Monday, November 30, 2015

Teachers and Parents



Teachers all over the United States feel like they are under siege.  It’s true. Ask them. The cartoon to right illustrates how the culture has changed. Where there used to be a sense of trust in our teachers, teachers now feel attacked. As a result, teachers end up losing sight of the supportive parents and are left feeling like parents think everything they do is wrong. 

The constant barrage of attacks on our teachers, nationwide, hurts us deeply. 
Teachers have been effectively blamed for our lack of educational achievement, while at the same time, teacher pay has been cut and classroom resources have been curtailed. My brother, who teaches in one of the wealthiest school districts in the southeast, had furlough days last year for which he wasn’t paid. This, of course, is in a county that is paying $260,000,000 to build a new baseball stadium for the Atlanta Braves. 

I think we all know that teachers don’t get into education to get rich. Teachers know that they are going to make $34,000 per year, when they could make more money working in a job that requires far less education. Yet, every day, they go to work and deal with as many as 150 children and try to meet each child’s social, emotional, and educational needs. They don’t get to go home, like regular people, and enjoy their families. Teachers have to make lesson plans, grade papers, enter grades, work on individualized educational plans, communicate with parents, and probably sponsor some sort of extracurricular opportunity. Most days, we feel like doing nothing more than curling up in the fetal position when we get home! Add to that the lack of prestige, and it can be a pretty tough career choice. 

Despite popular conception, Houston Academy teachers and administrators make far less than their public school peers. We aren’t subsidized by the state. However, teachers generally come here because they feel that the teaching environment is better, and they don’t have to deal with all of the bureaucratic issues present in public schools. Also, we have much more supportive parents. 

Still, it’s a labor of love. I tell the teachers that often, in our jobs, we touch thousands of lives with an impact that will last generations. However, it’s disheartening to feel like you are constantly under attack. 

New teachers now work in education an AVERAGE of 4.5 years. Studies have shown that one of the primary reason teachers leave the field is because of lack of support from parents and administration.   A recent study showed that 80% of teachers who have left the field in the last five years cited “the parents” as a primary reason. 

Now, the reality is that we have AWESOME parents here at Houston Academy. They are THE BEST group of supportive parents I have ever been around. Moreover, 
I don’t believe there is a teacher or administrator in the school who doesn’t want constructive feedback. Personally, I WANT to hear from you, but we need to do it in such a way that our children learn the right way to handle conflict. Anytime there is a situation involving your child at school or in the classroom, this is what I would ask. 

1) Ask your child, “Have you talked to the teacher or administrator?” I know that’s not appropriate for a first grader, but for older students, that should be the first step. In my experience, 99% of all our problems can be solved if there is a dialogue between student and teacher. I would assume that we all WANT our children to learn to advocate for themselves and to do so in a respectful manner. Our teachers have children’s best interest at heart. We won’t keep a teacher at Houston Academy who doesn’t love kids. 

It should be noted that in the Upper School, for issues of broad policy, we meet monthly with student government officers to talk about school issues. In each of the last two years, we have made changes in response to student concerns. Our uniform committee, which helped draft the dress code, is made up of teachers, parents, administrators, AND students. Our next five-year strategic plan is going to have students on the committees that will chart our future. Additionally, our Upper School Honor Council makes binding decisions about student conduct and it is made up entirely of students. We have all this in place because we want to give your children the opportunity to learn to be advocates for their own lives and their own learning. 

Again, there’s research behind this approach. Tammi Holman, our Head of Upper School, asked our faculty to pick a book to read over the summer.  One of those books was The Price of Privilege by Madeline Levine. Dr. Levine has a psychological practice that has been built on dealing with adolescents from upper-middle class backgrounds, who despite outward signs of success, are suffering from any number of emotional issues, some of which are brought on by an overly involved parenting style:
Parents who persistently fall on the side of intervening for their child, as opposed to supporting their child's attempts to problem solve, interfere with the most important task of childhood and adolescence: the development of a sense of self. Autonomy, what we commonly call independence, along with competence and interpersonal relationships, are considered to be inborn human needs. Their development is central to psychological health. In a supportive and respectful family, children go about the business of forging a "sense of self" by being exposed to, and learning to manage, increasingly complex personal and interpersonal challenges. 

Trust me, our kids can do it, and they will gain self-efficacy and self-confidence in the process.

2) If it becomes necessary to contact a teacher, approach the meeting with the attitude of “How can we make this better for our child?” I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been in conferences that have begun with accusations. That doesn’t make things better for anyone. Remember, too, that teachers make mistakes. Administrators make mistakes. However, I don’t know of a single person in this building who doesn’t have the best interests of the children at heart. 

3). Then, if you still aren’t satisfied, I am more than happy to meet with you. I’m also happy to meet with anyone at any time about general school issues or ideas about how we might improve. Again, though, if your child has a problem, I’d rather meet with your child first, because that is the person we want to teach. I don’t think you would talk to anyone (student or parent) who has met with me who hasn’t come away at least knowing that I listened. The same goes for Mrs. Boothe, Mrs. Holman, and Mr. Hart. Moreover, I certainly have confidence in our intelligent parent body to know when to “make that call.” 

Obviously, though, we need to keep in mind that our faculty work incredibly hard and deserve our support. This, after all, is “the HA family.” Like any family, we’re going to have hurt feelings and misunderstandings, but also like a healthy family, we can work it out. 



Here are a couple additional links to read:

The Hamlin School Embraces No Rescue Policy for Parents to Encourage Resilience in Children

If Our Kids Fail, Are We Bad Parents?


Friday, October 2, 2015

Memorization?

For this blog post, I want to try something a bit different. I'd like to point you in the direction of some interesting videos and articles we have come across in our discussions at Houston Academy.

Over the past three years, we have been engaged in a discussion about what education should mean in the information age. As a 1:1 MacBook school, our students have more information at their fingertips than there has ever been in human history. The “Knowledge Doubling Curve," created by Buckminster Fuller, tells us that up until 1900, human knowledge doubled about every hundred years. By 1945, knowledged was estimated to double every 25 years. Now, we believe that human knowledge doubles every 12 months. IBM asserts that it will soon double every 12 hours. Moreover, we can pull out a "smart phone" and access that information instantly, from anywhere in the world. We have "smart" TVs, and "smart" computers that can "think." That begs the question of "What is essential for our students to know?"

For example, we would agree that students need to know their vocabulary in their world language classes if they are going to be fluent in their chosen language. However, debate is raging in the educational community about the nature of essential knowledge and the role of memorization in our educational system. Do students need to learn times tables? What about spelling? Do they need to know that "in fourteen hundred and ninety two, Columbus sailed the ocean blue"? We still have a "classical" educational model that maintains that memorization is the key to learning, but at HA, we have come to  virtual consensus that it is more important for our students to be able to find information that to memorize information. Furthermore, once that information is acquired, the real challenge is to synthesize and analyze that information and separate good information from bad.

Actually, the argument against memorization is far from new. As early as 1956, educational psychologist Benjamin Bloom identified six cognitive domains, starting from the most simple to the most complex. Informed by brain research, "Bloom"s Taxonomy" was revised in the 1990s to place "creativity" at the highest level. "Remembering" (or memorizing) has remained at the lowest level.


I encourage you to click on the links I have provided. These videos and articles are thought-provoking, and I would love to get a discussion going about the value and role of memorization in our educational system.

Read this article!

And this one! 

Watch this video!

And watch this one!

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

New Faculty, 2015-16

Once again, we have had a busy summer. Foremost among our administrative tasks during our break was the hiring of new personnel. Since many of you were not able to attend our parents’ nights, I thought I would start the year by giving you a brief introduction to our new faculty.

Natalie Jeffcoat, our new Library and Media Specialist, is not new to Houston Academy. She and her husband, Cliff, have two children at HA, Sydney, who is a freshman and Lucy, who is a 7th grader. Natalie has a B.S. Degree in environmental science from Troy University, an M.S. in environmental analysis and management from Troy University, and a M.Ed. in library media from the University of West Alabama. Natalie has worked as a science teacher, a resource specialist, and a media specialist.

Emily Smith is our new Learning Specialist. Ms. Smith holds a B.A. in communication disorders from Auburn University and master's degree in communication disorders from Auburn University. She has received Orton Gillingham training to work with dyslexic students, and she has extensive experience in cognitive linguistic and speech disorders. Additionally, Emily is licensed by the Alabama Board of Examiners for speech language pathology and audiology. She is a native of Dothan and is a former Houston Academy student (and student of Mrs. Boothe).

Laura Smith will be serving as our new 3P teacher. Ms. Smith holds a B.S. in early childhood education from Troy University, where she was the recipient of the Outstanding Student Award. Moreover, she earned an associate of arts and associate of science degree from Wallace College. She has worked in a Montessori school, as a kindergarten teacher, as a second grade teacher, as a first grade teacher, and as tutor and mentor at the Wiregrass Children’s Home. Significant to our 3P program, she has received Alabama Reading Initiative Training and has also been trained in technology integration.

Connie Capaldo will be teaching 4P. Ms. Capaldo has an Ed.S. in learning technology from University of Missouri, an M.S. from Troy University, and a B.S. from University of Montevallo. Ms. Capaldo has been teaching for almost 20 years. She has a daughter in fifth grade named Bella,who has been at HA since kindergarten.  She has a tremendous love of children's literature, and she is looking forward to sharing her love of reading with her students.  When she is not teaching, she enjoys spending time with family, doing crochet, digital scrapbooking, and caring for her two dogs.

Eve Espy is our new third grade teacher. Ms. Espy has a B.S. from Auburn University, and she has taught for 18 years.  She spent the last eight years at Deerfield Windsor in Albany, Georgia, which is a quality independent school that is very similar to HA. Ms. Espy is moving back home to Dothan after being away for 26 years.  She has three children, Emily, who is a graduate student at Auburn, Miles Jr., who is a sophomore at Auburn, and Michael, who will be a junior here at HA. Ms. Espy is a huge Auburn fan, and as a fun fact, Mrs. Boothe was Ms. Espy’s fourth grade teacher.

Lindsey McAllister will be taking over our very successful lower school Spanish program. Mrs. McAllister is an Honors College graduate of Auburn University and has experience as both a second grade teacher and an elementary and high school Spanish teacher. Mrs. McAllister was also salutatorian here at HA. She is married to Anthony McAllister, and they have four children. She loves spending time with my family, good food, and Broadway musicals.

Ashleigh Savoy will be teaching fifth grade, and she is certainly no stranger to HA.  Ashley and her husband, Kevin, have three children who attend Houston Academy -  Davis, who is a junior; Emma, who is in eighth grade; and William, who is in fourth.  She has lived in Dothan 15 years. Mrs. Savoy completed her undergraduate work at Auburn and has done her graduate work at Troy-Dothan.  Ashley has experience in both public and independent schools, but she has been a stay-at-home mom for the past 17 years. However, in the last two years, she has subbed at HA, at which point we found out she was a veritable rock star. We are excited to have her as a part of the HA Faculty!

Amy Hafen will be teaching sixth grade. She holds a B.S. degree in elementary education from Dixie State University in St. George, Utah. She was born in England and has lived in Texas, Nevada, and Utah. She has experience teaching both fourth and sixth grades. Her husband has just started medical school at ACOM, which is what brought them here. Her hobbies are photography, skiing, hiking, camping, singing, playing the flute, technology, serving, sewing, and raising a dog. One of her goals is to travel the world.

Julie Capouch is one of two new upper school English teachers. Mrs. Capouch recently received an M.A. in English from Austin Peay State University, and she holds a B.A. in English from the University of Maryland. She has taught pre-AP English, AP English, and English composition at the college level. Julie has been nominated for and has won at least two awards for her writing. Originally from Clarksville, TN, she and her husband Tom have been married for 10 years. He is a flight engineer and has been in the Army for 15 years. She has two children, Jason who is eight and Brandi who is six. In terms of hobbies, she loves reading and really enjoys watching science fiction shows and superhero movies.

Jeff Edge is our second upper school English teacher, and he is also an upper school parent. He and his wife, Penny, have a son (Alex) in the 11th grade at HA. He has a B.S. in secondary English from Troy-Dothan, an M.S. from Troy, and a B.S. in business from the University of West Florida. He is an accomplished writer - he wrote for the Dothan Eagle and the Enterprise Ledger for 16 years. Jeff has twice been named teacher of the year in his schools in Florida, and he is a very accomplished AP English teacher who has a strong reputation for pushing his students to achieve their potential. Additionally, Jeff is a sports fanatic. He has been a very successful basketball coach, and he enjoys playing basketball and golf.  You will probably see him at most HA sporting events –whether or not his son, Alex, is playing.

As in years past, Mrs. Boothe, Mrs. Holman, and I are extraordinarily pleased with the quality of our new faculty. Not only do they have outstanding credentials, but they all love children. Please join us in welcoming this talented group of people to the Houston Academy family.



Wednesday, April 29, 2015

"You Can't Fatten a Cow By Weighing It!"



In my last blog entry, I briefly alluded to the “high stakes testing” regime that has accompanied the standards movement. “High stakes” tests have taken different forms in different states, but primarily, they involve standardized tests that students have to pass in order to allow them to move on to the next grade level, graduate from high school, or pass a given class. To be clear, these exams do not typically comprise any percentage of a student’s grade in a class; these tests are the sole criteria used to measure student mastery and proficiency.


 I believe that our nations’ high stakes testing regime has had a crippling effect on our nation’s schools and has harmed our children. It’s been disheartening to teachers and administrators, but it’s also caused many school systems to focus on teaching to the tests instead of teaching children. The pressure to have students perform well on standardized tests has also led to widespread cheating by teachers and administrators across the country. In fact, there is strong evidence that some sort of cheating or score misrepresentation has gone on in 48 out of 50 states (Beckett, 2013).



One would think the nation would have moved to a different school accountability measure by now. The preponderance of educational literature has been highly critical of the federal No Child Left Behind Law [NCLB], which is the law that has required that states institute high-stakes testing.  The literature has pointed out that NCLB was an unfunded mandate based on faulty assumptions about teaching and learning; that it was antithetical to all philosophical dispositions towards a more democratic leadership style; that it ignored the possible contributions of mixed methods or qualitative studies; that it had the unintended consequence of increasing dropout rates, narrowing curricula, and discouraging good teachers; and that many of the statistics assumptions on which it was based were not accurate (Amrein & Berliner, 2003; Chatteriji, 2000; Jones, 2004; Mathis, 2003; Neuman, 2003; Slavin, 2001; Wheelock, 2003 ).  In actuality, the testing movement is working under the implicit assumption that test score indicators are the only true and “scientific” way to measure learning outcomes – ignoring all recent research on the effectiveness of constructivist pedagogy; ignoring the realities of multiple intelligences; and ignoring the truth that, by their very nature, standardized tests are pedantic, rudimentary, and limiting. Furthermore, standardized tests were never intended to decide if one went from the 8th grade to the 9th (Ghezzi, 2005). The tests were supposed to be “used to determine how best to teach kids” (Ghezzi, 2005), not to narrowly define what learning is and punish those who cannot operate within that narrow definition. Moreover, in a norm-referenced test, won't half of our children always be below average? This, after all, is not Lake Wobegon.[1]

I understand that many state graduation tests are criterion-referenced test – that is, they are tests designed to determine whether a student has mastered certain material. However, many of the principles of these tests are based on perceived problems which become evident through the results of norm-referenced tests, and many of these state tests are still culturally and socioeconomically biased, narrow, and invidious. Proponents of NCLB and the state legislatures generally make the assumption that the proverbial playing field is level, when clearly it is not (Neuman, 2003). For example, children from high socioeconomic status families are exposed to thirty million more word before kindergarten than children from low socioeconomic status families, and that gap does not disappear in one year; it is cumulative (Neuman, 2003). There is nothing in a state-mandated test that is going to get our poor and underprivileged children up to the level of more affluent children before they enter kindergarten, much less the 9th grade. 

To this point, there’s an old Iowa farm adage that says, “You can't fatten a cow by weighing it.” In other words, its one thing to say, “Our students are failing;” it’s another thing to figure out what to do about it. Even if you assume that criterion reference tests identify the problems correctly, they do not begin to offer us a solution.

What is most troubling to me, though, is the research that shows that since the passage of No Child Left Behind, American students’ creativity[2] has plummeted.  In 2010, Newsweek published an edition of their magazine titled “The Creativity Crisis.”  I urge you to read the magazine in its entirety, but the gist of it is that what has made America great and economically successful has been our ability to be creative. Moreover, the world is facing environmental and social problems on a global scale. These problems require leaders with an ability to come up with creative solutions to complex problems. These problems also require an ability to build consensus and work collaboratively. We have traditionally been a country of entrepreneurs and innovators. America has led the world in scientific, technological, and artistic endeavors. While children in China were learning how to take tests, American children were learning how to think.  The research tells us that as a direct result of our “drill and kill” daily drudgery and emphasis on standardized test scores, our schools have now become a place (in the words of Pat Bassett) where “creativity goes to hide.”  They have become a place where, by fourth grade, most students wallow in boredom and misery.

While researching my blog on Common Core, I read a letter to the editor in the New York Times written by Howard Miller, who is the chair of the department of secondary education at Mercy College School of Education. He said it better than I could:

The sticking point rests not with the standards, but with the ways in which we attempt to measure student learning through a combination of multiple-choice test items and short essays.

Learning is a very complex human enterprise. It is a building up of a depth and breadth of knowledge and skills over time through a process that includes trial and error, interpretation and analysis, “aha” moments of discovery, and applying what we have learned to different situations.

Standardized tests are flawed because they decontextualize learning and attempt to break it up into tiny measurable segments. With learning, the whole is definitely greater than the sum of the parts that we do measure.

Simply put, I'm not convinced that ANY of our standardized tests accurately measure if a student has what it takes to be successful in work and life. For example, does the ACT measure persistence? Resiliency? Emotional intelligence?  Does it adequately address the competencies (“6 C’s”) that have been identified as the core facets of 21st century learning: collaboration, communication, creativity, critical thinking, cross-cultural competency, and character?


On a national scale, the high-stakes testing movement works to absolve society or the
broader educational system of any real accountability for the root problems in of poverty, malnutrition, housing, and unequal opportunity. We know what our root social problems are, and they are not going to be solved by giving students a test, the results of which will be used to hold them back a grade level, fire teachers, or shut down a school.

We know that education is the key to opportunity in any Western country. Many well-meaning educators support a high-stakes testing system in our country with the hope of raising standards and holding our teachers and students accountable. Our teachers and students should be held accountable. A standardized test, however, is just one measure on one day; this is not the right way to promote accountability (Ghezzi, 2005).




References
Amrein, A.L., & Berliner, D.C. (2003). The effects of high-stakes testing on student motivation and learning. Educational Leadership, 60(5), 32-37.
Bassett, P. (2011, October 11). School: Where creativity goes to hide. [Web log comment]. Retrieved from http://www.nais.org/Independent-Ideas/Lists/Posts/Post.aspx?ID=318
Beckett, L. (2013). America’s most outrageous cheating scandals. ProPublica. Retrieved from http://www.propublica.org/article/americas-most-outrageous-teacher-cheating-scandals
Biddle, B.J., and Berliner, D. C.  (2002). Unequal school funding in the United States. Educational Leadership, 59(8), 48-59.
Chatterji, M. (2000). Models and methods for examining standards-based reform accountability initiatives: Have the tools of inquiry answered pressing questions on improving schools? Review of Educational Research, 72, 345-386. 
Darder, A. (2005). Schooling and the culture of dominion: Unmasking the ideology of standardized testing. In G. E. Fischman, P. McLaren, H. Sünker, & C. Lankshear (Eds.), Critical theories, radical pedagogies, and global conflicts (pp. 3-22). Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.
Ellinger, K., Wright, D.E. III, & Hirlinger, M. W. (1995). Brains for bucks?: School revenue and student achievement in Oklahoma. The Social Science Journal, 32(3), 299-308.
Ghezzi, P. (2005, May 8). Experts: Student testing overdone. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution,
Goldberg, M. (2000). An interview with Harold Hodgkinson: Demographics, ignore them at your peril. Phi Delta Kappan, 82(4), 304-307.
Jones, K. (2004). A balanced school accountability model: An alternative to high stakes testing. Phi Delta Kappan, 85(8), 598-605. 
Mathis, W. (2003). No child left behind: Costs and Benefits. Phi Delta Kappan, 84 (9), 679 – 686. 
 Miles, K., Ware, K. & Roza, M. (2003). Leveling the playing field: Creating funding equity through student-based budgeting. Phi Delta Kappan, 85(2), 114-119. 
 Miles, K.H. (2001). Putting money where it matters. Educational Leadership,59(1), 53-57.
Miller, H. (2013, June). Will common core improve schools? [Letter to the editor]. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/12/opinion/will-common-core-improve-schools.html?_r=0
Neuman, S.B. (2003).  From rhetoric to reality: The case of high-quality compensatory prekindergarten programs.  Phi Delta Kappan, 85(4), 286 – 291.
Odden, A. (2001). The New School Finance. Phi Delta Kappan, 83(1), 85-91. 
Odden, A. (2003). Equity and adequacy in school finance today. Phi Delta Kappan, 85(2), 120-125. 
Payne, K. J. & Biddle, B. J. (1999). Poor school funding, child poverty, and mathematics achievement. Educational Researcher, 28(6), 4-13.
Reville, S. P. (2004). High standards + high stakes = high achievement in Massachusetts. Phi Delta Kappan, 85(8), 591-597.  
Slavin, R.E. (2001). Putting the school back in school reform. Educational Leadership, 58(4). 
Slavin, R.E. (2003). A reader’s guide to scientifically-based research. Educational Leadership, 60(5), 12-16. 
Starratt, R. (2003). Opportunity to learn and the accountability agenda. Phi Delta Kappan, 85(4), 298-303. 
Wheelock, A. (2003). Myopia in Massachusetts. Educational Leadership, 61(3), 50-54. 
_______________________________


[1] "Welcome to Lake Wobegon, where the women are strong, the men are good looking, and all the children are above average."  - Garrison Keillor
[2] Generally, we use the term creativity to mean the ability to produce something original and of some use or value. 

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Common Core?

As we begin our admissions season for the 2015-16 school year, I have been getting a number of questions from prospective parents about the Common Core Standards, which most states have adopted in their public schools. For those of you who are interested in my take on the Common Core, I will say this: Houston Academy will not be adopting the Common Core Standards. In this blog entry, I’ll explain why.

For something that has elicited so much controversy, the Common Core’s premise is really quite simple: to have a set of national standards for K-12 education which standardizes what students should be expected to master at each grade level. It actually does not tell teachers how to teach, and despite popular misconceptions, there IS no curriculum. However, as a part of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, every state had to test every child every year in 3-8 grade in math and reading, plus one year in high school. The results of these “high stakes” tests were used to determine whether a school was “failing.” Each school was expected to increase the percentage of students passing the test, each year, thereby meeting the law’s requirement for Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP). Students at “failing” schools could transfer to a different school, and if the schools persistently failed, they could be “reconstituted.” Many states, including Alabama, have recently received waivers from adhering to No Child Left Behind in order to create their own accountability measures. Alabama has adopted the Common Core, but unlike most states, Alabama has chosen to use the ACT Aspire as its end-of-year test.

As it stands, though, states have poured billions of dollars into implementation of the Common Core. Nationally, putting the Common Core in place will cost the states as much as $10 billion, with an additional estimated cost of $800 million per year.[1] This, according to many, has diverted needed resources away from teacher recruitment and training, facilities, and remediation for our most challenged students. For example, amidst numerous complaints about a crumbling school infrastructure, Los Angeles spent $1 billion dollars of revenue from a “school construction bond” in order to put Common Core testing software on iPads.[2] Last year, the state of Alabama spent $6.7 million dollars on their testing program, alone.[3] Of course, the textbook companies are thrilled with this development, because it allows them to sell brand new “Common Core aligned” textbooks to every district in the United States. This amounts to a profit windfall.

While I certainly have problems with some of the content of the Common Core, I think we could all find problems with any universal set of standards. The reason why Houston Academy will not be adopting Common Core has nothing to do with the quality of the standards. It is because I have not found credible research that backs the notion that common standards, alone, will lead to increased levels of student achievement.[4]  Sure, high standards are important, but it’s only a fraction of what goes into student achievement and gains in student learning.  What’s interesting is that when one explores the scores on the Department of Educations’ National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), there has persistently been a four to five times greater difference within states than between any two states.[5] In other words, in Alabama, there’s likely to be more of a difference in test scores between any two school districts in Alabama than there is likely to be between the state of Alabama and the state of Massachusetts. Of course, states have had common sets of standards for decades. If standards, alone, could work miracles, we’d see similar achievement within our state. Additionally, whether a state has strong standards or weak standards bears no statistical relationship to either standardized test scores or student achievement.5

What does make a difference in student achievement? Well, years of data tell us that much of student learning is influenced by context variables that are beyond the control of the school. However, of the factors we can control, the literature has consistently confirmed that quality teaching is the single most powerful factor in increasing and improving student learning.[6]

That seems like common sense, right? I mean, I’ve never had a student come back after graduation who said, “I’d really like to thank the person who wrote your curriculum! That curriculum has made all the difference in my life. When I look back on Unit 6, Goal 3a in Chemistry – ‘Derive the empirical formula for a compound by using percent composition data’ – I can’t help but smile and think about how that has helped me in my life’s work and career success.”  No, what former students DO want to talk about is how Starla Lewis made them love math, Wanda Emblom made them want to be a doctor, or Paige Knight made them want to be a writer. 

Put another way, students don’t learn from standards; they learn from teachers.

Permit me to use this analogy. I can determine the absolute best type of fertilizer to put on my lawn to make it grow and prosper. However, if I dump the fertilizer in the middle of my lawn instead of spreading it properly and at the correct weight, I’m going to kill my grass. We can have all the finest standards in the world, but if we don’t apply those standards properly, we are not going to improve student learning.  It’s the quality of the teacher that matters.

Actually, I’d argue, you could give us students at Houston Academy from any socio-economic background, and given a certainly level of motivation and God-given ability, our teachers at HA will lead them to achieve.  Furthermore, I’d argue that it’s precisely because our teachers are freed from the demands that public school teachers face– high-stakes testing, Common Core, exhaustive evaluation systems, individualized educational plans, state certification requirements, monotonous paperwork, Goals 2000, No Child Left Behind, etc. – that our teachers are free to focus on children and their learning needs.  It’s because our teachers don’t have to focus on a broad set of national standards that they can focus on having high standards for every individual student. Those standards are much higher than anything the government has prescribed.

Learning is a very complex activity, and we know that every student learns differently. Not all of our students are going to be successful all the time, but what I can tell you for certain is that throwing billions of dollars at a set of national standards is not going to fix our problems. Focusing on teachers and students just might.





[1] Chiaramonte, P. (2014, February 5). High cost of Common Core has states rethinking the national education standards. Retrieved February 24, 2015.
[2] Murphy, T. (2014, September 1). Inside the Mammoth Backlash to Common Core. Mother Jones.
[3] State of Alabama Department of Education. (2014). ACT assessments establish new baseline for student achievement [Press Release]. Retrieved from http://www.alsde.edu/sec/comm/News%20Releases/12-11-2014%20Statewide%20Assessment%20Results.pdf
[4] Loveless, T. (2012, February 1). The 2012 Brown Center Report on American Education: How Well Are American Students Learning. Retrieved February 24, 2015.
 [5] Loveless, T. (2012, April 13). Does the Common Core Matter? Education Week.
[6] Brophy, J. E., & Good, T. L. (1974). Teacher-student relationships: Causes and consequences. New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, Inc.
Cruickshank, D. R., Jenkins, D. B., & Metcalf, K. K. (2003). The act of teaching (Third ed.). Boston: McGraw-Hill.
Good, T. L., & Brophy, J. E. (2003). Looking in classrooms (9th ed.). Boston: Pearson Education, Inc.
Wayne, A., & Youngs, P. (2003). Teacher characteristics and student achievement gains. Review of Educational-Research, 73(1), 89-122.