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Thursday, November 18, 2004



For the past two years I've done a tiny bit of portfolio assessment for our department's professors. So far, the best objective measure for a portfolio seems to be its physical weight. Unfortunately, our rubric does disempower the professors: they think a heavier portfolio is better, we think the opposite.

Most excellent, this latest rant. More, please.

Steve LaBonne

Portfolio assessment is so a useful tool! How else can you arrange to give a glowing review to a clearly incompetent person? You sure can't do that with objective, standards-based assessments, now can you? ;)


Hi Plum. I had to lose the Dr. Cookie moniker. Turns out the a pet therapist in Boston has trademarked it. Another scary revelation about modern life.

Meanwhile, in the ed world, I loathe this portfolio nonsense. On the other hand, it works fine for my white, high SES daughters.

Here's why:

A guy named Stanovich said a long time ago that the trajectory of kids' learning (actually he focused on reading) had what he called a "Matthew Effect." Named after a passage in Matthew, yes the Bible. The passage here being the one that said that the rich get richer, and the poor get poorer. Likewise, the educated get more educated and the ignorant get more ignorant.

I don't worry about the Matthew Effect because if my kids don't get it at school, they'll get it at home. And more than that, they're in a school with other educated kids, with teachers who know how to feed knowledge to educated kids. Another reason not to worry about the Matthew effect.

But what about disadvantaged kids? Will their parents be able to supplement the failings of bad teachers? Will the teachers have the capacity to manage their learning challenges and keep that at pace with my advantaged daughters?

That's a tough one.

But back portfolios: it's a nonsense method for poor kids. I mean, what does it say? It allows a teacher to turn to parents and say, hey look, Johnny has improved. At the same time, it masks the truth about Johnny, that he has moved from a second to a third gradee reading level--BUT HE'S A FIFTH GRADER.

Portfolios must operate similarly with teachers, which probably delights the local teachers union. Makes it harder not to offer tenure to new teachers.

Oh Plum, stop me now. I need to work on my syllabus for the class I'm going to teach next semester to undergrad, preservice teachers called "Education in a Multicultural Society."

Dan of the Tribe of Dan

The following is a true story...names and dates have been changed to protect the guilty.

Long ago (1999)…in world far away (Not a Coastal County, NC), I was among the first batch of new teachers required to do a portfolio for licensure. North Carolina got it up its arse that it was going to be the benchmark for good teachers. During my certification period at my alma mater, a certain prof (who will not be named here), swore on a stack of bibles that the portfolio was here to stay. I and my main cohort at the time (let’s call him ‘Chattin’) swore an oath, equally as impressive but we used a high school yearbook because we were not as serious, that we would resist this insane crap. Needless to say, we were told all that first year that we would be fired if we did not do this portfolio (this sucker was huge!!!) We were coaching, working on prom decorations, and doing one hell of a job teaching history and literature at one of the poorest and most ethnically diverse schools in our region. But, that wasn’t enough for first year teachers; we had to do a portfolio to prove that we were teacher material. All year we said that we were not going to do it, but at the last minute….we changed our strategy. We decided to fabricate the entire thing. We decided to create two works of fiction, highly entertaining, that would result in one of two outcomes; a) that the state of North Carolina would believe that we were the best teachers in the United States or b) we would get fired for completely making up the two portfolios. Basically, we were doing our jobs and we felt that this would be our sick way of protesting the situation.

Anyway, we lied like hell. My brother in crime even wrote that he helped with a community barn-raising. A frigging barn-raising! We went out in the country and took pictures of barns. We staged every single photograph and video sample. Pure, 100% bullshit. When our students did not do the work that matched what we wrote in our portfolios, we would do the work and write it with our left hands so that it would be sloppy enough. I even made up a fictional kid and wrote his whole damn life story. His name was Rubin. I wrote that he and his family were hiding from Immigration Services. It was ridiculous. Mine turned out to be 280 pages, his a few more.

Guess what happened. He and I scored first and second in our county (and we think the state, but we couldn’t find out). I know good people that actually quit because they refused to do the portfolio. But maybe we did some good (in a weird way). They stopped the program a year later. So, maybe they just figured that with teachers who would help communities build barns or help kids slip under the boarder, who needs a damn portfolio.

True story…

One more thing, the central office in our county said that they were going to hire us over the summer to train new teachers on how to write portfolios. Too bad the money ran out…our next one could have been a best seller!!

Remember, the before-mentioned prof that swore that the portfolios were to be the new standard. I saw him again a couple of months back. It was the first time I had seen him since I left. So, the first thing I said was, “Looks like those portfolios didn’t make it.” Would he believe the guy hasn’t said much to me since? Oh well….

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