wealthy districts expect their children to grow up to be leaders, inventors, problem-solvers, critical thinkers, active citizens, and lifelong learners, so they value creativity, in their children and in their children’s teachers.

    And, of course, they expect their children to learn to read. It’s not as though creativity and literacy are mutually exclusive. You can have and value both.

    • Woefully Underpaid

      This. Absolutely. Yes.

  9. James

    Wow! If that CM uttered those words at Institute, he would be taken aside for a serious ‘mindset chat’ faster than Michelle Rhee can say ‘you’re fired’.

About this Blog

By a somewhat frustrated 1991 alum


Subscribe to this blog (feed)


Subscribe via RSS

”subscribe

Reluctant Disciplinarian on Amazon

Beyond Survival On Amazon

RSS Feed

Subscribe