Can We be Grown-Ups Yet?
Education seems to be in a bad way: Government says standardized testing isn’t going away, while educators say that “teaching to the tests” discourages creativity and encourages students to develop only peripheral, rote knowledge rather than deeper understanding of the material; state governments believe unions protect bad teachers and prevent reform,and educators say the protect teachers and classrooms from administrators and politicians focused only on the bottom line.
Right now, we have a school yard fight between those who say that education needs reform and those that say poverty is the real problem. Instead of both sides listening to each other (modeling civilized discourse for students), they just shout at each other, neither willing to consider that the other side might have something to contribute to the discussion. Aren’t we great role models?
I Must Admit, Standardized Tests Aren’t Completely Evil
As Harold Levy said to me after the panel I linked to in a previous article, “test scores are a thermometer.” During the panel he said “show me the kid can read.” For some basic skills, standardized testing has its uses. Should they be used as the only means to determine teacher quality? No. To properly evaluate teachers you need test scores, observations, student surveys (the teachers I suggested this too paled at this idea, but taken over a large sample it can yield useful results), and teacher self reports (of course, teachers want to let themselves be heard). To judge student aptitude we can use standardized testing, teacher evaluations, and projects which show that a student is using important skills rather then just reciting. We can use schools that have lower test scores as a bellwether and attempt to fix the problems in the school and the surrounding neighborhood instead of closing it down and shifting the burden onto other schools.
Teachers and schools retarding student progress, either through incompetence or crippling policies, need attention. We can’t be blind to the problems in public school bureaucracy. We need to develop more complete evaluation tools to judge schools. Test scores have their uses but we need more.
Of course the major elephant in the room is the lack of educators in government roles. Try and name a Secretary of Education that was a teacher or school administrator. I challenge you to find one and post it in the comments. Perhaps if some teachers stepped out of their role and into the role of government they may understand the problems in education as opposed to simply feeling attacked. Maybe if legislators had been teachers they could empathize with the problems that teachers deal with, the issues that their students bring from home, like poverty, domestic issues etc.