Education Crazy Talk – What direction should ed policy go?

This morning I read this article at The piece by Alaskan teacher Doug Noon rips Arne Duncan’s education policy to shreds. Noon is mostly skeptical of Duncan’s reliance on standards, accountability, and teacher incentives to improve our schools.


His program is doomed. It’s doomed because it’s aimed at the wrong target, and it can’t be fairly implemented. With test scores as the standard of excellence, very few teachers will be “incented” to apply themselves. We know that standardized tests measure students’ backgrounds more than real learning. And we know that students with special needs require more time and attention than the achievers. We also know that, due to the fact that poor and affluent people tend to live in different neighborhoods, some schools serve more challenging populations than others. None of that is a matter of chance.

Test scores should be a standard of excellence. Without standards how can we know where are, who needs extra help, and who can be given more challenging work. The way we test those standards is flawed. Specifically multiple choice exams. Life is not multiple choice. Life is applying what you have learned to any given situation. A little example. In preparation for grad school, I took the GRE exam last summer. I didn’t study or practice. At this point one understands you either get these type of tests or you don’t. I scored a 1020 on the multiple choice sections, an average score. On the written section I scored a 5.0, the upper 27th percentile. Now that’s a big discrepancy in my scores. It demonstrates the unevenness between multiple choice and open-ended assessments in gauging what a student has actually learned.

Standards are still important. That much of NCLB I agree with. It places the wrong kind of standards on schools. Multiple choice questions are not good measures of applied knowledge. They are only good measures of how good one can memorize.

First we need to simplify our standards. Students should have more open-ended questions. The questions would show whether or not the child actually had a grasp of the concepts being tested. This will also push students to do more than just show up and receive a C.

I’d like to make my case for Outcome-based Education. If I sound a bit ignorant on the subject I apologize. I’ve only just started researching it. OBE recognizes all students are capable of improvement, some faster or slower than others. All can succeed, regardless of class, race, gender, or ability. It doesn’t matter if the district is poor or “challenging”. That is no excuse for failure in teachers or students,(though Noon seems to think is an excuse for poor teacher performance. If I’m wrong let me know Doug). I have simplified OBE a great deal, but I urge readers to look into in greater detail as I am.

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