Plausible Reliability

Philip asks:

The problem with our schools is that we go on acting as if all kids can succeed in an academic track. Does anyone really believe that? ....Teachers need to know that what they're teaching is well within the capacity of their students to learn, and I'm not sure that that's what they find after a year to in the classroom.

Complex question.

S is a strong math teacher at a nearby large urban high school. Brandeis grad. He teaches a course called "Algebra 2." But he says almost all his kids failed Algebra 1. This creates cognitive dissonance for him.

S believes Algebra 2 is within the cognitive capacity of the vast majority of his kids. He actually taught at a Jesuit school some time back, with a very similar student population, one that did succeed.

But S doesn't believe that his current students can master Algebra 2 given their starting point in September, and given his constraints as a teacher in that particular school. So Algebra 2 is not currently within the kids' "capacity."

So you're right. S just slogs through as best he can.


...the teachers we train generally ask us to help them get placed into certain high-poverty charter schools, so-called No Excuses schools. Why?

One reason is they want a plausible "How will we get there story?"

Usually the plausible story goes like this:

Our school has a track record. It works. No single teacher by himself flips all the kids. But with every teacher making an effort, we actually get there.

We hold each individual teacher accountable at every rung on the ladder. So you as an 11th grade Algebra 2 teacher will not get a median student who still can't add 1/3 + 1/4, due to the accumulated failures of the last 5 math teachers. You'll get most of the kids who legitimately know Algebra 1, with plenty of little gaps but few huge ones. It won't be easy. But you'll have a fighting chance."

In the absence of a plausible story, teachers simply shut off the messages from school leaders.