Monthly Archives: November 2009


What happens to Attention Deficit Disorder when it grows up?

Sometimes it is channeled into extraordinary gifts. So

Michael Phelps



James Carville

Robin Williams… …are all reputed ADHD guys.

This is hardly an exhaustive list but it’s enough to give you a flavor. I think if they named every person ever diagnosed with ADHD we would be surprised by some of the folks that were on the list– and yet not surprised at all. We would recognize the extraordinarily talented individuals who have managed to channel the annoying distractability, the daydreaming, the incessant fingers tapping on the desk, the wild-eye passions that seem fueled by IV bags filled with Red Bull.

Jack Nicholson? Paul McArtney? Ellen?

The names give me pause. And patience. So many extraordinary and talented people that it is less of a pejorative label. Or it should be. But I wonder how we channel the energy of our ADHD kids in the current climate of standardized testing which doesn’t care much about piano players or actors or artists or craftsmen or dancers or point guards or revolutionaries.

Ernest Hemmingway was supposedly an ADHD student who– like Mark Twain and Thomas Edison and Albert Einstein– probably would have tanked on the California Standards Test… right after the whole process tied him in knots and drove him to intentionally fall out of his desk and onto the floor. When the art of writing is reduced to multiple choice writing mechanics… real writers implode.

I notice that every year we seem to have a kid throw up on his California Standards Test. I feel for our students who have to carve what they know about math and language arts into tiny black bubbles at the end of a number 2 pencil– when all the while they are jumping out of their skin. I admire their accidental irreverence. I get it.

As we march toward the steadily unachievable AYP benchmarks established by NCLB, I fear that “school” will get more and more difficult for students whose learning styles and interests and modalities do not lend themselves to test prep; and for students who are not particularly strong in- nor interested in– math and language arts principles that can be freeze-dried into multiple choice questions. I fear that English language learners and children with learning disabilities and learning differences will continue to languish even though they are the very kids we supposedly are trying to not leave behind.

As a school leader, I want to know that we are striking the right balance between excelling on the standardized tests and accelerating authentic learning. I want to match the time we spend conducting formative assessments and spiral reviews and test prep strategies with opportunities for children to play and perform and draw and jump in the air and dive out of their desks.

Kids are good at different things, So at El Milagro we honor what they are good at and try to help them find their way to their innate talents that make them feel whole. Maybe that is why I have such an appreciation for individuals who channel their creative high-energy into gold. In spite of us. Like Alex MacDonald, the washboard player for Dwayne Dopsie and the Zydeco Hellraisers.

I first saw Alex perform last Spring on Bourbon Street in New Orleans. Since then they have traveled throughout Europe bringing their Creole rhythms and uniquely zydeco sounds to bars and blues festivals around the world. They are all wonderful magicians. But Alex is mesmerizing. Electrifying. His non-stop energy reminds us that at one point he must have been very interesting to have sitting in the back row of your third period American History class. Somehow, he seems like the kid that would throw up on his California Standards Test.

His school probably didn’t have a washboard department, so how he found his way to the Zydeco Hellraisers is anybody’s guess. Nor do I know where he gets his stamina or his lightening fast hands. He defies our labels as he should. He is simply a young man that absolutely revels in his very unique gift.

Perhaps it requires some zydeco hellraisers to remind us to find the balance between the core disciplines that matter for standardized test scores… and the multiplicity of intelligences that matter to our students.  Stop and admire their talents even if they struggle with dividing fractions… at least the way we teach it.

Our children learn in different ways. Different styles. They have talents that we can’t even fathom. They will abide our lessons and content standards and standardized test regimes until the moment they are free to dive out of their desk and explode across a zydeco stage.

(Cross-posted on Leadertalk)


Filed under children at risk, El Milagro, gifted children, standardized testing


So we are down in Georgia attending a community charity event for Intuit. I didn’t bring my laptop so I am writing this post from my phone. No pics today… just this thought: what if the “free and public education” system extended into college? Like here in Georgia.

Clay told me that every graduating senior in the state is eligible for the Hope Scholarship; if they maintain a minimum GPA, and get accepted into a university in Georgia, all tuition is covered!

An awesome program. I wonder how many states offer their kids the same promise? How many kids take advantage of it? How far has it gone to bridge the sociology-economic divide? How do high schools tap into the grant and get their students on college campuses EARLY?

I wonder… what if the $30 billion a week spent on war…  or the $ trillion-plus investment into the pentagon… or the one million dollar a year per soldier… was invested here… for our kids… in our universities… to make college affordable; To make colleges and universities more accountable for the quality of their teaching? Like K-12 schools. No College Kid Left Behind.


Filed under college, El Milagro, innovation and change, post-secondary education, public education, teaching


greatestMy father was a  member  of the “greatest generation”.  Salt of the earth.  Bright.  Self-educated.  A patriot.  As an officer of the United States Navy he saw action in both World War II and Korea.  He was on the blockade in the Mediterranean when Krushchev’s missile-bearing fleet tested JFK’s courage.  All those brave Americans from Massachusettes and from Camden… and not one of them blinked.  And so Russia was turned back and it was the beginning of the end of the USSR.

My father’s service to his nation was not provided for political purposes or jingoistic calculation.  He served with honor.  I would never want anything that I say or do denigrate his record, or his service.  Or his memory.

However, I was stunned by an article that appeared in several publications this week, including Education Week.

It seems as though the role of our schools is now to prepare our children for the military.

A new report from an organization called “Mission Readiness: Military Leaders for Kids states that the United States “should invest in early education to help bolster the number of young people eventually eligible to serve in the military and protect national-security interests.”

According to their website:

On Thursday, Nov. 5, the generals and admirals of Mission: Readiness, along with US Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, released a new report that details the fact that 75% of young Americans are unable to serve their country because they have either failed to graduate high school, engaged in criminal activity, or are physically or mentally unfit.

How do you read that?

Is fitness for the military the new bar by which our children will be measured?

I thought we were preparing them for the best universities on the planet.  I thought we were preparing them to be literate, thinking, caring members of our communities.  I thought we were preparing them to excel with 21st Century skills.  I thought we were preparing them to change the world!

Clearly these goals are compatible with service in the military.  And the veteran officers have rightly pointed to juvenile crime, high school drop-outs, and childhood obesity as conditions that compromise America’s future on every level.  They are advocating that Congress pass a bill to provide more funding for early education- an urgent  need in so many communities.

“Human capital is the success this country is going to need for the 21st century,” said retired Army Maj. Gen. James W. Comstock.

Human capital?  Is that who we are teaching?

I’m sorry.  I work among children and teachers every day.  I watch them struggle and learn and compete and sometimes even cry together.  Those whom an Army general would refer to as “human capital” have names and faces.

at inaug

In good conscience, how do I prepare those children for military service;  for interminable war that even our President cannot comprehend; for the ultimate sacrifice that soldiers and sailors are asked to make in shadowy lands… against faceless enemies.

The truth is, the armed forces will continue to draw the best and  the brightest as they always have.  They will attract the likes of Patrick Tillman. And my father.  And all his brothers.  And all my mother’s brothers too.  And my own brothers.  And all those souls for whom we will pause and remember on this coming Veteran’s Day. They will attract them when the cause is right and when they are led by their own sense of duty and patriotism.

Perhaps modern military warfare– 21st century warfare– will one day reach a point where killing other people and depleting the “human capital” of our enemies, is no longer the objective.  When our military is dependent solely on brain power– on technologically sophisticated kids who can solve problems and think critically and creatively to insure our freedom through statesmanship and diplomacy– then turning to our public schools to prepare students  for military service will be an objective worthy of our father’s sacrifice.



Filed under El Milagro, President Obama, public education


testingThis past week the National Center for Education Statistics released a report that may have been a shocker for people outside of the education industry:  when it comes to student achievement, many of our states are cheating!  Or at the very least, they are cheating their kids.

According to an article in Education Week, their results suggest that between 2005 and 2007, various states made their standards less rigorous in one or more grade levels or subjects in at least 26 instances.

“I think as 2014 looms, … clearly what a lot of states are doing is changing the bar so that a lot more students will become proficient,” said Mark S. Schneider, who served as the NCES commissioner from 2005 to November 2008.


What do you expect from high stakes tests that threaten people’s jobs and their professional reputations? When you have put so much stock in leveraging improvement trends on standards-based tests… you invite otherwise well-meaning people to cheat.  So politicians who run on a promise to “improve public schools” and “raise the test scores’ and “close the achievement gap” will do what politicians do to stay in office.  And by lowering the bar in places like New York, you can create the illusion that more students are getting to grade level on your watch.  Even if they aren’t.

The states are free to establish their own standards and select their own tests to determine who has mastered those standards.  And they are free to define “Proficient” for their own students.  The lower the bar is set, the more students will test at “Proficient”.  And when you compare the students in states where the bar has been lowered to the students in California– if you don’t know those states are gaming the system– you will conclude that California’s public schools are inferior.

This is happening because there are no national standards or definitions or assessments required by NCLB.  It is a loophole for any states that choose to use it.  And how do we know that so many states are sand-bagging their kids?  All you have to do is look at the National Assessment of Educational Progress, an optional national test that assesses kids in 4th and 8th grade.

In 4th grade reading, for example, the federal study found that 31 states set proficiency scores that were lower than the cutoff for “basic” performance on NAEP. At the 8th grade level, 15 states set standards judged to be lower than the basic level on the national assessment for that grade.

The Northwest Evaluation Association has been reporting on this phenomenon for several years.  They too maintain that it is just easier to demonstrate proficiency in some states than it is in others– like California.

So the pressure gets turned up in California… from the top down.  And what happens?  Schools stretch to get their kids to those higher, more stringent levels of achievement– by any means necessary. And yes… they cheat.

One of California’ most celebrated charter schools is unapologetic in their methods.  They, in effect, have replaced their curriculum with the California Standards Test. They teach the test.  Every day.  And they hand-pick their students and eliminate those who don’t keep up with the daily rigors of “drill and kill”– the doctrine of test preparation.  The result? They are one of the highest performing schools in the entire state with an Academic Performance Index of 967!  The governor sings their praises because they demonstrate that getting all of your students to grade level can be done.

govBut the California Department of Education (over which the Governor presides)  forbids the practice of test preparation.  Regarding advance preparation for state tests, the California Code of Regulations, Title 5, Section 854 (a) states:

Except for materials specifically included within the designated achievement test, no program or materials shall be used by any school district or employee of a school district that are specifically formulated or intended to prepare pupils for the designated achievement test. No administration or use of an alternate or parallel form of the designated test for any stated purpose shall be permitted for any pupils in grades 2 through 11, inclusive.

So they are cheating!  At least in spirit. But even worse, they have stripped the curriculum and the school of the real things that matter: the 21st century skills, the arts, technology.

And not to pick on one school, this practice is rampant in the state.  Teachers, by necessity, must provide daily test prep in one form or another to meet the accelerating expectations on the federal law, and their Governor, and their school boards.  And they must focus on the narrow scope of standards that are tested– especially language arts and math.

So they are all cheating their kids.  And one day soon, they will realize that for their collective zeal to game (or survive) a very flawed testing scheme… our students will pay.

our kids


Filed under charter schools, public education, school reform, standardized testing