Children Are Not Data Points

I can’t read one more post or tweet about data-driven instruction today. I CANNOT.

What most people attempt as educational reform is like trying to fit a square peg in a round hole. You can make the round hole bigger, but the square peg will just fall through. It doesn’t fit, and neither does the system.

Today, I read a wonderful post by my friend Eric Johnson – “Fighting For Their Lives.” Does anyone actually think kids like the ones Eric describes are able to do their best on a test that measures the most narrowly defined (and least important) part of what learning actually is?

Yesterday, I read a great stand by a teacher who is first and foremost a parent. Karl Fisch posted his letter to his daughter’s high school, which is also the high school where he works. In this incredibly well written and passionate letter, Karl and his wife, Jill, explain why they are opting out of the PARCC test for their daughter.

Two weeks ago, I was on an emotional and professional high with visitors to our school exclaiming their amazement of what our kids are able to do. They were pleasantly surprised about how much and how well our students of all ages can articulate what they’re learning. They saw examples that demonstrate how much these kids are learning, and they heard Anastasis alums talk about how their learning at our school prepared them for what came after.

The best endorsement I have from the educators who attended our conference is the number of times I heard, “I want to enroll my own children in this school RIGHT NOW.”

But yet, we don’t give homework at Anastasis. We don’t give standardized tests. We don’t give grades. We don’t rely on traditional data* to inform and shape our instruction. (No standard curriculum. No standard grade levels. We don’t do anything standard here.)

So obviously, our kids aren’t really learning, right?


There is no sound bite in the world I can give you to explain what happens in our school.

There is no blog post that could ever adequately explain and describe how deeply our students think.

I know that Anastasis is not the perfect world. There is no such thing. But what I know is this…



CHILDREN ARE NOT DATA POINTS TO BE PLOTTED ON A GRAPH. (Repeat this one over and over and over.)

If you want to truly reform education, stop trying to make kids fit into a standardized curriculum. Stop testing them over things that should never define who they are. Stop treating children as widgets the minute they walk into the door of their school. They are not packages rolling along a conveyor belt with a barcode affixed to their foreheads. You want to talk profits, inventory, and sales? Standardization is great for that… but our children do not deserve to be treated as such.

You want to reform education? Stop standardizing everything, and look at the amazingly wonderful and unique human beings who walk into your school. As Eric said in his post, for some children, school is the safest place they will encounter on any given day.

Help them feel safe.
Help them feel nourished, both physically and emotionally.
Help them feel important and valued.
Help them feel loved.

THAT is how you start to reform education.

It is about the KIDS. Anything else is a cheap, tired, and overused excuse.

And if you use the word, “accountability” when you try to debate this issue with me, you’d better be certain you can answer this question: how are you accountable to the children you serve? 

Do they feel safe? Nourished? Valued? Loved?

I can answer that question at our school, because that’s how our school was started– with the children at the center of our focus.

How does this play out academically? Come visit our school. Seriously. We have visitors all the time. Or go visit Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia. Kids know they matter in these places.

And on that visit… don’t talk. Watch. Listen. Ask questions. Reflect.



*By “traditional data,” I mean test scores. We use data at Anastasis all the time… it just doesn’t look like most schools’ data.

We Have A Problem

Sorry for the rant, but here goes…

We have a problem in education. It’s called “edusnobbery.”

Edusnobbery is why so many non-educators have a problem with teachers. With professors. With administrators. There are a lot of people outside of education who feel that academic-types look down their noses at non-academic types.

Edusnobbery is what sometimes happens to really good people  with good intentions,  who start accumulating letters behind their names, and all of a sudden… they know stuff. And they want you to know how much stuff they know.

In fact, they’re so pleased with themselves about how much they know, they choose to ridicule you for not knowing what they already know… even if you’re just now learning. (What is that we always say about kids? Something about how we shouldn’t assume everyone learns at the same pace? Hmmm…)

Edusnobs become “above” everything. If they don’t like something, they dismiss it as not worth their time. It’s silly, or pointless. If they don’t get their way, they start lashing out at people who try to do good things.

I know edusnobs… because I am a recovering edusnob.

Cynical. Negative. Angry at the world, because they didn’t see what I saw. They didn’t know what I knew. And holy cow, haven’t we been talking about Topic A or Topic B for the last 10 years… isn’t it time we do something about it? COME ON!!!

And then I realized how cynical I had become. How negative. How angry. Did it make a change in education for the better? Nope. Not one bit. All it did was hurt me… physically, emotionally, socially. Friends started staying away. My family tiptoed around me and looked at me like I was damaged.

Because I was. 

So… I quit a “more prestigious” job in education, went back to the classroom (and back to the dismal teacher pay) and sat around with kids. You can’t be a cynic (or negative/angry) around kids, unless you want to damage them, too.

And you know what? Wow, did my life improve! Yes, yes… I still have occasional relapses. I become upset when I feel that true educational reform– doing what is best for ALL kids– isn’t moving along quickly enough. Or when someone doesn’t understand why ranking and sorting kids is harmful to kids. I’m only human.

But… I think I have made a bigger impact as an educator who is positive and shares the positive things about what I’m doing. What my students are doing. Who doesn’t want to read about kids who are excited about learning?

We celebrate the good things, and we work hard to change the things that stand in our way of the good things. 

I propose we all take a good hard look at how we’re approaching change and making a difference for the kids. I’m pretty sure that doesn’t involve mocking those who DO try their best to do good things… even if their aim is a little off.

So, Edusnobs, are you going to continue to knock down the people who are trying to do good things… even when you don’t think those things hold much value?

Because I’ll tell you what. You’re not as powerful as you think you are. You just sound cranky, like that old guy shouting at kids,  “get off my lawn!”

And you know what happens to that guy… he goes back into his house, alone. Cynical. Negative. Angry. But mostly alone.

Thanks for stopping by.


Schools and Class Wars

That’s what it’s coming down to… class wars in our schools.

With the budget cuts at the federal, state, and local levels, politicians are creating class wars in education. Our ‘illustrious’ Secretary of Education states that we in public education will have to learn to do more with less funding. This is tagged as “The New Normal.” But what happens when budget cuts are so severe and un-funded mandates regarding test scores, AYP, etc. continue to pile on?

This is what happens:

The wealthy pull their kids out of public schools, if they haven’t done so already, and pay to have them educated in a school of their choosing. Those parents find the schools that provide the programs they want for their children. These schools are not necessarily subject to federal mandates, usually have significantly less standardized testing, and often have much of the school day devoted to enrichment studies beyond math and language arts.

Children living in poverty do not have those options. They continue to attend schools with less funding. These are the schools which are forced to cut libraries, teacher librarians, music, art, drama, theater, physical education, recess… all those teachers, classes and programs that research says are best for kids to grow, develop, and learn.

For those kids in more affluent families, even if they have no private choices for school, parents still find and pay for programs outside the school day- club sports, private music instruction, etc. – to fill the void that is missing in the public schools. Kids in less affluent families are left to their own devices.

If, as Horace Mann stated:

Education, then, beyond all other devices of human origin, is the great equalizer of the conditions of man, – the balance-wheel of the social machinery.

… it seems as if our politicians are out to upset that “balance-wheel. ” Without a strong public education available for ALL students, we cannot have democracy, or even our representative democracy. We will have separate classes of education and an ever-growing divide between the have’s and the have-not’s.

I would argue, Mr. Duncan, that this is NOT the new normal. This is a disgrace to the children of the country you purport to serve.