No (ATE) Session Is Left Behind
In the Metropolis of Smoky Blues.
The R&B of NCLB 2-14-05
By Freddie A. Bowles
Posted from Chicago, Illinois
The Association of Teacher Educators Conference officially opened on Sunday, February 13, in the International Ballroom of the Hilton Towers on Michigan Avenue when the keynote speaker, Harry Wong, stepped to the podium. He was introduced by Nathanael Pultorak, son of the conference President, Ed Pultorak. Dr. Wong lived up to his reputation. Harry was humorous, passionate, and intense. He addressed the issues of classroom management and effective teaching, two ground-level topics from his successful book The First Day of School: How to be an Effective Teacher.
A mixer and reception in the Grand Ballroom followed the General Session. More free food and complimentary wine, yes — but the best part for this educator was the huge dance floor. The members of my cadre were game for a little physical exertion, but then it expanded into more than just a little as the music played and the night stretched toward midnight. We closed down the event and retired to the comfort of our rooms, exhausted but enervated and ready for the first day of the conference.
Day One of the Conference
Was Valentine's Day, Too.
6:05 is an early hour to rise when the previous night has mysteriously blended into the late winter morning, but I was a first-time conference attendee, so I accepted the invitation to attend the newcomer's breakfast. Fortunately, I was eager to begin the day.
The breakfast in the Waldorf Ballroom was hosted by Southern Illinois University Carbondale. It was a lavish buffet of fresh fruit, croissants, muffins, bagels, juice and coffee. A fellow dance buddy, Dr. Terrell M. Peace, Director of Teacher Education at Huntington College in Indiana, had saved a seat for me, and graciously introduced me to the folks at my table. Believe it or not, I was one of the lucky ones to win a door prize, a book! I chose Cultural Competence by Jerry V. Diller and Jean Moule (Thomson and Wadsworth Publishers) as my prize. It nicely fit my interest in multicultural education and equity in the classroom.
8:00 arrived, and I was at my first session, which was not so useful, so I slipped out to attend another one by a former colleague, Debbie Barnes of the University of Central Arkansas. Dr. Barnes presented "Assessing and Mentoring Preservice Teachers to Enhance P-12 Student Achievement." This model is aligned with the Pathwise Mentoring System, in which I had recently been trained. Her enthusiasm and dedication to the profession are always motivating, so my morning was off to a good start.
In Search of a Front Row Seat.
One has to choose in advance the sessions to attend because there are several concurrent options. The conference utilized several floors of the Hilton, so I had little time to waste navigating the many turns, stairways, and elevators. You learn to look for sessions that are not only interesting, but also in close proximity to one another. You try to arrive early and get a front row seat so that handouts are available. (I offer these tips to first-time conference attendees as passed on to me from two savvy conference veterans, Carol Knipscheer and Lynn Ramage Schaefer, former colleages at the University of Central Arkansas.) With that in mind, I had circled my morning choices the night before and was able to arrive in a timely manner for a good seat and a handout.
9:00 o'clock. I attend "Walk the Talk: Modeling Metacomprehension Strategies in University Classrooms" presented by Barbara Gartin and Elizabeth Jordan of the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville (my school), and Shaila Rao from Western Michigan University. The session was well attended and the presenters were animated and passionate about their strategies: SPAR (Summary Point And Reflection) and QAR (Question-Answer Relationship). It's always helpful to receive another strategy tip to improve one's teaching, and these presenters allowed time for us to practice it ourselves. There's nothing as helpful as learning by doing, right?
Laughing 400 Times a Day.
10:00 o'clock is traditionally reserved for a keynote speaker, so everyone was headed for the Grand Ballroom to hear the humorist Craig Zablocki. Was I ever shocked to see that he was also one of our dancing buddies from Saturday night! This guy knows how to have fun and get everyone else to join in. He asked us, "What one can learn from a four-year-old?" His answer shed a bright ray of light onto the teaching profession. Did you know that four-year-olds laugh 400 times a day? They test at 90% creative? As to the moment at hand, your typical four-year-old gives her full and undivided attention. By the end of the monologue — which featured manic episodes of audience participation — everyone was wide awake, laughing, and ready to give 100 per cent.
I rushed out to attend one last session before lunch: "Borders Yet to be Crossed: Attaining Excellence for All Learners," presented by Carrie Robinson from New Jersey City University. Dr. Robinson was at my table for the Newcomer's Breakfast, so I was looking forward to her presentation. She shared how faculty could internationalize student teaching and teacher education programs to encourage excellence for all learners. Her university had received a grant to send faculty abroad to learn another language and to gain travel experience. Her presentation was right up my alley!
I wondered how I might follow-up on Carrie's tasty morsel of presentation excellence. I decided that a hot meal and some fresh air would be a good choice, so I returned to our room for a warm coat, hat, and gloves. The plan was to stroll over to Michigan Avenue.
Art Blakey at the Symphony Store.
Recalling the good cup of joe at the Corner Bakery the day before, I figured it would be a low-key place for a quiet lunch. Sure enough, I was right. The potato soup and club panini hit the spot. I took a few extra minutes to drop in at The Symphony Store (the Chicago Symphony is housed on Michigan Avenue) to buy an Art Blakey CD for my son. One advantage of the metropolis is the unique speciality shops and boutiques scattered between the corporate branded offices and familiar franchise establishments. I wished for more browsing time, but I was anxious to get back to the conference site.
I chose my next session because it is aligned with a concept I've explored for several years in my ESL classes. The basic idea is to integrate community forms into the learning environment. "Using the Community as Text," presented by Linda Rosulek and Thomas Blaine from the University of Northern Iowa, expanded this idea by requiring pre-service teachers to become familiar with sub-cultures in Northeast Iowa. Preservice teachers are responsible for organizing the field trips, interviewing the populations, and reporting and evaluating their journeys.
Entering the Murky Waters of NCLB.
4:05, and the sessions are done for the day so that attendees could participate in a SIG, a special interest group. (I discovered that there are acronyms for everything.) I chose the Multicultural Education SIG and found my way into a small room packed with several like-minded souls. Dr. Robinson was there as well as Dr. Francisco Hidalgo, former ATE president. I also recognized several faces from the NAME conference (National Association for Multicultural Education) in Kansas City. I had met one of the panelists, Nancy Gallavan from Southwest Missouri State University, the night before. She was joined by G. Pritchy Smith from the University of North Florida and Patricia Larke from Texas A&M. Each panelist offered their interpretation of the 596-page tome containing the No Child Left Behind legislation and speculated on how it affects multicultural education.
Dr. Smith presented first. He listed three benefits of the NCLB act. First, NCLB expresses a symbolic concern (his italics) for children of color, poor children, children in rural and urban schools, children who speak languages other than English, and special education students. This concern translates into a public accounting and assessment system that uncovers any funding inequities at the most minute level of the educational environment. The same system, Dr. Smith said, exposes "the educational and academic neglect" of the aforementioned groups. The act also mandates that every classroom have a fully certified teacher in the core subjects by 2005-2006.
Dr. Smith began his critique of the act by stating his belief that the evaluation and accountability system will negatively affect the very groups it purports to support because of the punitive nature of any school that "fails."
He said he was deeply concerned about the implications of NCLB on teacher education programs to produce "highly qualified" teachers. Preservice teachers need to be better educated to serve at-risk, disenfranchised populations. Teacher education programs also need to recruit more preservice teachers from these groups.
Another concern emphasized by Dr. Smith referred to what is not stated in defining "highly qualified." Dr. Smith said he was concerned that an incomplete definition could jeopardize teacher education programs because NCLB doesn't include these programs as part of the "highly qualified" description.
Intent, Language, Reality....
And Multicultural Education.
Dr. Larke peered into the NCLB through the lens of multicultural education. She examined how the intent of the language of NCLB compares to Carl Grant's definition of multicultural education and James Banks' five dimensions of multicultural education. Overall, there was little comparison. Some terms from Grant and Banks intersected with the language of NCLB, but other key terms were missing: culture, equity pedagogy, knowledge construction, prejudice reduction, and empowerment of school and social structure.
Teacher responses to a questionnaire of professionals in Texas revealed confusion about what aspects of NCLB need to be implemented. Teachers were also concerned about curriculum and instruction being too data driven. On the side of clarity, they expressed the belief that positive benefits would arise if failing schools were supported rather than reprimanded.
Dr. Larke's last point addressed how the tenets of multicultural education could support No Child Left Behind by developing a culturally responsive pedagogy to positively impact student outcomes. She identified the opportunity to restructure and reshape educational policies and practices to reflect multicultural education principles at all levels of management.
Passionate Concerns for Rural Students.
The final panelist, Dr. Nancy P. Gallavan, a teacher educator specializing in social studies and multicultural education, struck a resonant cord with her passionate concerns for rural students. Novice Teacher, for example, works in a small rural high school in west-central Arkansas. Some of his real-world concerns run parallel with those of Dr. Gallavan. She began by listing four goals of the NCLB:
- to ensure that high quality teachers are in every classroom;
- to use researched-based practices as foundations of instruction;
- to develop tests to assess students so that decisions are data-driven; and
- to hold schools accountable for the performance of all students.
Dr. Gallavan next showed us her "Top Ten Questions" about issues of equity and NCLB. One of her questions — "What criteria will frame items included on 'tests' considered for decision-making?" — revealed a contextual flaw in testing. She gave an example of how a test question could be inappropriate for the culture: "If you live in an area where escalators are unnecessary and non-existent, how would you know what it is if you hadn't used one?" If the test question involved the phrase "to take the escalator," how would you answer it if an escalator were not part of your experience? Shouldn't the test questions be structured around the experience and the reality of the population being tested? (To see Dr. Gallavan's entire Top Ten, click this sentence.)
And Confusing Mixed Messages.
By the end of the session, I had slipped into a compelling, but comfortable state of reflection. As educators, we cannot escape the impact of NCLB at any level of instruction. In my opinion, it is a noble endeavor in spirit. In places the theoretical underpinnings of the legislation are strong and deep. On a practical level, however, NCLB has unleashed a bevy of ill-defined mandates and confusing mixed messages.
Educators who care about such things (and there are many among us whose concern rises to a professional level) can cast a cold eye on NCLB and quickly discern fundamental flaws.
We all realize that the import of this major work of legislation is profound and far reaching, but when its ultimate destination is shrouded in the fog of divergent codicil and special agenda, the value of so many lofty philosophical goals devoted to the social good are cheapened and ultimately debased.
The reality (and it is stark) is that NCLB has morphed into a clientele of testing-service entrepreneurs and promulgators, whose special interests are best served by the implementation of more and more testing. Failure is censured; teachers are rebuked. Students are shamed and stressed.
How does this promote success? It doesn't. And we know it.
Why would students want to remain in a school setting when the entire climate is adversarial? Many don't — and many leave.
A Dance Around Grave Social Concerns.
How much time will pass beneath our rickety (overarching) bridges before a clear answer is revealed? Will the answer appear in a new generation of drop-outs? I digress as I ponder the implications of a well-meaning act that dances, oft like the keener, around grave social concerns.
How did my first day at the conference end? Fortunately, it drifted toward the deep night in the smoky, wine-colored atmosphere of the blues, one of my very favorite genres. Growing up in the Mississippi River Delta, listening to WDIA AM radio out of Memphis, watching the cotton grow and the days pass slow, I couldn't avoid the lure of the ripe, lush moans of R and B. Our cadre of educators filled two taxis to arrive at Blue Chicago to hear Big Time Sarah and her BTS Band. Let's just say, this educator wrangled her quota of aerobic activity for the week — along with a half dozen other late night revelers. Shut the house down, gurlfrin!