Saturday, August 29, 2009

NCLB and Teaching to the Test ?

The following is a comment from my AYP Top 10 Post. I thought it deserved more attention so I brought it to the top.
"Here's a good take on one reason why I think NCLB is deeply flawed. Yes, it is capable of boosting scores (and according to some, achievement) among the low average and average learners. But the high achievers are not coming close to their potential as they tread water in a teach-to-the-test environment. Your thoughts?" Anonymous

NY Times - Smart Child Left Behind

"So what does all of this mean? It is clear that No Child Left Behind is helping low-achieving students. But it is also obvious that high-achieving students — who suffer from benign neglect under the law — have been making smaller gains, much as they did before it was enacted. Alas, this drug is producing no miracles." NY Times article

From my reading of this, NCLB has made significant gains for the "unlucky" students and had no reported negative ramifications on the "lucky". Since the lucky student improvement has continued at the previous rate. Pretty impressive to make these gains and close the gap by a grade without negatively impacting the high achievers. I saw this article as good news and am relieved.

Just a thought on knowledge gain growth rate for the high achievers. If Bobby is scoring 96% on his capability tests whereas Jimmy is scoring 45%, we would expect a much larger growth rate for Jimmy if an equal investment was made in their training. And Bobby's rate would be lower. (ie perfection is really hard...)

An interesting twist on this, if only 90% is needed to be extremely successful in society, then investing any more into Bobby would actually be a waste of public education funding. The "Outliers" book will help you understand the importance of "smart or good" enough.

Now folks, help me understand the working definition of "teach to the test environment"? And how you believe NCLB/AYP mandates a teaching method/environment?

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

RAS Community - Doing Whatever It Takes ?

This will be your homework post. Please review the linked content and reply with your thoughts regarding if teaching Early Childhood Education, Parent Education and Emotional Intelligence at and before school is:

  1. an excellent use of tax dollars and long over due
  2. another expensive, wasteful, touchy/feely fad, etc...
  3. a government plot by the Democrats to brainwash the kids

I'll give you a hint as to my position. My sensitive and liberal side is showing again, and I think Geoffrey Canada and Dan Goleman have the solution to our challenges ... Now as a community, do we have the stomach and passion to implement them.

In case you like to read more, here are the books with more detail:

The Quarterly Request

Please tell your friends about Give2Attain
and get them reading/commenting
regarding our community issues!!!
Email them the address right now !!!
No, don't wait. Do it right now !!!
Now seriously... In the last 30 days I have had 100 visitors, 436 visits and 770 page views. Which is great !!!!
However with ~70,000 voters, ~18,000 parents and
12,000+ students in the RAS area, I think there is a great
deal of room for improvement and involvement.
Let's get them involved!!!
Thanks in advance !!! John

Monday, August 24, 2009

RAS Board and my BGO

Well folks, I am aware that I write with quite a bit of confidence in my own beliefs and that this may lead folks to believe I am arrogant, not listening or not thinking. The reality is that though I go public with my current beliefs and thoughts, I am constantly re-evaluating my paradigms, perceptions and beliefs.

The following is an example of a personal paradigm that was recently changed. One of my Professors had referred to this as a "BGO". This is when you feel you thoroughly understand/believe something, or you just can't grasp a concept no matter how you try. Then something small happens and you receive a "Brilliant Glimpse of the Obvious". After this you have a paradigm shift and things just make sense.

For as long as I have been paying attention, I have operated under a belief that:
The Robbinsdale Area School Board was the voice of citizens with regard to schools within the RAS boundaries. This meant that their first priority was helping to ensure the citizen's money was well spent to ensure the community's students were given excellent learning opportunities.

The following article helped me to understand that I was operating under an incorrect paradigm. My new belief is that:
The Robbinsdale Area School Board is the voice of citizens with regard to District 281 schools. This means that their first priority is maximizing District 281 revenues in order to provide District 281 students excellent learning opportunities.
Now I disagree with these goals, roles and responsibilities since our district is so complex, however I assume this is what they are supposed to be doing based on their defined Board mission.

I still believe that the community tax payers spent money to build the Pilgrim Lane Elementary School to be a community school. The reality is that RAS chose to stop using it, and another school wants or wanted to buy the facility to fulfill its intended purpose. The District School Board would rather bull doze the usable building than allow competition and risk District 281 funding.

I think this is wrong, a waste of our tax dollars and a missed opportunity for the community's kids. Of course, I belief that competition raises standards of performance.

What do you thinks regarding these topics?

For your reference:

Information for Prospective School Board Candidates

Several qualities of effective School Board members that have been identified by the Minnesota School Boards Association are: a conviction that public education is important; the ability to make decisions and communicate well with others; time and energy to devote to board business; respect for district staff; and ability to make decisions that are in the best interest of students and citizens.

281 Mission

The mission of Robbinsdale Area Schools is to inspire and educate all learners to discover their potential and positively contribute to their community.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Fun Thoughts: For a change

I have been working you pretty hard for awhile with some complicated and deep topics, so I thought I would share some interesting/amusing thoughts I received in a "please forward" email. Not sure of the source, but I extend my thanks to them....

Only in America
  • do drugstores make the sick walk all the way to the back of the store to get their prescriptions while healthy people can buy cigarettes at the front.
  • do people order double cheeseburgers, large fries, and a diet coke.
  • do banks leave vault doors open and then chain the pens to the counters.
  • do we leave cars worth thousands of dollars in the driveway and put our useless junk in the garage.
  • do we buy hot dogs in packages of ten and buns in packages of eight.
  • do they have drive-up ATM machines with Braille lettering.


  • Why the sun lightens our hair, but darkens our skin?
  • Why can't women put on mascara with their mouth closed?
  • Why don't you ever see the headline 'Psychic Wins Lottery'?
  • Why is 'abbreviated' such a long word?
  • Why is it that doctors and lawyers call what they do 'practice'?
  • Why is lemon juice made with artificial flavor, and dish washing liquid made with real lemons?
  • Why is the man who invests all of your money called a broker?
  • Why is the time of day with the slowest traffic called rush hour?
  • Why isn't there mouse-flavored cat food?
  • Why didn't Noah swat those two mosquitoes?
  • Why do they sterilize the needle for lethal injections?
  • You know that indestructible black box that is used on airplanes? Why don't they make the whole plane out of that stuff?
  • Why don't sheep shrink when it rains?
  • Why are they called apartments when they are all stuck together?
  • If con is the opposite of pro, is Congress the opposite of progress?
  • If flying is so safe, why do they call the airport the terminal?

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

AYP - The Top 10 List

The topic of today's posting is why should various Stakeholder's openly embrace AYP/NCLB and work hard to ensure the students succeed and the community's schools pass. The bolded text identifies the engaged stakeholder in each.

The AYP: Top 10 List
  1. Ensures Tax Payer's that their investment in educational funding is used efficiently to attain the defined expectations.
  2. Provides the Community with a means to hold the school's and themselves accountable for the successful learning and development of the community's kids.
  3. Supports the Community's efforts to continually improve, and increase their property values and quality of citizens.
  4. Gives the School District a good and valid reason to turn down "low priority" program, training and curriculum requests.
  5. Promotes real "listening" by the Administration personnel regarding Teacher's education and workplace improvement ideas, because the goal won't be attained without significant efficiency gains and highly engaged teachers.
  6. Grants the Teacher authority to hold back or get special help for kids that are not academically capable.
  7. Reassures Parents that their child will be given every opportunity to learn. In fact, they will be pushed to grow and learn when necessary.
  8. Promotes development and use of methods and curriculum tailored to the unique needs of the Students.
  9. Prevents Students from getting an unearned "PASS". (ie may be awhile before they appreciate this one...)
  10. Improves likelihood that all Students will be academically capable at a threshold level upon graduation.

Anything I missed? Thoughts?

Sunday, August 16, 2009

AYP: Pick Your Corner

A couple of tidbits before the main event:

Now for the main event. I am going to try and describe the two primary positions regarding AYP/NCLB and ask for your help to clarify them. Or for you to describe others that I have missed.


  • The measurement of academic results is necessary to ensure all the kids are learning the most critical subjects to at least a minimally acceptable threshold level.
  • This is necessary to ensure the educational system focuses on all children based on their needs. And to ensure the curriculum/funding stays focused on the subjects that are critical to the student's and nation's success. Some breadth/depth of subjects is necessary, but it has gotten out of control.(ie what is "necessary" in public education?) Finally, to promote continuous improvement and efficiency gains within the "status quo" educational system.
  • How the student's are taught is up to the educational system, however the children will need to pass the tests to prove their capability. Just like they need to in their normal classes.
  • Without some "potential loss/gain", the educational system would stay the status quo course and ignore NCLB. Therefore potential funding losses/gains and negative/positive press regarding the school's status are necessary to motivate and drive change.
  • The expectations are aggressive because the USA needs rapid improvement in order to be a world leader in education, which is needed to stay competitive in a global economy.

Against AYP/NCLB

  • The measurement of academic results disturbs the good learning environment and encourages teaching to the test. (ie memorization vs learning)
  • Testing is not an accurate/fair way to measure the academic capability of a student.
  • The educational system and personnel are self motivated to ensure all kids learn to their capability. No monitoring/"check" is necessary.
  • The focus on 4 areas prevents focusing on the "whole child" and the breadth and depth of valuable subjects that should be offered.
  • The educational system and personnel work to continuously improve themselves, no carrots and sticks are required.
  • The expectations are too aggressive and funding is inadequate.
  • NCLB/AYP is an arbitrary and politically motivated mandate that was used to pass an education bill. The folks that passed it and made the tests do not know what they are doing. They were just interested in making themselves look good.

So you know I am for NCLB/AYP with a couple tweaks. And that when a school fails, I believe it is the fault of the failing student's parents, the school district and it's community citizen's. (ie lack of focus, prioritization, funding and volunteerism)

With that in mind, how did I do at describing both views? What would you add, correct or remove? Is there some middle ground I missed?

Tuesday, August 11, 2009


Before I start discussing No Child Left Behind (NCLB) and Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP), I need to cover Plan Do Check Act. (PDCA) The PDCA cycle is a very straight forward concept that was documented and made popular by two brilliant men, Dr Shewhart and Dr Demming. These gentlemen made improving organization performance and quality their life's work.

A simple working example for a student may be:
  • Plan: Student plans to attain an "A" in Math (ie objective) by performing certain study tasks in a certain order (ie process) while exerting a set number of hours towards the goal. (ie cost/constraint)

  • Do: The student executes per the plan.

  • Check: The student takes a test, receives a grade(ie result) and compares the result to the objective.

  • Act: If the objective is not met or the cost/constraint is exceeded, the student analyzes the gap(s) to determine the root cause(s) and what can be changed. (ie what prevented success? what should be changed?) Or, if the objective is attained within the cost/constraint, they may seek further improvement. (ie can I attain the objective with less cost/constraint by revising the process? should I raise my goal?)

  • Plan: Revise Plan per previous PDCA cycle and repeat.

Please note that the student does not get to adjust the criteria required for an "A". Depending on the teacher's expectations, the criteria can be simple, aggressive, rational, irrational, etc. The student needs to believe the teacher's expectations are necessary and important.

Also, the student has no control of their current capability. Genetics or environment may have given incredible math gifts, study skills, ability to focus, etc. Or the student may be challenged in one or all of these areas. Therefore the student can only start at their "current reality" and adjust the factors they control.

Finally, let's assume this is a busy and active student, which means that free time/funding is constrained. Therefore the student will need to prioritize very carefully how they spend their limited amount of time. If they choose to pursue activities that they personally find interesting and important, it may prevent them from attaining the objective/"A".

I found this analogy very fitting since:

  • The education system uses grading to measure student performance and to determine if the student is spending time and effort on the correct tasks. (ie studying the subject vs reading non-related yet informative books)
  • The citizen's have given the education system a very clear syllabus regarding the objective/grading criteria (ie AYP/NCLB) and acceptable cost/constraint amounts (ie budget). This has been developed based on what knowledgeable people feel is required for the USA to have a world class education system.(ie remain globally competitive)
  • We need to trust that the goals are necessary and important, and focus on closing the gaps.
  • The education system does not get to select the capability and mix of it's student body.
  • The education system can choose to focus spending on attaining the objectives. (ie English reading & writing, Math and Science) Or they can spend money in other interesting/important areas and risk not attaining the objective/"passing AYP".
  • The education system can only control their processes, methods and people, starting with the current reality.
  • Besides I just find it a wee bit funny/ironic that many educators who would find fault with AYP/NCLB would have no difficulty giving a student a "B" because the student spent their time pursuing an interesting/important hobby instead of focusing on the teacher's class and meeting the set objectives... Or because the student simply was not capable to the required level.
Hopefully this explains how the PDCA cycle relates to AYP/NCLB. At work we have a simple saying, "what gets measured gets done". Without the Objectives, Constraints and "Check" steps, people tend to stray from the goals or lose the passion to improve as people ask for other interesting/important things, problems arise, etc.

By the way, I realize I simplified this by saying the citizen's have given clear expectations... The reality is that many citizen's groups are continually trying to lobby for "interesting/important things" and the schools need to listen... However, when push comes to shove the quantifiable and reported metrics determine AYP success or failure...

Does this makes sense? Questions or comments? More AYP thoughts to come...

RAS 2009 AYP Results

For more details:
MN Dept of Education 2009 AYP Site

Unfortunately Forest did not make AYP this year, so we are down to 2.... Forest only missed Spec Ed Math proficiency, so they are still doing an INCREDIBLE job !!!!

Now remember, before you start ranting about how RAS is failing terribly.... The primary areas of failure are scattered across the Special Education, Free & Reduced Lunch, Minorities, and Limited English Proficiency. Also, the standards are rising far faster than the funding. So take some time and study the data closely(like DJ's Test Scores), then ask:
  • What additional funding are we willing to provide? (ie helping kids from challenged families costs big dollars, you have to undo the damage/habits that has been done/formed in the pre-K years)
  • What Priority 4 programs, transportation, etc are we willing to cut to improve these results? (ie move money from the lucky to the challenged) (priorities)(lucky)(patriot)
  • Will we choose to leave the challenging kids, schools and district behind? (ie just move to a less challenged and diverse school/district)
  • Do we as a community accept that a group of our kids are not meeting the academic standards? Or as a community do we choose to do something about it?

During the next couple of weeks I'll be posting regarding AYP and why it is critically important for the good of the community and country.

I once wrote that I would not run for school board because who would vote for someone that wants to cut programs and raise taxes. Unfortunately, I still believe that is a key aspect of turning around these AYP results.

The question is how far are willing to go to help these kids? Remember, ~4,800 of the kids attending RAS are on the free and reduced lunch program. This is an indicator of the challenge our district faces. It will be interesting to see how different groups react to these new results.

Thoughts welcome as always.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Heavy Load & Farmer's Luck

Well, I continue to find wisdom in the funniest places... This time my 8 year old daughter pulled out a book from her shelf that I had not read to her before. Inside "Zen Shorts" by Jon Muth was a cute kid's story about a panda bear who told the following very important stories.

A Heavy Load

Two traveling monks reached a town where there was a young woman waiting to step out of her sedan chair. The rains had made deep puddles and she couldn't step across without spoiling her silken robes. She stood there scolding her attendants. They had nowhere to place the packages they held for her, so they couldn't help her across the puddle.

The younger monk noticed the woman, said nothing, and walked by. The older monk quickly picked her up and put her on his back, transported her across the water, and put her down on the other side. She didn't thank the older monk, she just shoved him out of the way and departed.

As they continued on their way, the young monk was brooding and preoccupied. After several hours, unable to hold his silence, he spoke out. "That woman back there was very selfish and rude, but you picked her up on your back and carried her! Then she did not even thank you!"

"I set the woman down hours ago," the older monk replied. "Why are you still carrying her?"

The Farmer's Luck

There once was a farmer who had worked his crops for many years. One day, his horse had run away. Upon hearing the news, his neighbors came to visit. "Such bad luck," they said sympathetically. "Maybe," the farmer replied.

The next morning the horse returned, bringing with it two other wild horses. "Such good luck!" the neighbors exclaimed. "Maybe," replied the farmer.

The following day, his son tried to ride one of the untamed horses, was thrown off, and broke his leg. Again the neighbors came to offer their sympathy on his misfortune."Such bad luck," they said. "Maybe," answered the farmer.

The day after that, military officials came to the village to draft young men into the army to fight in a war. Seeing that the young man's leg was broken, they passed him by. "Such good luck!" cried the neighbors. "Maybe," said the farmer.

Pretty interesting food for thought. Any comments ?

Thursday, August 6, 2009

RAS Transitions - Fears, Concerns & Thoughts

As noted, many staff, parents and students are experiencing a significant amount of change due to the school closures and boundary shifts. This post is to clarify my concerns and to give folks an opportunity to post their own. Why should you take the time to post them?

  • G2A has ~100 readers per month. Some probably share your concern, others may have a different perspective that could reduce your anxiety level.
  • Some of the readers are administrators, board members and others that definitely want to hear them. And they may be able to take them into consideration during this challenging time.

I’ll open the list by trying to state my concerns:

  • I am concerned that well meaning, yet highly anxious parents will disrupt the school function and productivity. These conflicts, discussions, negotiations, etc will result in less focused “teacher-student” time and more “parent-teacher” time. Though good for the parents / students that are part of the discussions, however these take away from the other students whose parents are not as involved or anxious. Ironically, these are often the kids that need the most “teacher-student” focus.
  • I am concerned the district may have lost too many dedicated volunteering families from the more challenging schools. These folks either moved to a new out of district home, open enrolled out of district, intra-district transferred or moved to private schools. Though I understand the rationale and respect the decision, I am concerned that the personal choices left the kids /schools that most need support and good role models with fewer of them.
  • I am concerned that some people will lobby to make school more fun, which is fine by itself as long as it does not reduce the dedicated “teacher-student” time. The kids have so few hours/yr to learn everything that is expected of them, any hours that steal instructional time concern me. (ie I trust the teachers to make class fun, and have never been disappointed yet.) Of course, remember that I am a 3 R and Science priority type of guy…

Remember, fears/concerns are just like emotions, they are not wrong or right, they just are. We can personally manage and question them, however often only time will show if they were valid or unnecessary.

By the way, though my family was not required to change schools due to the closures. We do have one moving to PMS and one moving to Armstrong. This is causing some household discussion as the kids adjust to the idea/change. The upside is that we have been through this before and have always found the new school, staff, teachers, parents and students inviting and caring. So other than managing the chaos of schedules, forms, etc, we are much more relaxed than when our first started ZLE or moved up to PMS…

My thoughts and prayers are with you and your families as you deal with the transitions and family choices you are making. I realize and am empathetic to the stress you are under. Please feel free to add your concerns and thoughts.