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It’s the learning, stupid

In 1992, Bill Clinton was running for president against George H.W. Bush. Just months before, Bush had a 90% approval rating. And to help keep Clinton’s campaign on message, his political strategist, James Carville,  hung a sign in the Little Rock headquarters that read:

  1. Change vs. more of the same
  2. The economy, stupid
  3. Don’t forget health care

Although the sign was intended for an internal audience of campaign workers and a reminder to the campaign to keep hammering away at what was truly important, the phrase

it’s the economy, stupid

became the de-facto slogan for the Clinton election campaign.

I think teachers sometimes need a sign like that. Something to remind us about what’s really important.

Over the last year or so, I’ve had the chance to participate in a couple of ongoing educational conversations – both of which go to the core of what we do as teachers. What is learning? How do we measure it? What’s important to know? How do we make sure kids acquire what we want them to know?

One has revolved around the idea of grades and homework. (Just so you know, I think most homework that we assign is a waste of time and that most of us don’t really understand the purpose of grades and grading scales.) Another has focused on the creation of state level history / government standards.

And I’ve heard a lot of things that don’t seem to have much to do with actual learning:

My kids weren’t turning in their homework so I changed the weighting to make homework count as much as tests. This will convince them that it’s important.

If they change the grading scale, I’ll just assign more work.

I count attendance and neatness as a big part of their final grade.

I give zeros for work not turned in and no re-dos in my class. It better be right the first time.

Standards aren’t that important. I’ve got these great slides from battle sites I’ve visited so I’m planning a WWII unit for 6th graders.


We sometimes get so caught up in the day to day surviving that I think we sometimes forget the point. We need a reminder, a sign

It’s the learning, stupid

posted where we can see it every day.

And I’ve got just the thing.

Part of our ongoing state standards conversation has revolved around the idea of a “rigor rubric,” a way to measure what we and our kids are doing while in our buildings.

The tool that will eventually end up in the revised standards will be a bit different than the one created by the International Center for Leadership in Education but theirs is pretty good. I like the quadrants idea.

This should be up in every one of our classrooms. This is our sign.

The goal is to move all of our kids to Quadrants C and D. That’s the stuff that we should be worried about, not wasting time grading worksheets or busy work assigned over Thanksgiving break to teach our kids “responsibility.”

It’s not about attendance, busy work, neatness, names in the right place, straight rows of desks or even the grading scale.

It’s the learning, stupid.

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3 Comments Post a comment
  1. Great post. I remember a principal who forced us to report grades as percentages. I had to concoct a way to represent learning in percentage form.

    Like you said, it’s about learning. I can’t measure that in percentages. Timeliness and neatness are “habits of mind” and “habits of character” – not a measure of learning.

    Why is that so difficult to explain?

    Janet |

    December 5, 2011
    • glennw #

      I think that most teachers really don’t have any concept of the assessment / grading process. I tried having a conversation several months ago with a group of teachers about the concept of zeros and why we need to re-think their use. And it was like beating my head against a wall.

      There doesn’t seem to be much conversation about assessment / grading / student feedback during pre-service classes and there is none once people get in the classroom.

      It’s frustrating when we’re using a flawed system (that few understand) which has so much influence on the future of our kids.


      December 5, 2011

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