“Many people love falsehood. Few love the truth. Because falsehood
can be loved truly, but truth cannot be loved falsely.”
~ Rebbe Yaakov Yitzchak of Peshischa
It’s easy to love the falsehood that all we need is to work harder and raise the bar. Such falsehoods persist because few love the truth — that many of our students are years behind grade level and, at least in the short-term, that cannot be changed. While it is remotely possible to pack five or more years of academic learning into one year, that will never happen in a standard classroom. The intense instruction required cannot be accomplished within the constraints created by that classroom — especially when we “raise the bar.”
America’s lowest-scoring students need easier books they can actually read. They also need more time in school. They need longer school days, shorter summer vacations, and more time spent on academics during the evening. We can raise the bar, lower the bar or or do a pole dance with it. It won’t matter unless we find enough time to help our students learn what they don’t know.
If they are far enough behind, it’s nothing but fiction to think the fix can be accomplished in a regular school year. For one thing, those higher-scoring students in healther and/or wealthier districts are learning faster than their disadvantaged counterparts. The studies show that reading is the best predictor of academic success and also influences the rate at which students learn. Better readers learn more — and they also learn faster.
Our disadvantaged students take longer to learn, in large part because of reading deficiencies. If we want those students to catch up, they need to put in more time than their more-advantaged counterparts. To give an example, let’s say I am teaching chapter five in an astronomy book. If my academically-advantaged students can read and understand the chapter in eight hours, and my disadvantaged students need fifteen hours, then the only way to keep these groups even is to find the extra 15 – 8 = 7 hours my lower group needs to make it through chapter five. There is no substitute for that extra seven hours.
Raising the bar is likely to hurt that lower group of students, too. Let’s say we hand these students a harder book. Now the advantaged group needs 10 hours to get through chapter five of the astronomy book while the disadvantaged group needs nineteen hours. The lower group now needs an extra 9 hours to be caught up to the higher group. Only that “extra nine hours” does not exist.There may be a few hours of afterschool tutoring available, but that tutoring generally will be for math and English since those are the areas will most benefit test scores.
That raised bar just smacked my students in the head..A lot of newly-raised bars are dealing similar blows. Many kids can’t jump over the bars we have now. To quote Stephen P. Crawford, superintendent of the Byng school district in Oklahoma, “It’s the same principle as asking kids to jump a bar one foot off the ground and providing no exceptions for children who are in a wheelchair” (Quality Counts, 2004, http://www.edweek.org/ew/issues/special-education)
How crazy is all of this? Because the placement of the bar has never been the problem, moving the bar is asinine solution.