Location: Texas, United States

I am a teacher with 33 years experience in public education. The purpose of this web log is to critically examine the present state of education in our great country and, particularly, in Texas.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

You have to wonder

Lately, I have been doing a lot of thinking about what is important to know. We send kids to school to learn supposedly. But, what? What is it that is going to be important to know at 20, 30 or 50? What kind of knowledge is it important to have to get a job. I thought of all the years we spend teaching kids what we think of as a set of skills that are supposed to help them function in the world. In my musings, I decided to go look at the released Texas TAKS tests. Because I taught science I decided to look at science. I came across the following question.

A block of maple wood with a volume of 405 centimeters and a density of 0.67 g/cm(3) is sawed in half. The density of the two smaller blocks is now -

A. one-fourth the original density
B. one-half the original density
C. two times the original density
D. the same as the original density.

This question is found on the 8th grade Texas science TAKS test. Given that the kid taking the test had missed enough questions save one to fail the test, this question could be the one that makes the difference. This question could be the one that triggers all sorts of academic consequences of the kid. Further, if enough kids had failed to pass the test, this question could be the one that lowers a schools rating thereby impacting everyone in the school.

The academic in me is screaming to get out. The academic wants to say everyone should know the concept of density inside and out. Everyone should know that if you cut a substance in half the native density does not change. But, I have to ask myself and my readers the following question.

How many of us find the concept of density vital to our well being. How many of us get by just fine throughout our entire lives without knowing that cutting a block of wood in half does not change the native density of the wood. How many stock brokers, lawyers, cooks, writers or even cardiovascular surgeons speak of density everyday of their lives.

And how important is it that if this question is marked incorrectly a kids academic career needs to be interrupted. In the Houston Independent School Distict the new superintendent announced that three low performing HISD high schools will have outside groups take over the management of the schools. One of the principals who would be basically fired from his position has been in the job less than a year. Further, this years standardized tests have not been taken yet. Could something like that question have triggered that rather radical step.

I also feel moved to ask the heretical question of; so what? So what if my kid misses that question? What does that mean for my child' future. Does it condemn a kid to the intellectual rubbish heap of history? Should he lose his summer by having to go to summer school to take a lot of nonrelated work in the other subjects that he would be required to take?

I am willing to go out on a limb here and say that if the average citizen forgot everything they ever knew about density, the world will not stop turning. If a kid misses that question is there any reason to have a stroke over it? Is there any real reason to drop a schools accountability rating. I would like to know if there are any schools whose accountability rating has been dropped because one more kid missed one more question. I am sure of it. In all the cases where schools have dropped in accountability rating, there certainly must have been a question that was a tipping point.

Just wondering this morning.

Looking around the blogs:

Let's all give support to the Carnival of Education Week #3. Entries for this weeks Carnival should go to owlshome (at)

Education watch has is dealing with the real problem of bias against conservative student groups.

Over at the Unrepentant Individual be sure and read this article about bloggers and their blogging lynch mob.

Professor Plum gives a wonderful analysis of the present crisis in edland.

At Blackboard Jungle there is an excellent quotation about properly placed cynicism about schools. And to our fearless writer of the jungle - have a great break.

Video taping of teachers is the excellent topic for Chris Correa today.

At Number 2 Pencil we find a post about a school addressing the minority achievement gap.


Blogger Brad Warbiany said...

I've got to take you to task for this. First, the entire premise that this one question could be the tipping point is flawed. A test score is an aggregate thing. If you answer every other question correctly, but miss one about density, you're going to do well. This could be just one cog in a much wider inability to understand science. One question does not a failure make. If a lack of understanding density is the tipping point between success and failure on the TAKS, then you could make the same argument about any other question on the test, because if you're at 60.1%, whatever additional question you miss throws you over the line.

As a second, and completely separate argument, I think it is bad to think that we should set up our high school education to specialize and disregard things such as science. People leave science out because your average historian doesn't think about it, but that does not mean it is not important. Understanding the critical thinking skills necessary to form a hypothesis and develop tests to prove whether that hypothesis is true is important. And that, in a nutshell, is science. I could easily make the argument that I, as an engineer, don't use history in my daily life, and didn't need it in high school. Or, that my "English" classes, which were more a study of literature, had no bearing on my future. But you would (rightly) suggest that not understanding literature or history would make me a poor citizen, even if it didn't make me a poor engineer. Likewise, I wonder what kind of citizen our students would become without a basic understanding of math, science, economics, and countless other subjects. It may not require them to know density 20 years down the road, but having a mind tuned to critical and analytic thinking is crucial to the future of our country.

Granted, most of current schooling is more tasked with teaching facts than honing analytic thought, but that's a completely separate argument.

9:08 PM  
Blogger Lectrice said...

Why, thank you! I did.

5:36 AM  
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