The Infinite Loop
by Ashley Roberts
Nothing I am going to share below is news to anyone, I'm just going to take the time to put it into words. This will definitely rattle some cages. Some people won't like it.
I can't help that.
Education has become an infinite loop.
What is an infinite loop? It's a definition related to code, but it's an appropriate definition for what education has become.
Definition: An infinite loop is an instruction sequence that loops endlessly when a terminating condition has not been set, cannot occur, and/or causes the loop to restart before it ends. An infinite loop is also known as an endless loop.
In education, the loop goes something like this....
Test scores begin to fall in both standardized testing as well as the nation's report card.
The educational establishment has first driven Whole Language (Frank Smith and Ken Goodman's invention), then Balanced Literacy (the term balanced literacy originated in California in 1996 (California Department of Education, 1996; Honig, 1996)), so that is what the publishing companies generate, and therefore what districts buy.
Despite the price tag, Balanced Literacy only serves approximately 30% of the student population, but the districts continue to invest in these programs; so a school district, for a variety of reasons, decides to invest in a new reading program. They meet with various consultants and publishers, convene a panel of various district staff, and make a decision on what product to buy.
Later, despite "successful" implementation, more and more children fall behind "grade level" reading standards, so teachers are told to entrench, work harder, keep working those balanced literacy strategies.
The district leadership belief is that the students just aren't trying hard enough and are being lazy. After all, these programs are brilliant! The creators of these programs are charismatic, and everyone wants to attend their trainings and it's all just so super-duper gosh darn exciting I can't control myself!
Pom poms! Flair! More posters! More cheering! More training! More PD! Whoo hoo!!!
Despite the fanfare, district policies are enacted telling teachers they will be punished (fired) if they tell parents their children are struggling to read or refer them for dyslexia screening.
Yet, for unknown reasons, more and more children fall behind. Some are sent to RTI, which, let's face it, is never implemented with fidelity or good programs because the awesome program the district bought is so wholly and completely awesome that the children just need to work harder as they get more time with it, so why invest in a different reading program, especially one labeled with that horrible word "dyslexia." I mean yuck! And besides, the district doesn't have the money for that, and dyslexia isn't real!
Hey Sally Joe! See you at the football game on Friday night in our $72 Million super awesome highfalutin high school football stadium! Let's chat about this reading "problem" during our district leadership staff meeting on Monday.
The result? Other children are just passed over. They become "behavior problems." No one understands why other than the fact the child clearly just isn't bright or trying hard enough. If they would just stop being so difficult and lazy, things would improve. If their parents would just read to them then everything would be OK!
Besides, look at our star readers! Boy, can they write too! There's at least 1 kid out of every class of 25-30 that can read and write, and they shine brighter than all their peers. If everyone could just be like that one child everything would be OK.
(Side note: Mathematically speaking, that one child is the 30%!)
OK, fine! The district will acknowledge dyslexia but we're not entirely sure it's real. Because again, that reading and writing program we bought has such a pretty bow on it! Because that program was so expensive, and those fancy trainings cost so much money and bring so much excitement, we can't afford the "top tier" dyslexia programs, whatever those are. Again, dyslexia isn't real, those kids aren't trying hard enough, and that awesome program is A W E S O M E after all.
Our educational consultant recommends x, y and z phonics programs. They suggest that these will complement are super awesome reading program and since they have the word "phonics" it will shut the parents up and satisfy their constant complaints that we aren't doing enough. I'm telling you, if they would just read to their child everything would be OK.
All of the interim district assessments have the children performing lower than expected. So these kids aren't learning to read? We don't understand! OK, make the teachers work harder! Send home more fliers telling parents the value of reading to their children!
You have to have a what kind of meeting? What's an Individual Education Plan? What does that have to do with "dyslexia?" What's a benchmark?
Well, 70% of the students are below grade level by rather significant numbers, 1-11 years depending on the grade, and that standardized district assessment, which is just practice for the state standardized assessment, says that the higher than expected grade level material we're putting in front of those children has them performing at such low percentage numbers that we should ONLY set the benchmark low because anything higher than that is too hard for the child, and frankly anything higher would take our time away from the SUPER AWESOME READING PROGRAM we've invested so much money and time in that we don't have time for to "individualize" anything for that one child. Don't be ridiculous!
Wait, are you trying to tell me that the parent has suggested that our super awesome program is garbage? That our kids can't read because that super awesome program doesn't teach reading? That it's a really horrible program and because of that we've invested in a really horrible so-called "dyslexia" program which we can't implement correctly because we've completely forgotten how to "teach reading" in the first place and don't understand what reading instruction, remediation and goals should really look like?
HOW DARE THEY!
They're just a parent! They're not a trained educator and district leader with decades of experience! Our students DO learn how to read! ALL OF THEM! Let's parent shame them and make it all their fault so they'll shut up and stop this nonsense. If they had just read to their child everything would be OK! Deny everything they ask for!
Bad news! The state commissioner issued a not so great "grade" for our district based on our last set of standardized test scores. I don't understand why our children did worse this year than they did last year!
District Announcement! The district is ordering more online training and in person PD for our staff. Clearly you are not implementing the super awesome reading program properly, so we will demand you train more. Oh, and all raises are denied and we're increasing class sizes by 10%, every year for the next 3 years, then 15% for the following 2 years, to be reviewed annually.
District Announcement! Here at the district offices we are evaluating a new super duper IMPROVED awesome reading program!!! This will be so exciting! Our kids will be thrilled when we get to roll this out! We will be adding another educational consultant to instruct us on how to fix our falling reading scores and will be sending a select team to this really expensive reading conference to learn all about it and help the consultant roll it out to the rest of our staff. Next year will be amazing as we hunker down and really invest in reading!
So the infinite loop goes on and on.
Investment in poor GenEd reading programs based on Balanced Literacy.
Which fails the average student, and of course fails the canary in the coal mine, the dyslexic student.
RTI is a black hole. Nice theory, but black hole none the less.
Purchased dyslexia programs are poor quality, with little to no real training for the teacher, not implemented with fidelity at too high student to teacher ratios.
So benchmarks on goals have to be set low because at this point everyone is drowning and no one knows how to work to save the child, or has the tools to do it.
Wash. Rinse. Repeat.
This is the reality.
Never forget our teachers are lost in this madness just like our children. They are equally the victims of these poor ideologies and operating principles.
There are good people within the system (teachers and some administrators) who wish they could do more, but because the infinite loop is the mantra of the establishment, the true decision makers, i.e. the "higher ups," and forced down to every district in the country, everyone suffers. Our children suffer. The teachers suffer.
There are a few stand outs but they're pretty few and far between. Mississippi. Arkansas. A smattering of districts here and there.
But fire is catching.
The #DyslexiaRevolution is here and it will change literacy for all.