Herald-Tribune columnist J. Robert Parkinson recently wrote an article entitled “Education Standards are not like the Chicago Cubs…” you can check it out at http://www.heraldtribune.com/article/20120303/COLUMNIST/303039998.
Upon initial reading I had plenty of things to say, my mind was spinning. I commented immediately on the linkedin group page where it was posted and now would like to offer a few more deliberated ideas:
Yes, businesses must perform.
Yes, education(al) institutions provide the workforce for all businesses.
Yes, businesses can’t afford to wait until next year.
But the issues with education are so much more complex than Parkinson suggests in his article.
Let me say first off: as a teacher and as a professional, I have very high expectations for myself and for any student. Academic excellence is not only expected, but is certainly attainable by all students – if given the proper tools.
There is nothing wrong with expecting students, or any other individual, to prove mastery of specific material; but taking a multiple choice test once a year (or possibly several times in schools that use them for ongoing assessment), and expecting every student to demonstrate mastery in this manner, seems ridiculous.
Testing for a drivers’ license, the Bar, Boards or the knowledge needed for a specific professional field is very different than the testing that happens year after year in elementary school to meet the demands of the government regulations.
When teachers complain about “teaching to the test” it is not because they do not expect mastery of a subject or specific material, it is because it means they are not able to actually teach ‘material’ but must help the students maneuver around the logistics of a fill in the dots, guess which is the best of several possible – and often plausible – answers which, in many instances would be obvious if encountered in any real life situation, and to race against an incredibly arbitrary clock.
The other issue here is that Parkinson is equating teaching to learning. The methods many teachers are using to teach do not lead to learning. And testing certainly does not lead to learning. We all know there is a marked rise in learning disabilities, emotional disorders, physical ailments, and social problems that have impacted the way children learn. Recent scientific studies have shown how the brain of the current generation learns differently than previous generations because of the impact of technology. To assume that classrooms can be run as they were at the time of the industrial revolution also seems ridiculous.
The question we must, as educators, ask is how will the students best learn? We need to create environments wherein our children are set up for success rather than failure. We must provide the support systems necessary for children who struggle; we must continually ask, what tool is needed for this individual to be effective and successful?
I am not advocating that we lower standards, but I would remind Parkinson that just because we continue to test students, when this method has failed to produce the desired results, “no one is fooled, and everyone loses.”
Another issue I have with Parkinson’s ideas is that he would seem to prefer that we teach students to “compute” rather than “think.” Really? Where would we be if the most creative, prolific minds of recent years had stressed the need to compute accurately over the ability to think? How does a test help an individual learn to understand, apply, analyze, evaluate, or create?
What I’ve seen so often in schools is that children who come in ready, even eager, to learn are drained of their enthusiasm, crushed even, from the standardization of teaching that require them to recall content rather than engage in active analysis, application, evaluation and creativity.
If we simply want citizens and employees who can accurately “compute,” then let’s keep teaching to the test – otherwise, let’s put our intelligent, creative, analytic minds together and start discussing what we can do to help every child learn.