Mar 29, 2013

Stop Deficit-Model Thinking

And in schools all over America, students are forced to “learn” in a way that befits deficit model thinking. We make sure that students are doubled and tripled up in the subjects they are worst at. Schools are reducing the amount of time students have music and phys-ed and even science so that kids have more time to raise their test scores. It is as if the sole purpose of schooling for many kids is just to make sure that they are slightly less bad at the things they are worst at.

We have created a schooling environment where the sole purpose seems to be to ameliorate the worst of abilities our students have, rather than nurture the best of who they are. We have created a public environment where “reforms” label schools as failing without ever stepping foot in them on the basis of one metric.

This year, we were promised student progress and relief from RtI requirements. Just put the students in front of the computer and the new Math program automatically feeds the students problem after problem, adjusting the difficulty, offering lessons, and online tutorials--all of which is considerably more effective than spending time with a teacher and a carefully designed lesson... or not. It's all perfectly boring if you ask me.

A couple of days ago, it dawned on me. I no longer believe that my purpose is to prepare the students for sixth grade or junior high or beyond. No, that will take care of itself. When, year after year, teachers focus on preparing the students for the next grade level, the students are reduced to receptacles for objectives and test prep.

Teachers, our purpose at the elementary level is to build confidence, strengthen critical and creative thinking, and develop a love and thirst for learning. That sure ain't gonna happen with worksheets, homework, deficit-model programs, and an endless stream of state exams and summative assessments. 

Focusing on the end often leads to frustration for the teacher and the student who didn't get there. Intellectually and professionally, we understand that people learn at different rates, but that doesn't seem to change anything. We expect all of them to earn acceptable grades by the end of each grading period, pass the state assessment on the same date, and learn all of the objectives by the end of the year. 

These unrealistic goals cause teachers to plow through the curriculum, offering one-time lessons and assignments lacking in rigor. Once a lesson is taught and an assignment is graded, it's time to move on. We've reduced students to checklists and numbers. Without all of the checks and a high enough score, it is a failure. Or, the more popular conclusion: Teachers are the failures.

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