March 29, 2006

The $100 Shakespeare challenges

Since voucher enthusiast Matthew Ladner has reissued his steak dinner challenge on voucher outcomes (I'll let others criticize the ground rules), I think a parallel challenge is now in order from the other side, and here it is:

In a speech earlier this year, Margaret Spellings claimed that there was no teaching to the test as a result of high-stakes accountability systems. Last month, Jay Mathews said teachers should teach to the test, or more properly, that he had never seen a teacher address tests in ways that were instructionally inappropriate. But there's pretty good documentation that high-stakes accountability policies are distorting instruction. Yesterday, the Center on Education Policy issued a report on NCLB implementation that, among other things, documented that the clear majority of surveyed districts were cutting back on subjects other than math and reading.

So here are my two challenges: First, I will give a $100 gift-certificate to or or some other store to the first person who e-mails me with the name of a single public secondary school this year where the school had been subject for at least five years to high-stakes testing policies and where there were more students using copies of Shakespeare's plays in classes than using test-prep booklets (or their electronic equivalent) this year in reading or English. If you are a principal of a school and you're the first person to show me that your school did a better job of exposing students to Shakespeare than test-prep this year, I'll pop for a $250 gift certificate (and let's assume you'll buy your English teachers some good novels for the summer, okay?).

Second, I'll give another $100 to the first English teacher who can document the extreme reverse— that far more students were exposed to test-prep than to Shakespeare. Let's go for a specific ratio: a four-to-one test-prep-to-Shakespeare ratio. If there were at least four students in your secondary school who had test-prep for every student who cracked Julius Caesar or Hamlet, you've got $100 in a gift certificate.

Simply for sanity's sake, I have to set a deadline, but I'll run this challenge through the end of the school year in most jurisdictions—I'll close this June 20, 2006.

Definitions and expected documentation on the continuation.


Public secondary school
Any local public school whose taught grades includes any grade 7-12. But if you're in a K-8 school, please only count students for grades where Shakespeare would generally be appropriate (7-12).
High-stakes testing policy
A state policy that ties resources to test-results, as in Florida, North Carolina, or many other states.
Students using ... Shakespeare's plays
Any of 'em. Really. A class set of 35 copies of Romeo and Juliet used in 3 classes with a total of 100 students counts as 100 students. Watching a movie, incidentally, doesn't count.
Copies of test-prep booklets
Copies of booklets targeted for preparation of a specific high-stakes test (i.e., commercial off-the-shelf tests such as the SAT, Terranova, etc., or state-specific or regional tests such as the FCATs here in Florida or the New England compact tests), in any subject related to English or reading (i.e., literature, reading, language arts, or writing). Official booklets of less than 30 pages whose primary purpose is to familiarize students with the format of a test do not count.
electronic equivalent
Test-preparation software geared to or purchased with the intent of preparing students for a high-stakes test, and where children are assigned to use the software for more than two hours in the school year. Example: If a school's teachers assigns or otherwise clearly expects eighth-graders to use the FCAT Explorer online software every evening for two weeks, that counts. If the school's teachers simply tell students about the FCAT Explorer but neither assigns nor asks students to use it, or assigns students to use it for one or two days solely for the purpose of familiarizing students with the test format, it doesn't count.


You can just send me an e-mail, but I reserve the right for the first challenge to know the name of the English department head or the curriculum supervisor (often an AP) and a phone number, and I may ask for some minimum records regarding the inventory of class sets and the numbers and sizes of classes assigned the plays as well as a list and count of the types of test-prep booklets purchased for use this year, and I may follow up with your district's business manager. For the second challenge, go ahead and e-mail me, but know that if you're the recipient I will ask for formal class-set inventories and a list of English classes, as well as an official record of test-prep purchases for the year. (Understand that any defender of high-stakes tests will insist on firm documentation of very high test-prep:Shakespeare ratios.)

Thanks to Jim Horn for pointing out the article on Spellings' claim. Listen to this article
Posted in Education policy on March 29, 2006 2:28 PM |