Down with ‘achievement’

In a letter in the New York Times, a former teacher, principal and superintendent from Portland, Oregon urges President Obama to improve schools by ignoring “achievement” and “rigor.”

Finally, I’d tell him to lose the words “achievement” and “rigor,” which have no connection to the inquisitiveness, determination, creative thinking and perseverance students need for genuine lifelong learning.

Joanne Yatvin

No connection? I remain dubious about the idea that those who’ve learned little in school will become “lifelong learners” at some happy day in the future.  As for “inquisitiveness, determination, creative thinking and perseverance,” those traits usually lead to achievement in the here and now without the necessity of waiting till winged pigs are ice-skating in hell.  I don’t even think that “achievement” and “rigor” foreclose the possibility of “creative thinking.” Not unless “creative” is a synonym for “wrong” and “thinking” means “making a poster.”

The letter was a response to a Times’ editorial, “Ending the ‘Race to the Bottom’,” which praised President Obama’s education speech.

About Joanne

Comments

  1. I fear that this explains a great deal. Let’s hope that “former” remains so.

  2. Physics Teacher says:

    I fear that this explains a great deal. Let’s hope that “former” remains so.

    Unfortunately, this is typical of the crap they teach in education schools. You pretty much have to be this way to keep your job as a teacher and really be a true believer if you want to rise to principal status.

  3. I looked Yatvin up, and she appears to have many credentials, yet still made such a silly statement. I would say that “inquisitiveness, determination, creative thinking and perseverance” are all outcomes of a rigorous education based focused on student achievement — aka learning.

    I’ve never met an individual committed to life-long learning because his previous education was without rigor and achievement.

    It’s bizarre to me that Yatvin would choose to pick a fight over semantics.

  4. Barry Garelick says:

    “Rigor and achievement” are bad words in the ed school realm. In the ed school thought world, these words represent “inauthentic” learning. That is, a preponderence of learning “facts”. In math, the criticism of what the students in Asian countries are doing is not learning how to solve math problems, but are merely doing “exercises”; i.e., applying a mechanistic algorithmic solution to a particular type of problem that they’ve seen before. The ed school belief, which is carried and kept alive by people such as Yatvin, is that “authentic” learning is doing things that are “off the script”. Mastery is a waste of time because it suppresses higher order thinking skills according to these people. They don’t seem to understand that it is the acquisition of knowledge that allows one to think critically, to use a hackneyed term.

    What they push for is “authentic” assessment which in their view are open-ended fuzzy questions that measure creative thinking rather than mastery of “mundane facts and procedures”.

  5. Physics Teacher says:

    She seems to have the typical credentials of a typical education professor. Someone who’s spent an entire lifetime in education and has had little exposure to the world outside of education. I had education professors like this too. One thought that reading, writing, and ‘rithmetic were no longer useful in industry, and he based this on some survey of CEOs. He seemed to think that cooperation among the ignorant would magically overcome all technical difficulties. His notion of “success” bore little resemblance to any real success outside of k12 education.

    We shouldn’t be letting lifelong education experts make all the decisions regarding education because they often have lost touch with the very reasons we pursue education to begin with.

  6. LAUSD Teacher says:

    Perhaps it’s not the words she’s objecting to but their misuse and overuse in education?

    Staffs I’ve worked with have heard rigor thrown around so much they’ve dubbed it rigor mortis. And achievement has come to mean doing well on a standardized test. Let’s not throw out the ideas but perhaps we could expand their meaning to include the things like inquisitiveness and creative thinking.

  7. I agree that the word “rigor” is often misused in schools. Too often assigning young children page after page of pure busywork is touted as “rigorous”. No, the proper description of that is “tedious”.

    True rigor involves challenging students to stretch themselves intellectually. Unfortunately, too few schools actually put that into practice.

  8. Physics Teacher says:

    True rigor involves challenging students to stretch themselves intellectually. Unfortunately, too few schools actually put that into practice

    That’s because success, as defined by schools, is a really, really high percentage — of something.

    The absence of mistakes in the real world is a worthwhile, if lofty, goal. The absence of mistakes in training of any kind — and k-12 is certainly training in my book — is absurd. This is the time to push kids intellectually until they do make mistakes so they can learn from them.

    The musclebound folks in the gym are the ones who push their muscles into FAILURE, not those that do some nice even number of reps and never experience failure of any kind with a barbell.

    Another reason for non-rigorous but tedious work is the mixed ability classes. Give a homework that’s challenging to your highest achievers and the rest of the class will tell you that it was too hard to even attempt. You’ll hear nothing but “I DON’T UNDERSTAND!”

  9. I’m liking Joanne’s take on this.

  10. LAUSD Teacher – if she’s objecting to over-used words, why does she favour “creative thinking” herself?

    I don’t have any objection to creative thinking per se (though I do think that if a school is going to teach creative thinking they should do so seriously, not use it as an excuse for ill-defined topics and exercises), but it’s certainly a big buzz word.

  11. Too often assigning young children page after page of pure busywork is touted as “rigorous”. No, the proper description of that is “tedious”.

    And often, counterproductive.

    In the schools I frequent, it is a subset of parents who are demanding that even kindergarteners have pencil & paper homework each night.

    Practice makes perfect Perfect practice (meaning timely feedback & correction), appropriately spaced, is one of the preconditions for automaticity and mastery.

  12. It’s true, I ignore “achievement” and “rigor,” at work and I am completely satisfied with my performance.

    Of course my boss is a little pissed off these days… but hey, who cares.

  13. When I look at this woman’s creditials, I don’t think “impressive” – I think, “Wow, she wasted her entire education on this Ed School garbage.”

    Everyone at the big four-year Universities knows that Ed School is where the students who couldn’t get into any other program ended up… A lot of the other programs don’t even consider it a “real” major! And if you think that’s just an urban legend, check the average SAT scores of the various majors and you’ll see that it’s true.

    Unfortunately.

  14. It’s not an absolute that one must adopt such a mindset to advance in education. You can find the rare district where achievement and rigor are prized, but you will have to do some searching.

    In my experience, perhaps 50% of teachers can’t correctly match a given standard, lesson activity, or assessment question with the associated level of Bloom’s Taxonomy. Is it any wonder that our schools don’t provide a rigorous education?

  15. “It’s true, I ignore “achievement” and “rigor,” at work and I am completely satisfied with my performance.

    Of course my boss is a little pissed off these days… but hey, who cares.”
    Funny!

    Captain Sisko — I’m not from a teacher ed, program, but I do think you’re comments are a bit harsh. There ARE people in education programs as students and professors who are there pursuing a passion to help kids and become incredible teachers. Not that the traditional prep system isn’t without faults and need for reform, but let’s not paint all traditionally certified teachers with the same brush.

  16. Yikes! So many typos! I should have proof read my previous comment first.

  17. Physics Teacher says:

    There ARE people in education programs as students and professors who are there pursuing a passion to help kids and become incredible teachers.

    The fact that someone has passion doesn’t mean they’re doing something optimally. There were surgeons during the civil war who were passionate about saving lives and limbs, but they did this with filthy saws and whiskey. This is where ed schools are right now in their evolution.

    The civil war surgeons had a much better excuse.

    Not that the traditional prep system isn’t without faults and need for reform,

    Other disciplines aren’t without faults. Education training is without merit to begin with.

    but let’s not paint all traditionally certified teachers with the same brush.

    I didn’t seen anyone painting traditionally certified teachers with any brush. I’m a traditionally certified teacher and I’ll be the first to tell you that these programs are trash.

    Saying that any idiot can get a teaching degree is not the same as saying that every holder of a teaching degree is an idiot. Any idiot can scratch his head, but it doesn’t follow that everyone who’s scratched his head is an idiot.

    The problem with these programs is that they a) do not filter out idiots, and b) they teach nothing.

  18. Ed schools have been full of useless/ridiculous courses for decades. I know schools who offered (and teachers who took) not only “beanbag”, but “advanced beanbag”. In both courses, students had to design a game with beanbags. THIS IS NOT EDUCATION AND IT IS NOT LEGITIMATE TEACHER PREPARATION. Is it any wonder that ed schools are considered jokes? especially at the elementary-ed level. It is not enough to love kids and it is not enough to be passionate/caring etc. Transmission of knowledge and instillation of the discipline to pursue it aren’t even on the agenda.

  19. The quote, taken out of context, says as much about the state of government as about the state of schooling.

    The federal government has defined “achievement” in terms of scores on ungrounded statistical scales. And “rigor” is associated with an impossible statistical formula termed “adequate yearly progress” Even worse, “proficiency” has been reduced to arbitrary cut scores on the ungrounded tests.

    Neither the media, nor the Obama administration have recognized that the common definitions have been abused in this way. Yatvin lapses into EdTalk in the quote, but she makes reasonable points in the rest of her letter about rewarding merit and about reducing strictures for all schools, not just for charter schools.

    The other letters the Times posts are also very thoughtful. Read all of them and then decide.

    Ed Schools and the Academy in general can be faulted for allowing the debauchery of terminology to occur, and the media can be faulted for swallowing governmental press releases whole. Consequently neither President Obama nor the public is getting a straight story, and we don’t yet have any “Change we can believe in” in el-hi schooling.

  20. “In the schools I frequent, it is a subset of parents who are demanding that even kindergarteners have pencil & paper homework each night.”

    If these parents believe that their children would benefit from doing page after page in some workbook, there is nothing stopping them from picking one up at their local bookstore and assigning it to their offspring. Then the rest of the children would be free to use their afterschool time in more worthwhile pursuits.

  21. But Crimson, aren’t we supposed to be responsive to what parents want for their children’s education? This is the very thing you and others call for on this board all the time: the parents have demanded homework, and the teachers have complied.

  22. Amy Strecker wrote: “I’ve never met an individual committed to life-long learning because his previous education was without rigor and achievement. ”

    We do exist! My K-12 education was a joke, with a content-free curriculum and stupid, vapid teachers (this isn’t sour grapes; they were very pleasant people who treated me well; but they knew nothing). My college education, outside of my science courses, was hardly any better. So I’ve dedicated myself to serious study of history, philosophy, literature and political theory to compensate for the loss. I know a lot, but I can’t compensate for that lost time.

    Still, at least I was able to recover. If I had gone to a “relentless school,” how could I ever have had time to think for myself? Many people on this website seem to like the idea of kids being chased up a ladder with a whip, and that does, indeed, inhibit creativity and independent thinking. It makes kids good at following orders and learning what others want you to learn. When the carrot and stick disappear, so does their “desire” to learn. They’re apathetic without them.

    Are “rigorously” trained students “lifelong learners?” Well, I have many friends and acquaintances who were students from “rigorous” schools who are very, very accomplished (doctors, engineers, etc.), and all they do in their spare time is play video games and watch TV. Without a carrot and stick — which is what we’re all talking about here, right? — they have no energy left to care about anything. Their intellects are powerful, but they can’t grow anymore. Like I said before, it’s the apathy.

    I believe that these words “rigor and achievement” have no meaning in this context. What’s “rigor?” It’s easy to devise curriculum that’s extremely hard that has scanty intellectual content. (A note to “Physics Teacher”: How about those murderously hard physics and math problems from the old Cambridge Tripos exams? Many are pedantic and relatively useless, but they sure are “rigorous.”)I think that lots of people believe that, if kids are being made to sweat, they’re somehow learning. The intellectual content is just assumed to be there, but usually, it isn’t. They’re learning to obey powerful strangers; such subservience is the real “worldview that makes the underclass.” Sure, some of them are “rich,” but in the eyes of those AIG executives, everyone here is the underclass.

    Drivel….

  23. Part 2 of rant:
    Nobody will deny the need for genuine rigor, but sadly, ed-school programs “don’t filter out idiots,” as one reviewer shrewdly commented. You need well-educated people to judge what those things really mean, and sadly, they are sometimes absent from the teacher preparation business (as many teachers have told me!).

  24. Lightly Seasoned-
    In the comment from Liz Ditz, she indicated that it was only a minority of the parents calling for drill-and-kill homework in the primary grades. I’m all for schools being responsive to parental concerns, but why should the desires of a small number of parents for these types of assignments outweigh the wishes of the other parents for no such busywork? Especially since the research evidence shows there is no increase in student achievement for homework in the elementary grades.

  25. Most homework (like most classroom instruction) deals with something the kid already knows or doesn’t have the foggiest notion of how to do it. And very little has anything to do with acquiring defined academic expertise. As a teacher why the assignment and you’ll get gibberish rhetoric. As the kid, and you’ll get, “I dunno.” Ask a parent and you’ll get, “The teacher assigned it.

    “Rigor” is an empty term. And “achievement” has been reduced to arbitrarily set cutting scores on ungrounded statistical scales.

    Instruction is instruction whether it’s in the classroom or at home. The thing is, in eiher locale, a good deal of it is misinstruction. Some kids learn without formal instruction and others learn despite the misinstuction. Schools base their success on these kids, and slap psychobabbled “deficits” to “explain” the failures of the rest.

  26. Crimson: I’ll bet most of the posters here are in the minority.

    Don’t mind me; I’m just relishing the irony of you saying that maybe the teacher should exercise some professional judgment when it comes to parental demands.

    Dick: most of the homework I assign is reading. Sometimes the kids even do it.