Since learning about and becoming involved with the Bad Ass Teachers Association, I’ve been directed to lots of great links and articles about education and the real problems in our schools. I wanted to share a few of the best ones and comment on why they’re right.
Valerie Strauss at the Washington Post has become my favorite education journalist, just as Diane Ravitch is my favorite education expert. Often she merely gives another writer a forum, as she does here, allowing an education leader from Finland to compare how our two societies treat teachers and how that relates to educational outcomes in the two countries. Pasi Sahlberg concludes that child poverty is a bigger problem in the US than bad teachers, discusses three fallacies on the topic of teacher effectiveness, and gives three policy recommendations. Here, Strauss devotes her column to a principal’s discussion of the Senate hearings on education (I wrote Senator Alexander about what I’d like to see happen in those hearings a couple weeks ago). The principal criticizes “the superstructure of education supervision” which I think is a perfect way to describe where we’ve gone wrong in our approach to education.
The Atlantic has had some good writing on education in the past month as well. Here, they review Anya Kamenetz’s new book on testing and the way it has distorted schools. I’ve liked Kamenetz since her first book on student loan debt, and now she’s writing with the perspective of a parent and the experience of NPR’s lead education blogger. Her book is on my long list of things I want to read.
My favorite of the Atlantic articles might be this one, about the all-important place of joy in the classroom. I love the vision of education painted here, of teaching students to appreciate and enjoy different experiences. The standardized test is about as far opposite this approach to education as as you can get. You can’t assess joy. Another thing that’s hard to assess? Wisdom. But that’s what I have always sought in my education; it’s what motivates me to continue to learn and read as an adult. That’s what I want for my students and my son. In high school English classes today, the current focus is supposed to be on skills over content–but the content is the stuff that makes the skills worth learning and using! It’s what makes the class more interesting than repetitive drills. If we want students to be “engaged” (another buzzword), we can’t abandon literature in favor of teaching students how to read technical manuals and textbooks for other subjects.
This smart essay made me realize I didn’t go far enough in my letter to Senator Alexander. I suggested that we should only have standardized tests if they are developmentally appropriate, transparently graded, and returned promptly with detailed results. Of course, I knew what I was asking was impossible, and that was the point. But Steven Singer points out the simplest and most radical solution to the problems created by standardized testing: chuck it all. Get rid of every bit of it. It’s pointless as a learning exercise, it’s abusive to children, it’s a waste of money, its purpose is merely to create data to justify its own existence. It’s harder to stand behind the continued use of standardized tests than to just stop putting anyone through this data-driven madness. Trust teachers to make their own assessments, and stop interfering. That’s the first step to improve the quality of education.