Saturday, September 18, 2010

Faulty Reform

I often think about how education 'reformers' continue to push their tougher standards, raise achievement mantra. Of course, when they say tougher standards, they mean standards that not all children can achieve, and when they say raise achievement they mean higher test scores.

I'm disheartened daily by these 'reformers' obsessive need to reduce something as messy and beautiful as learning to a standard and a test. Does anyone in their right mind actually believe that if all teachers simply taught common standards and achieved high scores on a standardized tests that the challenges our schools face everyday would simply evaporate?

What's more, 'reformers' tend to scoff at anything that can't be 'properly' reduced to a number.

When I show people some of the projects my students do through out the year or even as a substitute for a multiple choice final exam, I often get suspicious looks. Responses sound something like this: that's all well and good that the kids are doing this, but how do you grade it?

This response frustrates me because it fully acknowledges the real learning that occurs during such projects but a knee-jerk obsession with measurement seems to entirely trump this acknowledgment. 

I find this excerpt from Alfie Kohn's Schools Our Children Deserve aptly explains why real learning is so often trumped by numbers:

Anyone trying to account for the popularity of standardized tests may also want to consider our cultural penchant for attaching numbers to things. One write has called it a "prosaic mentality": a preoccupation with that which can be seen and measured. Any aspect of learning (or life) that resists being reduced to numbers is regarded as vaguely suspicious. By contrast, anything that appears in numerical form seems reassuringly scientific; if the numbers are getting larger over time, we must be making progress. Concepts like intrinsic motivation and intellectual exploration are hard for the prosaic mind to grasp, whereas test scores, like sales figures or votes, can be calculated and charted, and used to define success and failure. The more tests we make kids take, the more precise our knowledge about who has learned well, who has taught well, which districts are in trouble, and even which schools (in this brave new world of for-profit education) will survive another day.

Until we demand policy makers be actual educators - professionals who actually work in the field they are suppose to be running - education reform will be plagued by outsiders who at best can make uneducated guesses at applying solutions from the business world for classroom problems.

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