No dentist left behind…

From today’s N&R

Guilford County Schools wants to start notifying parents in April of their options for pulling their children from schools that don’t make federal progress targets this year.”

Analogies can be helpful now and again.  By acribing the specifics of a familiar issue to an unrelated situation, a good analogy will make you sit back and say… “I never thought about it like that.”  The one posted after the jump did that for me.  It’s kinda long but worth the trip (Hat tip to my dad, a long-time educator, for sending it).

It takes a thoughtful swipe at the No Child Left Behind Act.

Attributed to John S. Taylor, Superintendent of Schools for the Lancaster County, PA, School District.

My dentist is great! He sends me reminders so I don’t forget checkups.  He uses the latest techniques based on research. He never hurts me, and I’ve got all my teeth.  When I ran into him the other day, I was eager to see if he’d heard about the new state program. I knew he’d think it was great.“Did you hear about the new state program to measure effectiveness of dentists with their young patients?” I said.  “No,” he said. He didn’t seem too thrilled. “How will they do that?” “It’s quite simple,” I said. “They will just count the number of cavities each patient has at age 10, 14, and 18 and average that to determine a dentist’s rating. Dentists will be rated as excellent, good, average, below average, and unsatisfactory. That way parents will know who the best dentists are. The plan will also encourage the less effective dentists to get better,” I said. “Poor dentists who don’t improve could lose their licenses to practice.”“That’s terrible,” he said.“What? That’s not a good attitude,” I said. “Don’t you think we should try to improve children’s dental
health in this state?”
“Sure I do,” he said, “but that’s not a fair way to determine who is practicing good dentistry.”

“Why not?” I said. “It makes perfect sense to me.”

“Well, it’s so obvious,” he said. “Don’t you see that dentists don’t all work with the same clientele, and that much depends on things we can’t control? For example, I work in a rural area with a high percentage of patients from deprived homes, while some of my colleagues work in upper middle-class neighborhoods.  Many of the parents I work with don’t bring their children to see me until there is some kind of problem, and I don’t get to do much preventive work. Also, many of the parents I serve let their kids eat way too much candy from an early age, unlike more educated parents who understand the relationship between sugar and decay. To top it all off, so many of my clients have well water which is untreated and has no fluoride in it. Do you have any idea how much difference early use of fluoride can make?”

“It sounds like you’re making excuses,” I said. “I can’t believe that you, my dentist, would be so defensive. After all, you do a great job, and you needn’t fear a little accountability.”

“I am not being defensive!” he said. “My best patients are as good as anyone’s, my work is as good as anyone’s, but my average cavity count is going to be higher than a lot of other dentists because I chose to work where I am needed most.”

“Don’t’ get touchy,” I said.

“Touchy?” he said. His face had turned red, and from the way he was clenching and unclenching his jaws, I was afraid he was going to damage his teeth. “Try furious! In a system like this, I will end up being rated average, below average, or worse. The few educated patients I have who see these ratings may believe this so-called rating is an actual measure of my ability and proficiency as a dentist. They may leave me, and I’ll be left with only the most needy patients. And my cavity average score will get even worse. On top of that, how will I attract good dental hygienists and other excellent dentists to my practice if it is labeled below average?”

“I think you are overreacting,” I said. “‘Complaining, excuse-making and stonewalling won’t improve dental health’… I am quoting from a leading member of the DOC,” I noted.

“What’s the DOC?” he asked.

“It’s the Dental Oversight Committee,” I said, “a group made up of mostly lay persons to make sure dentistry in this state gets improved.” “Spare me,” he said, “I can’t believe this. Reasonable people won’t buy it,” he said hopefully.  The program sounded reasonable to me, so I asked, “How else would you measure good dentistry?”

“Come watch me work,” he said. “Observe my processes.”

“That’s too complicated, expensive and time- consuming,” I said. “Cavities are the bottom line, and you can’t argue with the bottom line. It’s an absolute measure.”

“That’s what I’m afraid my parents and prospective patients will think.  This can’t be happening,” he said despairingly.

“Now, now,” I said, “don’t despair. The state will help you some.”

“How?” he asked.

“If you receive a poor rating, they’ll send a dentist who is rated excellent to help straighten you out,” I
said brightly.

“You mean,” he said, “they’ll send a dentist with a wealthy clientele to show me how to work on severe
juvenile dental problems with which I have probably had much more experience? BIG HELP!”

“There you go again,” I said. “You aren’t acting professionally at all.”

“You don’t get it,” he said. “Doing this would be like grading schools and teachers on an average score made on a test of children’s progress with no regard to influences outside the school, the home, the community served and stuff like that. Why would they do something so unfair to dentists?  No one would ever think of doing that to schools.”

I just shook my head sadly, but he had brightened. “I’m going to write my representatives and senators,” he said. “I’ll use the school analogy. Surely they will see the point.”

He walked off with that look of hope mixed with fear and suppressed anger that I, a teacher, see in the mirror so often lately.


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  1. Jeff Belton
    Posted March 9, 2007 at 3:48 pm | Permalink

    Thank you for the post David. One of my great fears about NCLB is the distorted and plainly inaccurate grading of our schools. I worry that the general public will lose all confidence. I have had a number of experienced teachers tell me that they have never had a class where all the students were on grade level in every subject. No Child’s Potential Unreached would be a far more realistic, attainible goal. Retaining the virtueousness of the original plan with a common sense view of the human condition.

  2. Mike K.
    Posted March 9, 2007 at 3:56 pm | Permalink

    I have always wondered about the option for the best students to leave a “failing” school. If anything it’s the students who are performing the poorest in a particular school environment that you would think would have the option of going elsewhere. I also agree that its unreasonable to really expect every student to learn at the same pace, using the same basic techniques when the individual circumstances (which schools often can’t adequately control) of children varies so widely. The premise that everyone should have a basic level of education is definitely a goal we owe every child in public education but NCLB is self-defeating when it penalizes schools that really are working hard to address achievement gaps and doesn’t acknowledge the realities many schools (and teachers) face on a daily basis. We’ve gotten so obsessed with testing that we’re losing the ability to teach children to continually want to learn and adapt themselves to new situations, the skills employers crave in their workers.

  3. Gene Hoggard
    Posted March 9, 2007 at 9:34 pm | Permalink

    “No Child Left Behind” is the biggest joke that has ever been imposed on our schools and teachers. Since his wife Laura is an ex-public school teacher, Bush should all the more realize that our schools and teachers have to deal with individual differences among the students, parents, and the students’ general environment. I agree 100% with Mike K. about our schools have become totally obsessed with testing.