It's About Quality, Not Victory
Scott McLeod, J.D., Ph.D., is an Associate Professor of Educational Leadership at the University of Kentucky. He also is the Founding Director of the UCEA Center for the Advanced Study of Technology Leadership in Education (CASTLE), the nation’s only academic center dedicated to the technology needs of school administrators, and was a co-creator of the wildly popular video series, Did You Know? (Shift Happens). He has received numerous national awards for his technology leadership work, including recognitions from the cable industry, Phi Delta Kappa, and the National School Boards Association. In Spring 2011 he was a Visiting Canterbury Fellow at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand. Dr. McLeod blogs regularly about technology leadership issues at Dangerously Irrelevant and Mind Dump, and occasionally at The Huffington Post. He can be reached at scottmcleod.net.
What follows is an actual conversation between me and a dear friend who is also an administrative colleague. His name has not been changed, since he is guilty and cannot be protected like the innocent.
Setting: About four o'clock on a wintry afternoon in Vice-Principal Jim's office in NJ. The office's aged, mint green walls are adorned with motivational quotes from great NFL, NBA, and MLB coaches.
ME: "So Jim, what do you think the Superintendent is going to say about the proposed change to the school's grade scale?"
JIM: "You know what, whatever gets the kids working harder. I just think the weighting of AP and Honors courses is going to throw off the ranking system."
ME: "Good. The ranking thing should go. We're not about competition - we're about learning. If it were up to me, I'd do away with grades, scales, ranking... all that."
JIM: "You're nuts! We have to keep ranks and grades. How else do we know who is doing better or well in a subject? And we rank to see who is the best in the class. Besides, competition is good for kids. They have to compete to get into college."
ME: "So you're saying that it's okay to have a number one student? That means, Jim, that to have a number one, there must be a number two, then a three, and so on. You're saying it's okay to have kids at number 100? We shouldn't have them compete, we should have them collaborate and learn. The weak helped by the strong. Competition is for the field, not the classroom."
JIM: "That's why I'll never work for you at a school you run."
I love Jim. He's an honest man, a good father, a great mentor for lost adolescents. But he's dead wrong about competition in the schoolhouse. To make him upset and aggravated, I sometimes use facts and ideas from Alfie Kohn to combat his arguments. Jim listens, but thinks I am too rebellious for my own good.
One article from Mr. Kohn that I use frequently to argue my point about the need to eliminate competition from the schoolhouse is entitled "Against "Competitiveness": Why Good Teachers Aren't Thinking About the Global
Economy". It appeared in the September 19, 2007 edition of Education Week.
Janet Swenson at Michigan State University points out that
"we'll all benefit from the best education we can provide to every child on
the face of this planet. Do you care if it's a child in Africa who finds a
cure for cancer rather than a child in your country?" she asks.
Bravo Ms. Swenson. When NCLB was proudly announced as the law of the land, schoolhouses became battlegrounds; each school district against another, each factor grouping against another, each state against another - which really only translates into each child against the other. NCLB may have "raised the bar" (whatever that means), but it also made schools places of gaming, not learning.
And now for my close-to-home moment. Try not to gag or vomit on your keyboard when you read the comments of one Dr. Larrie Reynolds, Superintendent of NJ's Pequannock Schools. Dr. Reynolds is a newly hired Superintendent from the great state of Texas (known for its educational leadership, of course). Mr. Reynolds was featured in the February 18 Bergen Record. The title of the story: "Pequannock Goes For Gold". Here are some excerpts.
The Gold Academy will be the most rigorous and selective program the
high school has to offer. It's more selective than honors classes,
which require only a teacher's recommendation.
It was designed to address concerns that some of the best students leave the district after middle school for private schools.
"That is why our high school scores are not very good, or not as good as they should be,'' Reynolds said.
Wait, there's more...
He heard that 22 eighth-graders were considering leaving the
district in the next school year. In the last four years, 64 students,
10 percent of the high school enrollment, left for private schools.
"If those 64 students were still in our high school, how would our high school have been different?'' Reynolds said.
suspect we would have had better achievement results, higher SAT
scores, we'd have better results in the classrooms,'' he said. "We
would have had a better school.''
He ends his unbelievable comments with this:
"If we can celebrate and recognize and honor talent on the athletic
field, then public schools had better be willing to do the same thing
on the academic field,'' Reynolds said. "In many ways, it's more
Rumor has it that if you call Pequannock Schools, you will be greeted by the salutation "Pequannock Schools, striving to be number one...". Apparently, this is what anyone who answers a phone in Pequannock is ordered, by Dr. Reynolds, to say.
So what do we do about ranking and competition in classrooms, in schools, in districts, in states, in our country? Do we just ignore it and accept it? Apparently so. Not many states have given back the ransom cash Washington D.C. ponied up to get us to buy into NCLB. Not many schools have stopped the practice of ranking students. Monthly and weekly publications still sell out copies of the issues that rank colleges, universities, and high schools (NJ is famous for its yearly ranking magazine articles). I think we like it. We are Americans; we are supposed to thrive on competition. The problem is, I don't see where the competition is taking us. Or maybe I do - and that's what I can't tolerate.
As you embark on your journey to school today, I ask you one question. Did you eat your Wheaties?
~ Mike Parent - guest blogger
Science and the squishiness of the human mind. The joys of wearing whatever the hell you want, and so much more.
- Why can't we have a human-sized cat tree?
- What would happen if you got a spoonful of a neutron star?
- Why do we insist on dividing our wonderfully complex selves into boring little boxes
Progressive America would be half as big, but twice as populated as its conservative twin.
- America's two political tribes have consolidated into 'red' and 'blue' nations, with seemingly irreconcilable differences.
- Perhaps the best way to stop the infighting is to go for a divorce and give the two nations a country each
- Based on the UN's partition plan for Israel/Palestine, this proposal provides territorial contiguity and sea access to both 'red' and 'blue' America
A guide to making difficult conversations possible—and peaceful—in an increasingly polarized nation.
- How can we reach out to people on the other side of the divide? Get to know the other person as a human being before you get to know them as a set of tribal political beliefs, says Sarah Ruger. Don't launch straight into the difficult topics—connect on a more basic level first.
- To bond, use icebreakers backed by neuroscience and psychology: Share a meal, watch some comedy, see awe-inspiring art, go on a tough hike together—sharing tribulation helps break down some of the mental barriers we have between us. Then, get down to talking, putting your humanity before your ideology.
- The Charles Koch Foundation is committed to understanding what drives intolerance and the best ways to cure it. The foundation supports interdisciplinary research to overcome intolerance, new models for peaceful interactions, and experiments that can heal fractured communities. For more information, visit charleskochfoundation.org/courageous-collaborations.
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