Friday, March 5, 2010

Pride and Prejudice

I heard an interview with Diane Ravitch on NPR the other morning. A former Assistant Secretary of Education in the second Bush administration, she has come 180 degrees on the No Child Left Behind act since 2005 and has published a new book outlining her concerns.

It was her remarks at the end of the piece that have stuck with me most. Speaking against the inherent competition that is present in both NCLB and the Obama administration's Race to the Top, she said, Schools operate fundamentally — or should operate — like families. The fundamental principle by which education proceeds is collaboration. Teachers are supposed to share what works; schools are supposed to get together and talk about what's been successful for them. 

As it happens, I've been thinking about collaboration and competition all week. Back in December, I collaborated with a colleague in my building to prepare our students for a national writing competition. On Tuesday, we got some preliminary results. Ten students from our school were among the top 67 out of nearly 1,200 participants in our state.

In my colleague's opinion, we should stop the presses. She's a competitive person who sees no reason not to be recognized for such an accomplishment, and it doesn't hurt that six of the ten were her students as compared to my four. I can't tell you how many people at school, including the principal, congratulated me on this achievement before I had seen the e-mail myself. In addition to that, letters are going home to parents, and our district newsletter is receiving an item to publish.

I have to say that I think a little perspective is in order. I'm proud of my students, but this is a nice, but minor, recognition for those kids. They may or may not move on to be state finalists, and if they do, they have the national judges to face. Not only that, but the pieces that were chosen were not the ones that I would have predicted. To me that just illustrates the subjectivity involved in judging any writing, much less any writing competition. Don't get me wrong, I encouraged my students to enter, and those who did were excited about it. We worked hard together to make sure every piece was the best it could be, but on some level, I want that to be enough.


  1. I'm with you. We go through this every year when the NJ ASK6 results come out. For some, it seems that it is this test that drives our writing me that is just so sad for our kids. More and more it seems, we take away from our kids the real and true value in everything.

  2. You have lots of ideas in this slice, and it will allow me some thinking-departure points for the whole day. I'm certainly not experienced enough in your field to comment on much of what you say, but can I say congratulations to you too? Not only for the achievement, but also for the willingness to try and to collaborate and to the keeping-at-it which you embody so well?