Student Accountability

Alternate title for this post: How I Can Link NCLB to Pretty Much Anything.

It’s been a little over 24 hours since I learned of Brandon Davies’ dismissal from BYU Men’s Basketball team for an Honor Code violation. And in the past 24 hours, I’ve read and listened to several pundits weigh in on the situation. While some of the punditry praises BYU for not worshipping winning, an equal–if not larger–amount criticizes BYU for its Puritan ideal that can’t be realistic in a 21st century, media-saturated society.

But none of the pundits so far have criticized Brandon Davies.

I don’t intend for this post to turn into a complete blame-fest on Davies, but a couple of key details seem to be regularly omitted from the reporting of this situation.

1. Davies grew up in Provo. It is impossible to grow up in Provo, be recruited by BYU, play there for a year, and not know the importance of the Honor Code–or the consequences of violating it.

2. Davies made a choice. Choices have consequences. I tell my students this all the time, when they ask if they HAVE to do an assignment.

“No,” I tell them. “You can choose not to do the assignment, but you cannot choose your consequences.”

3. Davies knew about his violation long before it was reported. I’m willing to bet Davies has played at least the past three or four weeks, this choice possibly gnawing on his conscience (or not, true). He let his team down the second he made whatever choice he made (I’m not going to speculate, despite the scant details that continue to emerge).

We seem to be in a habit of blaming the school when our students make mistakes or fail outright. It’s BYU’s fault for having such a strict honor code. It’s the teacher’s fault that the kids didn’t pass the state test. Where is the student accountability?

Without looking at my attendance reports, I know 10% of my students have 10 or more absences (some just passed 20 this week). I have students who sit in my room every day and refuse to do any work. I provide pen, pencil, paper, books, articles, time in the lab, heck, I do everything short of placing my hand on top of theirs and moving the writing utensil for them. But whose fault is it, according to politicians and pundits? It’s the school’s. It’s mine.

For 48 short hours, BYU sat at #3 in both polls. They were a projected #1 seed in the NCAA tournament. And then Davies was dismissed. Last night’s game against New Mexico should have been an auto-pilot kind of game. At home, unranked team, only down one guy. I’m positive if Davies had torn his ACL, BYU would have won. Instead, every player seemed zombie-like, unable to shoot, unable to defend, and the crash of BYU’s dream season was spectacular.

Standards are not bad. But when students don’t meet the standard, it’s not always the standard’s fault. The student shoulders part of the blame as well.

So what’s next? Well, just like in my classroom, provide extra support. Help the student turn around; show him how growth can occur in adversity. All choices have consequences, including the choice to change.

Giving Up

Whether I like it or not, I am part of a revolution.

Education is changing at a pace heretofore unseen, and while I like to think I am part of the change, I’m not.


Two stories crossed my path this weekend that let me know I have to change what I do in my room, no matter what the Federal Government thinks is most important.  One note was a post titled “Changing Role of Educators”.  This post advocates radical ideas that directly challenge high stakes testing, but if the drums keep beating that high stakes testing isn’t working, I hope it’s just a matter of time before real, honest reform happens.

The other story is about a kid in Spanish Fork, Utah.  My parents told me about this story, and I’ve been thinking about it all day. Then I attended #engchat tonight, which was all about cross-country collaboration, and it hit me:

Kids will read what they want to read.

Kids will learn what they want to learn.

I wonder if 50% of my discipline problems–and I have very few–happen because students know what I’m having them do is fake. It’s a hoop. It’s irrelevant.

Which I sometimes interpret as, I am irrelevant.

I know I’m not–as a teacher, I possess knowledge and experience that can benefit my students. But honestly, what do I want my students to gain from reading A Farewell to Arms or The Great Gatsby? Why do they write canned responses to disembodied, decontextualized prompts?

A wise person at NCTE told me that if I want to see true, authentic writing in my building, I needed to visit the journalism room. As a former newspaper adviser, I already knew this. But how do I create similar situations in my classroom?

Project-based learning and cross-country collaboration are surely starts, but it requires something quite big of me: giving up.

I must give up the idea that I hold all knowledge.

I must give up the idea that my students have little to offer me.

I must give up control of a lecture-based classroom.

I must give up most of what I learned in undergrad education college.

But I have a feeling that what I would gain would far surpass the experiences I currently have–which are good.

I must give up what is good to risk seeing something great.

What Did You Learn Today?

Tonight I had the good fortune of an unexpected visit with my nieces and nephew.  I asked my 8 year old niece, who LOVES school, who LOVES reading, who LOVES learning, what she learned in school today.  Her reply?

“Well, I learned that I need to use strategies to help me do well on tests that are a grade so that I don’t score progressing or beginning.  Because a 1 or a 2 is bad.”

It was one of the most depressing conversations I’ve ever had about education.

I feel like I should write more about this exchange, parsing it out to uncover the horrible reality that is high-stakes testing, but haven’t you already heard that rant every day for the past 10 years?

I thought so.


Side Effects of NCTE

I intended on blogging about my entire NCTE experience, and I may still do that.  The holiday and family and the Cold to End All Colds have rendered me rather unproductive during this break.

I’ve been home from NCTE for a week.  I was rather anxious about attending, because I felt like it would be a watershed moment in my career.  I’m 10 years in, and in this past year I’ve realized the amibitions I had when I went to grad school can actually be fulfilled as a classroom teacher.  I went to NCTE, prepared for two possible outcomes:

1.  Become disillusioned with teaching English, go back to my job and do what I’ve always done.

2.  Become inspired with teaching English, go back to my job, and take on “The Man” to affect change.

Welcome to Outcome #2.

And now I can’t turn off my teacher brain.  So this morning when I read this column about how newspapers need to change to retain readers and to simply survive, I couldn’t help but think about public schools.

Sure, newspapers need a business model to make money, so a direct comparison to public education would be flawed.  However, what I gleaned from this article is that this International Media Consulting Group has provided publishers with some ideas to save their businesses.  Most of the ideas involve 21st Century Skills: critical thinking, collaboration, play, digital literacies.

So now it’s time to see what publishers will do with this information, just like our administrators are bombarded with ideas to improve education.  Change is scary.  It is uncomfortable.  It is so different from what many of us were initially trained to do.

At the risk of using another flawed analogy: my brother-in-law is an orthopedic surgeon. A hundred years ago, amputations were more common.  If you had bad knees, you dealt with the pain.  What would happen to my brother-in-law’s career if he said, “Amputation worked 100 years ago, so it’s the first stop today.”  Or “I’m sorry your knees hurt–if only there was a minimally invasive way to find the problem and fix it!”  Technology has propelled medicine forward.

Newspapers have to change, education has to change. But it has to change for the better.  Simply buying a bunch of shiny gadgets or loosening the death grip on Internet filters won’t do it.  These 21st century skills aren’t about the technology.  They are about how to use the technology for the greater good.  They are about how to collaborate between English and Science departments or Math and History, with a little Music or Drama mixed in.

Continued compartmentalization will kill us. Just like it’s killing newspapers.


What The Kids Said

So I asked the kiddos how they might fix public education.  Here are some of their responses.

  • Longer school days
  • Fire teachers who aren’t willing to do their jobs
  • Year round school
  • Pay kids to improve achievement
  • Raise standards–no more Ds
  • Students and parents need an attitude change
  • Higher expectations

And of course there were the less logical, more absurd comments:

  • Cut required classes: English isn’t “necisarry” past 8th grade.
  • Get rid of History
  • Shorter school days
  • Put cameras in classrooms to make sure teachers are doing their jobs

I was surprised at how many of them wanted high standards, longer school days, and a longer school year.  I was surprised at how many of them held themselves and their parents accountable. 

And honestly, I was surprised that so few of them blamed teachers.

Maybe we should put kids in charge of education policy.