Testing Regime No Substitute For Real Learning — Focus Must Be On Early Years
September 12, 2010
Well, the kids are back in school. So, the folks in Washington and Hartford have once again seized the moment for weighty pronouncements about school reform. From Washington, we hear praise for a few more states (not including Connecticut) that have taken the educational equivalent of "cash for clunkers" and signed up for "The Race to the Top" — the new sheep's clothing for the old "No Child Left Behind". Here at home, state school officials have once again discovered the growing achievement gap in Connecticut schools and, of course, summoned up a new commission to study it.
For most students and teachers, all this just means more wrong answers based on wrong questions about the wrong problems. Oh yes, plus fewer resources for teaching and learning but more for constant testing, more administration and expensive new layers of "school choice" that still leave most children behind. Then there's recent state legislation that demands more spending in high school when, by and large, it's just too late to make enough of a difference.
About 20 years ago, we started to get it right in Connecticut. Our patience, however, with bottom-up, longer-term improvement quickly ran out. Instead, we embraced new school reforms that don't make the grade because they put first things last.
What would a different strategy look like?
It would shift resources away from administration and testing back into the classroom. That's where teaching and learning happens, not in the central office or the big business of selling metrics. Then, shift the greatest share of our investment from high schools to universal preschool and elementary schools where we can get it right from the start. Prevention is so much more effective and less expensive than remediation.
Stop requiring teachers to teach to the test and stop measuring everything by test results. No wonder we are turning out more and more passive learners. From middle school on, dump the textbooks and give students a chance to read real books. And in all grades, make time for the creative arts — the gateway to all learning.
Value teaching and teachers. Give them back control of their classrooms, recognize improvement and provide real, continuous professional development that focuses on content. Teach parents and families to be first teachers. Then hold them accountable too, especially for school attendance and student behavior.
Use technology, including social media, to engage students and parents during the vast majority of time that kids spend out of school. Restore disappearing field trips and after-school programs. Let kids and teachers get out and connect with the world of hands-on informal education that deepens and sustains what goes on in the classroom.
Fix the school clock and calendar. Take the advice of a compelling research report out of Brown University Medical School, and stop handicapping teenagers with impossibly early start times that leave them unprepared to learn during the first half of every school day. Require summer school for every student who falls behind, but let high school seniors and even juniors leave for higher education when they are educationally ready, rather than wait for graduation age.
Consolidate the administration of small school districts that only duplicate overhead costs. Neighborhood schools don't require neighborhood bureaucracies. Finally, remember that family income is about the only significant correlation with educational achievement. Jobs and housing go hand in hand with education for those, mostly families of color, too long left behind.
All of this is pretty basic but also mostly absent from the big ideas and passing fads that pass for school reform. For the sake of our children, our families and our taxpayers, isn't it time to put first things first in public education?
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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