By April 27, 2016 Uncategorized No Comments

“Having lost sight of our objectives, we redoubled our efforts.”

~ Walt Kelly in the comic strip Pogo

Imagine if your boss told you after you tried to do something to “redouble your efforts.”

Does this mean that she had previously told you to “double your efforts,” but that wasn’t enough, so you need to double it AGAIN?

Exactly how hard should you try now? Twice as hard or four times as hard as your first attempt?

What if you had already redoubled your effort and still failed? Are you now being asked to try eight times as much as you did on the first attempt?

Let’s just say you’re a widget maker. Does telling you to redouble your efforts translate to “work harder making widgets” or “make four times as many widgets”?

I suspect you are getting as confused as I am, so let’s get some help.

According to the Grammarist website: To double something is to make it twice as great. To redouble is (1) to double something again, or (2) to make something much greater (as opposed to just twice as great).

So to redouble one’s efforts might really mean to double them again, to further emphasize or reinforce them beyond whatever doubling you may have done before.

The phrase “redouble your efforts” carries a sort of “eat your vegetables” exhortatory quality that, well, may not get that many people to eat their vegetables.

We have all heard politicians throw this expression around like it was a Nerf football.

A few years ago, in a speech at the annual convention of the Council for Exceptional Children, former Secretary of Education Arne Duncan remarked that he and President Barack Obama believed that all children — regardless of ability level — should leave school ready for college and career.

“I’m asking all of us to redouble our efforts and redouble our supports,” Duncan said. “High expectations must be the norm, not the exception.”

You see, in Duncan’s mind, the only reason children with special needs were not graduating from high school ready for college was because teachers and schools had not sufficiently redoubled our efforts to make it happen. We just need to try harder.

Well, now we are being told to redouble our efforts once again.

In response to the recent release of 2015 results for 12th-grade students on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), which revealed that just 37 percent of high school seniors scored at the college-ready level reading or math, William J. Bushaw, executive director of the National Assessment Governing Board, said this:

“The governing board is pleased that graduation rates are increasing across the country, but at the same time we are not making the progress we need to for post-secondary, work, and military participation. We have to redouble our efforts to prepare our students and to close opportunity gaps.”

In case it’s not obvious to you, I have long since slipped past healthy skepticism and resigned myself to unhealthy cynicism with respect to either major political party and their proclamations relative to we need to be doing to improve public education.

When people like new Education Secretary John King say we need to spend less time preparing students for high stakes tests while simultaneously fighting to keep federal testing and accountability mandates, I want to redouble my efforts to tell him to shut up.

But, I digress. Let’s get back to the underwhelming NAEP results.

According to the executive summary, in comparison to 2013, the national average mathematics score in 2015 for twelfth-grade students was lower and the average reading score was not significantly different.

“In comparison to the first year of the current trend line, 2005, the average mathematics score in 2015 did not significantly differ. In comparison to the initial reading assessment year, 1992, the 2015 average reading score was lower.

The data also show that large racial and ethnic achievement gaps have persisted. White and Asian students continue to significantly outperform their black, Hispanic, and American Indian/Alaska Native peers.

While 47 percent of Asian students and 32 percent of white students scored at or above proficient in math, just 7 percent of black students and 12 percent of Hispanic students did the same.

Furthermore, there were no changes in the black-white and white-Hispanic score gaps for math or reading between 2013 and 2015. In fact, none of the racial and ethnic subgroups performed significantly differently than they had in 2013.

Despite two decades of test-based reforms, the NAEP results seem to show the BILLIONS of dollars we have spent chasing test scores has been for naught!

Subjecting millions of American children to a regime of test, rank, sort and punish has simply turned many of our public schools— particularly in urban areas— into joyless, drill-and-kill test factories completely disassociated from real learning and the development of meaningful employment skills.

Yet, the message we are supposed to read from these NAEP results is we need to “redouble our efforts” one more damn time!

Maybe we should start giving 110% while we are at it.

The quote from the Pogo cartoon strip was meant to be satirical, but it is sadly all too true when it comes to education reforms in America.

“Fanaticism consists of redoubling your efforts when you have forgotten your aim.” ~George Santayana

We have lost sight of the true aim of public education. By focusing so narrowly on test-based measures, we ignore the myriad and diverse ways that children learn, grow, and develop.

Moreover, we refuse to even begin to address the critical question of what it means to be an educated person in the 21st century. We pretend that a high score on a NAEP test that very few 12th graders give a damn about is somehow an accurate predictor of success in college or life.

Instead of redoubling our efforts on the futile and meaningless chase for higher test scores, how about we abandon those failed efforts and try something different?

Books have been written on this very topic, but I offer just one approach that does not require redoubling our efforts.  Rather, it simply means changing our thinking and our approaches for educating the wide variety of children who attend our schools, now and in the future.

First of all, there are many other factors which play an important role in college readiness. Have we not learned that test scores alone do not always provide an accurate portrait of a student’s potential for success in college? What about traits like hard work, responsibility, resilience, dedication, tenacity, and a disposition for lifelong learning?

Another way to make sure that more freshmen are ready for college is to encourage young people who aren’t ready for college to head in different directions.

As Charles Murray recently wrote in the Wall Street Journal, “What we need is an educational system that brings children with all combinations of assets and deficits to adulthood having identified things they enjoy doing and having learned how to do them well.”

This means taking the “career” half of “college- and career-ready” much more seriously, especially when designing options for high school students for whom regular schooling is no longer engaging or personally relevant.

Is anyone else tired of redoubling our efforts when we know that no matter what we do, it will never be enough for some people?

It is offensive to the hard work and commitment educators give to their students and professions every day to imply that test scores have not improved due to our lack of effort.

Maybe it is time for lawmakers to redouble THEIR efforts to adequately fund our schools and provide educators with the support and resources we need to meet our students’ diverse needs.

A helping hand would be much more useful than another speech.

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