Most people are quite familiar with the concept of factory production. Let’s use muffins as an example.
Blueberries + batter= muffins. Easy…piece of cake! Factories turn out thousands of muffins, millions of muffins.
Of course the blueberries must be uniform in size. The batter must be mixed to exact specifications. The mix must be put into little forms and baked just the right amount of time. But it can be done. And it can be done just as well by one factory as another, providing they use the same blueberries and the same batter recipe. It can be done in Ohio just as well as in Florida. And it can be done year after year with the same results.
There are people in Washington, D.C., in Oklahoma City, and perhaps in your home town who think we can do the same thing with children.
Child + teaching= graduate. Easy…piece of cake! Schools turn out thousands of graduates, millions of graduates.
Only one minor problem with that otherwise perfect theory. It’s baloney. That’s a scientific term imparted by my grandmother that means it might look like meat, and it might taste good, but it’s still a cheap imitation of what you really want…which is steak.
Let’s be honest for once and admit that our goal in education is a college graduate with a PhD in something that will employ him and reward him for the rest of his life. He will be a productive member of society, contribute something worthwhile to the world, and in the meantime not cause us any trouble (crime, welfare, mental illness, etc.) doing it. He will also be kind, honest, hard-working, sociable, and perhaps even creative and entertaining- all because he is a product of a great education!
So that’s the steak. Let’s go back to the bologna for a minute. Or maybe we should return to those lovely blueberries.
Blueberries are the perfect little factory fruit. Uniform size, flavor, color, taste. Thanks to modern farming and harvesting you hardly ever see blueberries that don’t look just like their brothers and sisters and cousins and friends. But even if they are too big or too little to go to the muffin factory they can still be used for juice or jam.
You just can’t make children fit that same scenario. They aren’t blueberries; they’re more like apples and oranges, peaches and pears. All fruits. All from trees. All basically round. But oh, my! The differences after that….
Yesterday I sat down with the results from our recent DIBELS testing. That’s Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Learning Skills for those of you not in education. It’s a “set of assessments used for universal screening and progress monitoring in grades K-6. They are standardized, efficient, and extensively researched. They help educators identify students who may need additional literacy instruction in order to become proficient readers.” I would agree. And other than the three major problems I have with DIBELS, I’m perfectly agreeable to using the results to assess the reading progress of my students. After all, if the whole K-6 is taking the same test, then regardless of its flaws, the results provide some useful comparisons.
Well, here’s a useful comparison for my class: there is a 190 point difference between my lowest and highest students. I’ll just wait a few minutes while that sinks in and you think about the implications of those results.
Everyone has been in my room for about 100 days. (Other than the recent flu epidemic we have had 100% attendance most days.)
I have only been absent a couple of days, so all of my students have had the same teacher.
I’ve been teaching in public school for thirteen years and in pre-K before that for about ten years. I kinda know what I’m doing.
We have a great curriculum, plenty of supplies, resources, experts in special education, and a good administration.
So why don’t I have more consistent test results? Why can’t I produce a more uniform product?
Apples and oranges my friends.
I spent twelve years participating in physical education. I learned to run, skip, hop, climb a rope, and jump over a sand pit. I learned to play volleyball, tennis, basketball, and softball. I even took swimming lessons sponsored by our school. But I never became an athlete. The best program and the best coach in the world could not have made me into an athlete!
But I could read long before I graduated from kindergarten. Reading was easy for me. It was magical. It was exciting. I knew that reading was the key to entertainment and enlightenment. And I could never understand why my classmates struggled with something so simple.
Now, as a teacher I have to figure out why some of my students struggle with something their peers find so simple. I have to find a way to intervene and provide them with additional instruction, individual tutoring, or a different approach that might help them become “proficient” readers. But I know that despite my best efforts some simply won’t be able to do that, any more than I could become an athlete.
But don’t think I’ll ever stop trying. I know that some of the students in the middle and even at the bottom of that curve will become “sufficient” readers and good students and eventually graduate because of attitude, motivation, hard work, and determination. Some of the most gifted students will become dropouts. Yet another flaw in the product theory. There are so many emotional, cultural, and environmental differences in students as to make the possible variables beyond calculation.
Apples and oranges, peaches and pears…