Are We Thin-Slicing Education?

In an editorial I read tonight, the columnist notes “Our schools reflect society more than they shape it,” an idea I have promoted on this blog numerous times. I steadfastly believe this statement but was more interested in the next line, which comes after a lengthy discussion about how schools have become more surface than substance:

We live in a culture of face value, a superficial world of skim-reading, snap-judgments, and thin-slicing, in which perception is all …

While in the midst of a standardized testing craze, a technology acquisition frenzy, and a push to focus on the lowest achieving students (as the author states), I believe that there currently exists an influence to “improve the numbers” in our “data-driven” education system. Instead of being pushed to maximize deep learning, I am asked to ensure that “no one fails.”

One proposal for a new program in my school was to use a standards-based grading system, so no one can fail. Obviously, this shows a lack of understanding of what standards-based grading is and seems somewhat delusional to think every single Freshman will pass by simply changing the grading system. Someone read an article or went to a conference and now thinks the magic bean is discovered. While I like the idea of this grading system, I don’t think it will solve education’s woes by itself.

Maybe this will lead me to post how our district discovered the term “PLC” and now thinks forcing everyone into a Professional Learning Community is the new silver bullet.


6 thoughts on “Are We Thin-Slicing Education?

  1. Jim Van Pelt

    We did the PLC thing big time over the last three years. Now we’re into “guaranteed curriculum,” which is code for every classroom in the district being on the same page at the same time (this is an exaggeration, but the trend is toward “common assessment” and “best teaching practices” and “standards based lessons.” Administration really would be happier if every English teacher presented every lesson at the same time in the same way. That’s the logical direction of their interests right now. They also, paradoxically, talk about teaching to diversity and say that “time is the variable.” Clearly this is not true since all kids are supposed to be at the same place when we reach our NCLB yearly test, but I digress.)

    We also just finished a survey from our department head about our perceptions on how things are going, and I caught myself acting like an old-timer. I remember when I started teaching that I told a buddy of mine if I started acting like an old-timer, I should quit. Old timers are perpetually cynical.

    So, the challenge is to recognize that education goes through these weird, yearly spasms of change, and that administrators will bring in the newly converted zealots for whatever the change is, who will imply that everything you did last year sucks like a Hoover because it isn’t what they are presenting this year, AND, somehow, we have to not become cynical.

    Because cynicism is death to a teacher. Cynicism says nothing will work. Cynicism laughs at enthusiasm. The challenge is to recognize education goes through fads, and that to keep our jobs, we need to go along with the fads, hopefully taking whatever might be good in them while not giving up what was good about what we were already doing. The challenge is remaining hopeful and positive when we know that every couple of years the new best-thing-ever is going to say that everything we thought we were doing well for our entire careers to this point was misguided and primitive.

    Sheesh. It’s a lot of challenges.

    Rant mode off.

  2. alexbeuford

    So what you are saying is, you have to focus on the lower students just to make sure they don’t fail, while the higher students have been given work to do which won’t benefit them? Our grade 10 class was given spelling lists, something I grew tired of years ago. But this time, the words were very easy. Surprisingly some people could not spell them, so I had spelling lists which I wouldn’t gain anything from. Although the teacher hasn’t been checking them, and decided to not care if we didn’t do them, we still had them previously in the same class. That is just one example, others, and more opinions can be found on my blog at

  3. jtspencer

    This last year, when I taught about industrialization, we read “The Jungle.” I was reprimanded by D.O. for using a book that was “too difficult” and for failing to walk in lock-step with the curriculum guide. I followed the standards and the curriculum map, but they wanted to see less fiction and more “short, to the point functional text,” since that is what is tested.

    What did they use to back up their claims? PLC! The lady asked me, “Does reading a classic novel ensure that all students will learn?” It didn’t matter that students were reading a novel for the first time or that they had a deeper understanding of the complex issues, that they had engaged in dialogue about bias and propaganda, ecnomic theory and historical context. All that mattered was that I was not doing the exact same thing that all the other social studies teachers were doing across the district.

  4. ms_teacher

    PLC’s must be the hot thing in education. It is all I’ve heard about since we went to our buy back days right before school started.

    I think when I grow up, I want to be a consultant so that I can come up with really cool acronyms, throw some lofty education research behind it, and sell it gullible superintendents and make buckets of cash.

    Okay, now I’ve got to stop because I’m starting to sound cynical.

  5. MsP

    I think all of you are seeing exactly what everyone in education is facing. The “new thing” always comes along, we all do our best to make sure we are meeting the requirements of the “new thing”, and then we go back to what we know works for kids. I guess the only thing that I have personally changed in the last few years is that I always point out the gains that our kids are making when “whoever” tries to say we aren’t doing the “new thing” the way we are supposed to be doing it. It’s tough to stand up for ourselves, but we have to because no one else will. :^)


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