Sunday, March 27, 2011

Near-1000 API... Learned Thinkers or Learned Conditional Behavior

A nearby school which shall remain anonymous received an API score of 930-something out of 1000.... the NCLB goal by 2014 is that all students will score proficient or advanced on the standardized exams, with a score of at least 800 school-wide. So one would think, wow, amazing, and if you knew the school was 90% free/reduced lunch, 50% English learner you'd say, what do they do and how can I replicate it? Show me the money (that comes from such high scores)!

How do they do it? Bringing to mind psychologist B.F. Skinner's behavioral conditioning (similar to Pavlov's dog), the school teaches only math and English up until the standardized exams. I know teachers who have visited this school and these children have certainly been conditioned..I believe they wear uniforms, and there isn't an ornery student in the bunch. They sit up straight, hands on the desk, eyes on the teacher, quiet as a mouse. The teachers ONLY teach multiple choice...everything. (Okay so 4th grade takes a writing exam so they get the "privilege" of writing).

They have a no-excuses approach. Teachers develop review questions or previiew skills that will be taught. Among the answer choices (see, multiple choice only!) they must select the distractors- the wrong answers, identify key words and numbers in the question/answers, write them on their hand-held white boards, then prove and dissprove each A,B,C,D answer. The teacher moves about the classroom as they do this, providing "instant feedback". Supposedly this school is rewarded for such "high level thinking skills". Once the students solve the problem, a graph of their performance is shown, reteaching is given, and the teacher has32 different data reports. Since they began this "program" scores went from the 10s-30s percentiles to 90s percentiles.

This school uses only direct-teaching, meaning the teacher is the know-it-all who gives information to the students. The school is praised for it's direct teaching and a repetition ritual that is seen as "good", the repetition allows for "skills mastery" because "practice makes perfect". Following the behaviorist model, students are rewarded for their correct response, with incentives as great as free trips to amusement parks.

What causes my blood to boil here is, this school will likely be seen as the model school that all schools will have to follow once the majority of schools do not meet the 2014 goal. I have to wonder what will happen to these children when they grow up because the world is not multiple choice and you won't always have a white board to write down key terms. You will have to think on your own, and think critically. Not the critical skill of "why is A incorrect" but, "what IS the answer?". These children are just conditioned to receive awards for every correct thing they do (entitlement issues, anyone?) and will except a me-me-me world of rewards. They will not be able to compose a letter of intent for a job, or apply a hypothesis to a problem, give their opinion, or connect ideas across disciplines. But then again perhaps this is the point (and research is pointing towards "yes") that we create, through behavioral conditioning, people that think what "they" want them to think, and nothing more...a huddled droned mass that does not know how to question things, think for themselves, they merely know how to find the desired response to please the authority.


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