Friday, September 7, 2012

Racing To The Top Of The Wrong Mountain

Recently, I read a response to Obama's Education Grade of A- by Will Richardson of Flemington, NJ. If you are thinking, 'boy, Dr. G has mentioned this Will Richardson guy an awful lot lately' you are right - I reference him a lot because I believe he is a premiere voice of reason in education these days when it appears all policy makers are lost. You should get familiar with his work too.

Nicholas Kristof of the NY Times ( NY Times - Obama's 1st Term (Will Richardson's comments at bottom) cited Race to the Top as a 'cost effective way to create nationwide change'. For those of us in education reality, we recognize that the great race has made education decidedly worse by placing an ever growing emphasis on test scores as a measure of just about everything under the sun. According to policy makers and politicians, high stakes test scores can tell us everything from the value of the teacher, the principal, the school, the district, heck it can even predict winning lottery numbers. When if fact, educators know that these tests kill student's passion to learn. Now, these tests, will place the burden of a teacher maintaing a job or getting a raise squarely on the shoulders of kids (no pressure), they are used to grade schools and even education preparation schools. Tests that ask questions that can be answered by a Google search. Tests that discount the literacies required to live in an age flooded with technology. (See the National Council of Teachers reading and writing literacies at National Council of Teachers Reading/Writing. Your kids literate by that definition?)

All high stakes testing is really good for is telling us the obvious, how a child scored on a narrow assessment of knowledge at that moment, on that day - they can't tell us if the child was given breakfast that morning, or was recovering from a nasty cold, or if they were stressed out over the fact that their teacher can't sleep at night worrying about how their students will score on the state test - Poverty is consistently left out of the discussion of high stakes testing. The students who do not meet the proficient mark have some common traits - largely all come from low socio-economic status (free & / or reduced lunch), are special needs (either special education or english language learners).

Reforming Education is a billion dollar industry. Unfortunately these reforms are focused on the continued quantifying, ranking, sorting, scoring and comparing of learners, teachers, schools and are actually no reforms at all. They are reforms driven by policy makers catering to a growing number of businesses who see literally billions in profits through privatization as long as learning is easy to measure.

But, what do these measures tell us about creativity? About a child's ability to cooperate, to solve real world problems, to think entrepreneurially, to continue to learn? The test prep mania that we are in the midst of is creating a generation of kids destined for unemployment because the emphasis of schools remains drumming answers into kids heads most of which they will never use. That's especially dangerous at this moment of huge change.

Please, please, inform yourself as a parent and community member of the dangers of believing a school or district is what the high stakes testing companies say they are. Instead, judge them based on the environment that create for their kids - is it a welcoming place, where children are free to explore their passions and ideas with support from caring adults trained to support learning...lastly, are they fun? As a parent, these are the traits I am concerned about. I propose we start a Bill that would give parents the right to 'opt their child out' of the high stakes - high stress tests. Who is with me????

DR. G.