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Jenifer Fox

Jenifer Fox

Posted: September 26, 2009 08:55 PM

The Toxic Issue: Time For A Major Shift In The American Education System

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The issue is education. According to Education Secretary, Arne Duncan, essential elements of our educational system can be labeled toxic. For too long education has played second and third tier to the more newsworthy and greater special interest causes. This has been the disease that has gone undetected. It is the act of terrorism nobody can see is coming and it is coming from within. The lack of attention on how we educate our nation's children is not some issue better left for days when there are lags in the real news of the world, or whenever there is a school shooting or a teacher scandal. Our lack of attention and focus on education, our desire to bandage our concerns with talks of standardization and No Child Left Behind, will catch up to us like global warming.

Friday, September 25th, Mr. Duncan delivered a speech imploring the United States government to reconsider the weaknesses in No Child Left Behind and therein "end the culture of blame, self-interest and disrespect that has demeaned the field of education" because of the narrow focus on the testing part of the bill and "build a transformative education law" that promotes a well-rounded education "worthy of a great nation."

A well-rounded education focuses on developing student's strengths. It is a simple matter of legislative balance. If we are going to hold people accountable for failure, we must work with vigor to develop in equal measure that in the students and teachers which will allow them to succeed.

This isn't a simple philosophy or a nice idea. There must be guidance, curriculum and systemic implementation of programs to develop strengths in students, teachers and organizations. Any transformative education law must include this positive component or it is not forward thinking.

The need to develop children's strengths is a story that cuts across economic lines and knows no racial, gender, or cultural boundaries. It is every child's story, and the time to tell it is now. The story of developing children's strengths is not just a feel-good story either. It is not about mere praise and self-esteem building. It's about igniting the child's individual potential and preparing them for successful, fulfilled lives in school and beyond.

Testing in early grades interferes with instructional time that should be spent on teaching reading, writing, and problem solving. This crucial time cannot be regained. It is the time when children's brains are most receptive to learning new concepts--the time when they learn how to learn. How many of us actually believe that any standardized test can accurately reflect a child's intelligence and competence? Or that one metric is capable of classifying all children? Such assumptions defy almost everything we have come to understand about how children develop. Teachers and parents know this.

While there are some good reasons for the use of standardized testing, many more factors make it an inadequate tool with which to formulate the educational policies of our nation. Most educators understand this. Among teachers, the following items are common knowledge:

* It is a common misconception that what is taught in a classroom and what is tested are the same thing. Unfortunately, what students are tested on doesn't always match up with the instructional content and objectives of the classroom.

* Most standardized tests are multiple-choice. Multiple-choice tests most often test knowledge at the recall level. Recall is a function of memory. Even at their very best, multiple-choice formats limit the demonstration of problem solving and critical and creative thinking.

* High-stakes standardized testing has negative emotional effects on students and teachers. After doing poorly on a test, low-achieving students often become disillusioned and less motivated, which leads to a decreased desire to learn and starts a downward spiral that is very hard to halt.

* Being "test savvy" and being well educated are not the same thing. If someone is test savvy, he understands the strategies that help him do well on the test. These include little tricks such as skipping the questions on timed tests that will take up a lot of time and answering all the questions you know right away because you can always go back to the more difficult ones and they are worth the same amount of points.

We must devise new methods for measuring achievement. This challenge will demand a national refocusing. People will have to learn to rely on different types of evidence that measure individual achievement and satisfaction. This is going to require a major paradigm shift, but just like every other important shift in outdated conventional thinking, the process begins with the individual. We can make things better for future generations, and for our own futures, if we begin instilling a positive, strengths-based focus in the youth of America. And this ought to be the law.


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