Friday, January 1, 2010

New Jersey drinks the NCLB Kool-Aid

What's wrong with this picture?

Just to be clear, my quotes from the NJ DOE are not satire--
they are lifted directly from the NJ Core Curriculum Content Standards here.

I am not sure that folks outside education quite grasp what is happening within it.

I graduated high school in 1977. We had standards. Really.

I could handle a slide rule. I knew enough chemistry to make an attempt at creating nitrous oxide ("laughing gas") in class. I wrote history papers using primary sources. I could manipulate differential equations.

I learned to play the trumpet, use a miter box, kiss, gap a spark plug, and defend myself.

Some teachers were wonderful, a few were idiots, and at least one was a drunk.

Overall, I think public schooling did more good than harm.


New Jersey has a set of core curriculum standards; I imagine every other state has as well.

Before I go on, I want you to think about a 4 year old child. What should matter to that child? What should that child know?

In New Jersey, that same child is expected to "use basic technology terms in conversations (e.g., digital camera, battery, screen, computer, Internet, mouse, keyboards, and printer."

She is also expected to "use electronic devises [sic] (e.g., computer) to type name and to create stories with pictures and letters/words." Yes, our core curriculum standards committee apparently does not know how to use a spell checker correctly.

Young children do not need time in front of screens. They do not need to drop words like "digital camera" in conversation. ("Digital" is superfluous anyway--it presumes that some people still used film-based 'devises.')


Now imagine Elisa at 9. In most countries, she's still a child.

Here, she's required to "create a document with text formatting and graphics using a word processing program, create and present a multimedia presentation that includes graphics," and "create a simple spreadsheet, enter data, and interpret the information."

A little make-up and the right blazer, and she's ready for Kelly Services.

This is obscene.

By the end of 8th grade, Elisa will be able to "work in collaboration with peers and experts in the field to develop a product using the design process, data analysis, and trends, and maintain a digital log with annotated sketches to record the development cycle."

Why waste time in high school? She's ready for the boardroom.


By 12th grade, Elisa graduates from office clerk to corporate lawyer--she will be able to "demonstrate appropriate use of copyrights as well as fair use and Creative Commons guidelines" and "compare and contrast international government policies on filters for censorship."

If we work hard enough, she can pass the bar exam without bothering with law school.


I am a retired pediatrician. I know a little bit about kids. I am also a teacher. I know a little bit about the classroom.

Humans have not evolved much in two generations.

The committee developing the New Jersey Core Curriculum Content Standards might want to dedicate a few minutes of their next meeting to chatting with a live, normal school-aged child.

You can find plenty in the schools, sitting in classrooms. If you have trouble recognizing one (they tend to be smaller, less hairy, and cheerier than adults), a teacher will be glad to point one out to you.

Kids are kids, and no set of "standards" can buck a few billion years of evolution.


Mr. B-G said...

Well said. Thanks for the reality check. Happy New Year!

Kelly said...

Not sure whether to laugh or cry. I usually do both.
(Maybe there's some Koolaid left over.)

John Spencer said...

This has the feel of "Disappearance of Childhood" to it.

I am not anti-technology any more or less than I am pro-technology. I do, however, think it dehumanizes and breaks down cultural and social bonds (though technology is also a product of culture and society, so it's mixed)

The biggest lie is that it is a "tool" that we can easily maneuver. It is always the sirens.

Anonymous said...

Enter Kool-Aid Man with Jim Jones glasses busting through the Dept of Education brick wall:

"Oh Yeah!"

Edie Parrott said...

I hate to be naive, but are these really the standards for four year olds in New Jersey? If so, I want to weep! When we neglect to allow children to be children, whether at 4, 8, 12, or 16, we do them a great disservice. Here is one more example where well-intentioned people fail to use common sense. Sad!

doyle said...

Dear Mr. B-G,

Thanks, and a Happy New Year to you and yours as well.

Dear Kelly,

Laughing and crying work--I hope a few folks get angry, as well. Plenty of Kool-Aid to go around, judging by the attempts to nationalize curricula.

Dear John,

We need to pick our tools according to our tasks.

The Amish are not anti-technology, either--they're anti-technology-that-separates-the-community.

It's OK to despise certain tools or their misuse or their use at the wrong time. I love ale, but I'm not going to serve it to a two-year-old.

Dear Edie,

Alas, it's not satire--I added a link on the post to the document I discuss.

John Spencer said...

I agree that we need to "pick" our tools. But I think the myths of Pandora and the Sirens and Prometheus all suggest that technology can intoxicate us and cause us to miss the potential negative consequences that will occur.

By the way, I readily admit that I'm stealing my arguments left and right from Neil Postman.

B.Moritz said...

I agree with your comment. Scientifically speaking, humans have evolved very little, if at all in the last 2 generations. However, during that same amount of time, technology has evolved at an alarming rate. While I do not want to appear argumentative, I believe that technology in the classroom is extremely beneficial. Starting at a young age, children are exposed to technology. My four year old niece has an MP3 player which she can proficiently operate and my 8 year old nephew has more knowledge of an iPhone than I do. Today's generation of children are incredibly technology savvy and not including technology in the classroom would be a disservice to them. Technology allows teachers and students to do things differently than ever before. Rather than handwritten notes on an overhead projector, now it is PowerPoint and LCD projectors. Instead of handwritten essays and papers, it is word documents. In place of hand made graphs and charts, students now use Microsoft Excel. With regard to the New Jersey Educational Standards, it sounds as though they include a lot of unclear educational rhetoric and jargon. For as long as I have been a student, and as a teacher myself, students have needed to take standardized tests and prove proficiency or mastery of benchmarks and standards. I believe it is just that those standards continue to change to adapt to advancements in society.

doyle said...

Dear John,

If you're going to borrow ideas, Postman's not a bad place to start.

Dear B. Moritz,

No reason to fear arguments--without them, blogs would be pointless. Might be pointless, anyway.

Children using high tech tools designed to be intuitive is not accomplishing much. If they know how to use the tools, well and good, but that's not a sufficient reason to use them in the classroom. (Heck, I mastered using matches at a very young age--I LOVE fire--but those pesky nuns in 1st grade would have frowned on me using them in class.)

I agree word processing has stood the writing world on its head. I'm not sure Powerpoint hasn't done more harm than good.

For as long as I have been a student, and as a teacher myself, students have needed to take standardized tests and prove proficiency or mastery of benchmarks and standards.

I (obviously) do not know how long you've been teaching, but while taking standardized tests has been around awhile, tying buckets of money to them has not. When I was growing up, the tests were used to measure what each child needed to work on, as opposed as a standard of mastery. The tests were (and are not now) designed to serve as stand-alone metrics for mastery.

Even more important, the idea that all children will master all the same standards to be equally prepared for the, um, marketplace is absurd.

So jump right in--and enjoy the fray!

Thanks for writing.

nashworld said...

Mr. B. Moritz (if you're still tapped in here)... the argument you make here:

"Technology allows teachers and students to do things differently than ever before. Rather than handwritten notes on an overhead projector, now it is PowerPoint and LCD projectors. Instead of handwritten essays and papers, it is word documents. In place of hand made graphs and charts, students now use Microsoft Excel." an interesting one. If I were to be picky, I'd say you just lost your own argument. You asserted that technology allows us to do things differently that before. The trouble is that you provided examples of how technology hasn't really allowed us to do anything differently, only more expensively.

If PowerPoint is used to do nothing more than re-create scribbled notes on a blackboard, then consider the costs of that "upgrade." Wow.

I'm often seen by folks as some sort of a tech-evangelist around these parts. I would suggest that I'm more skeptical than a first glance might show. In reality, I am very suspicious of classroom work that looks "shinier" because it is plugged in. Using technology to enhance a really super learning event is fantastic. Using gadgets to do something we were never really able to do before is golden.

However, you can't spit-shine a turd.

Doyle- "a little makeup and the right blazer." I smiled bit at "film-based devises"... but audibly laughed. I supposed I LOL'd, huh? You know, this post of yours was pretty tame really. When I scrolled down to the image of the infant almost propped up to tap the keyboard, I thought this would be far more brutal.

The whole "use tech terms in conversation" is just silly anyway. It is 2010. Seriously. I think this "race to proficiency" being pushed down this far is criminal. And yet, I actually have to say that by four a child should be able to use "phone", "door", "chair", and "table." This is just the stuff of a modern home. It's just new stuff. There's no magic here.

"Erin, Erin... come quick! Delaney just used "battery" in a sentence."