The other day, I was in surf clothing store and I watched a very interesting situation unfold, or maybe I should say fold. The sales people were so engrossed with a display they were working on that they failed to engage or even acknowledge the customers in the store. I can't imagine the company's CEO touting the emphasis on displays to shareholders while sales plummet! Of course not. We all know that nice displays are not the main objective. They are a means, but definitely not the end when comes to the success or failure of any retail business. This path leads to insolvency. That's what so great about the free market. It forces organizations to keep the "main thing" the "main thing" or problems ensue.
As I thought more about the irony of what I saw that day, unfortunately it reminded me of what I see unfolding in our nation's much-needed attempt at reforming public education. As a teacher I am excited about the possibility of reinventing a system that was designed around the parameters of the industrial age. However, the path in which we have embarked is one that leads to the same phenomena I witnessed in the store. We are building a system centered on the "displays." We have forgotten the main purpose/objective of public education.
How are we doing this?
Let me ask you a question. When was the last time you took a multiple choice test? My guess is that you have not taken one since you completed your education. Or if you have, it has related to attaining a license or similar certification. The reality is that multiple choice tests don't correlate to real life. Yet that is the center piece of "accountability" in the plan to reform education being proposed and implemented. The plans focus on "displays" and not the true objective of education.
Our myopic focus on standardized testing has taken our eyes off the real goal of education which, put simply, is to prepare students to succeed in the world they will face upon completing their education. If passing multiple choice tests equates to success in life, then we are doing a heck of a job, but if they don't, then we are doing our kids a disservice.
We are headed in the wrong direction. The unintended consequences of this well-intended reform will actually exacerbate the problem. If we hope to create an educational system that is second to none we must take a more holistic approach to revamping education in America. It is important to note that many of the steps we are taking to improve education are going to have positive outcomes. Programs designed to improve STEM education and Change the Equation are two examples. Students, educators and society will all benefit from the leadership and vision of all of those involved.
I want to be clear about one thing because I have seen and read things that make it sound like teachers don't want accountability and/or testing. As a teacher, I believe we need both.
The problem with the current focus and direction is that it places too much weight on one test given at the end of the year. Does that sit right with you? We are going to gauge the entire year by a set of questions with four possible answers! This measurement is too narrow. The mistake is compounded by the fact that this assessment has virtually no relationship with the world our children will be thrust into upon exiting the system.
Lest I be misunderstood, I think state testing should be a part of how we assess student learning and teacher effectiveness, but it should not be the only part.
As I person who left business to pursue a passion for teaching, I can say (I know all teachers feel the same) that I am "waiting for Superman" too! Unfortunately, if we don't change the direction in which we are headed, the wait is going to get longer, much longer.
Stay tuned for ideas on the path we should be walking down.