School reform’s alphabet

“Two words, both 14 letters long and beginning with the letter A, have become quite trendy in the world of public education. The first is accountability, and the second is accommodations.”


This is an excerpt from my commentary in today’s Philadelphia Inquirer, “School reform’s alphabet”.  Please click here to read the entire article.  You can respond or provide feedback by clicking on the comment button below.


Thanks for reading.


–Christopher Paslay


8 thoughts on “School reform’s alphabet

  1. Chris,

    I read your article in the Inquirer today (2/16). I applaud you for this thought provoking piece of work, I couldn’t agree more with your analysis.

    As a former emotional support teacher (behavioral specialist) I have felt this frustration many times and frankly it is the reason I stopped working in that environment. I hope this article can be a call for action so the general public understands that teachers are only human and cannot perform miracles (like teaching 10 ES kids who lack boundaries and basic social skills who are on five different reading and math levels to meet AYP/PSSA standards).

    Once again, please continue the fight to improve the PSD for the teachers and its students.


  2. Mr. Pasley, your commentary on “School Reform’s Alphabet” was written with some interesting style but your argument was mostly more of the same only from a teacher’s perspective—place the blame on central office, on the parents, the kids, Philadelphia’s immigrant population, ineffective community leaders, and so forth.

    Truth is the only group held accountable in public education for at least the last two decades is the students. Many of these kids have managed to survive immigrant journeys, chaotic conditions in the home, daily demonstrations of violence and other harmful behaviors. In the end, too many suffer the greatest poverty of all—the absence of a dream. As an educator, I can’t fix society’s ills but I sure can take responsibility for what happens in my classroom everyday and for my students. As I see it, school may be the only chance many of these kids ever have at achieving a future other than the one they see in chaos, violence, and their impoverished neighborhoods.

    Ackerman is about holding all adults accountable. I think that’s fair. In some way, aren’t we all responsible for the way things are? We need to face ourselves and the sad state of some schools where the interest of kids and achievement levels have taken a back seat to pay scales, personnel benefits, and job security. Every honest, hardworking Philly teacher (and there are many) knows what I mean. There’s a lot of fear and easy talk circulating the corridors these days—faster than the swine flu. If we have any hope of making meaningful progress, we need to face our fears about change, school reform, and accountability.

    I’m no saint or star but I know that if a student in my high school class can’t read, I accomplish nothing by pointing the finger at a deadbeat dad or a mom who didn’t read to him when he was little. What a waste of time. Instead, I’ll work with the kid—even if it means starting with lessons and books from grade one. That’s heavy duty remediation, not accommodation.

    So let’s review: all adults in the system—central office, schools, and the community—must be accountable. Let’s be clear about expectations and about the consequences we face when we fail to meet them or when we succeed in achieving them.

    • Cati,
      You must really have a lot of time on your hands. If I had to go back and reteach every non-performing student from scratch, I would need a 48 hour day and a 1000 day year (I teach High School). Most poor performing students perform poorly because they didn’t and don’t put the effort in and don’t feel that they need to. Sure, there are students who do not do well in certain subjects, despite making an honest effort, but there is nothing wrong in that. Human diversity is what makes this planet go around. Just because a child may not do well in Math or English does not make him or her a subpar human being. They need to find their niche in life and these students are finding it harder and harder to do as more electives fade away with the growing focus on Math and English. I joke when I say “how did this county exist with out state exams”. I received the best education in public schools in the 70’s and 80’s, not simply because I had good teachers, but because I did my job as a student. AND I had plenty of electives to choose from. I didnt have to go to another school (and be looked down upon as being slow by other students) in order to take such very important courses as Metal Shop, Small Engines, CAD, Typing (more important now than anything), Electronics, and the list goes on. Obama stated the bottom line with his speech to our nations youth…..

      “….at the end of the day, we can have the most dedicated teachers, the most supportive parents, and the best schools in the world – and none of it will matter unless all of you fulfill your responsibilities. Unless you show up to those schools; pay attention to those teachers; listen to your parents, grandparents and other adults; and put in the hard work it takes to succeed. And that’s what I want to focus on today: the responsibility each of you has for your education. I want to start with the responsibility you have to yourself. Every single one of you has something you’re good at. Every single one of you has something to offer. And you have a responsibility to yourself to discover what that is. That’s the opportunity an education can provide.”

      Most students will try harder in all areas, when they have some courses that they honestly care about. And with this effort and accomplishment, self respect will return and our nation’s woes will decrease. And, I dare say, a little spirituality would do wonders.

      As a whole, our nations teacher’s are fantastic, but we are not superheros. Besides most parents, we are the ones who truly care, but we need to be realistic at the same time.

      Listen to what Chris has to say. We keep putting the accountability in to one area and our situation keeps getting worse and worse. We keep trying new ways to teach and diversify and differentiate and sift through worthless data and introduce technology and trying to figure out how humans learn ……….most of this is truly worthless. Just let the teachers teach in there own style. We teach best that way. The focus of our government needs to be on the students and in bringing out theirs self worth. NCLB as it is looked at now by the government and non-educators leaves more children behind than ever before. We, as teachers, truly know how much worse and awful our situation would become if we simply started to fire half of our teachers when these worthless state test scores did not increase. Our youth isn’t stupid, but most are unwise. They would realize even more so that the more they don’t work, the less they will be blamed. And can you imagine the behavior issues we would encounter with more and more inexperience in the classroom?

      William Butler Yeats said: “Education is not filling a bucket, but lighting a fire.” Make students and parents just as accountable and help them by giving them more choices in school in which to find their purpose.

  3. Chris you hit it right out of the park w/ “accommodations”. If I may be even more precise – accommodations are horseshit. What ever happened to the good ole days when doing homework ment not getting up from the dining room table until the work was complete? You didn’t get out of your chair until the work was done. Or how about when taking tests everyone had exactly the same amount of time. The kids who didn’t do as well on the tests got tracked in the lower classes. The kids who did better got tracked in the more advanced classes. Simple enough. This supposidly enlightened way of educating has dire consequences. Worst of the consequences is that we are turning into an “entitlement” society. Now getting back to accountability. Accountability is especially problematic in youth sports. Fathers coaching who have no business coaching. Just so his little Johnny can bat 3rd – while the team loses 15-2 and learn no fundamentals of the game. The Accountability police have solved this conundrum by making sure ALL of the teams receive trophies. I know I am all over the map here Chris – but I just want to say Ben would have been proud to have read this.


    • Cati:

      Believe me it is not that the kindergarten, first and second grade teachers are not trying hard to teach their students to read. The kids you see in your high school classrooms who can’t read are the product of flawed reading instruction used in the grade schools. I can’t possibly explain in a single post the pros and cons of reading instruction, explicit instruction vs the philosophy of balanced literacy, which is used in our schools. You will need to research that yourself as there is plenty of information on the Internet, but you should know that the teachers in the lower grades are working extremely hard. I see them everyday when I go into my school to tutor kindergarten students in reading.

      Using flawed reading methods produces kids in high school who can’t read. It is that simple. It is not poverty, the parents, the community, the family, the teachers etc. It is the reading instruction. Until we understand that, teachers will continue to blame the parents, community, poverty etc, and the upper grade teachers will continue to wonder why the lower grade teachers did not do their jobs and the kids will continue to be the losers in this blame game.


  4. Accountability….ah yes….puts everyone right out in front….even if you are on the front lines fighting a “war” wielding a q-tip instead of a pen….which i heard is mightier than a sword anyway.

    “war” is in quotes….to remind us all of that great baby boomer symbol….its always a war on something….put the war on terror on the back burner and let it simmer with the mashed potatoes….grab your q-tip and join the war on illiteracy.

    Speaking of accountability….is it not time the baby boom generation took an extended look in the mirror and bathed themselves in realization that they are the first generation in the history of this country to pass the torch unlit?….its not even smoldering….you can’t even smell the ash anymore

    Seriously….stay in front of that mirror….you elected the leaders and they instituted the policies that have gotten us to this point… took this place from those “good ole days” i keep hearing everyone whine about to where we are today…..and not for a lack of resources!… have done it with the most wealth and power in numbers we have ever seen….ever

    do not worry however…..after us synical untrusting folk die cleaning up your mess nobody will be able to read about it.

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