Obama gave his big education speech today. I’ll talk about it at length tomorrow, although from what I’ve read it’s not news to anyone who’s been paying attention.
Instead I wanted to address a few common comments on standards, merit pay, and accountability.
It’s not fair to judge teachers by student test scores
You can use test scores, you just need to change the way tests asses what a student learns. Standards need to be cut back to the three Rs. Instead of multiple choice, tests should be problem solving based and analytical as well as stress comprehension. Test scores would also measure progress as well. Progress made is as important as maintaining high scores. Those already with high scores should be encouraged to maintain them. Those with low scores should be encouraged by the progress they make.
Standards encourage teachers to “teach to the test”
Also I’d like to address the “teaching to the test” comments I’ve seen around the interwebs. Standards, when applied correctly, do not encourage teaching to the test. As I’ve said measuring a students ability to problem solve and comprehend and not using multiple choice exams would curb that. But really, why does teaching to the test get such a bad rap. Does anyone accuse the Harvard Law professor of teaching to the test when he teaches his students what he/she believes is essential to complete their class and then tests them on that? No. They call that an Ivy League education.
There is no worry about lack of creativity in the classroom. Standards do not cut out things like history, art, etc. Many “peripheral” subjects provide excellent opportunities for developing comprehension and analysis skills. Nor do standards tie a teachers hands to how they have to teach a class. NBLC aside, proper standards don’t tell a teacher how to teach. You can teach any damn way you please, as long as it gets the desired results.
Student testing should only be one piece of the teacher assessment. A few other indicators should be coupled with test scores. Not too many though, as that would dilute assessments. Standards, assessed from outside the school, prevent teachers from just giving everyone an A to boost their scores. Student and parents evals should be taken with a grain of salt. But they are an integral part of most colleges, so why not at every level?
School choice will destroy public education
I’d also say that accountability coupled with vouchers you would get a really good indication if schools were performing well or not. Vouchers would also prevent schools from becoming homogenized. Parents could choose schools with good music programs, excellent sports, or other schools that fit children’s needs.
America is entrenched in a romantic vision of education. That vision is outdated. It comes from an industrial based society where a high school degree could get you a factory job you’d have for life. You weren’t competing for jobs with graduates from any number of foreign nations. Our education system worked well for the 19th and early 20th centuries. We’re almost a decade into the 21st century. It’s time to take off the rosy glasses, roll up our sleeves, and get to work. This isn’t about the adults, it’s about the kids.