Education reform, the Tony awards, and auto direct-messages….

Posted: June 12, 2011 in post
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A typical classroom library (probably 3rd grad...

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At first glance the above topics are dissimilar; however, all of the above occur within my Twitter stream during a twenty-minute period. Upon further examination, one would find that the people tweeting about these things are united in their goal to reform education without destroying the unique American school system. I can’t really do justice to trying to tie these disparate elements together, but I’m going to try anyway. Please forgive me if I fail to make sense.

WHAT DOES “REFORM” LOOK LIKE?

We have reached a critical point in the U.S. regarding how we educate our students. There are “reformers” of all colors and stripes who believe that their solutions are the only solutions. Most of these reformers won’t sit down and talk to each other because they do not want to budge regarding what they know to be “the solution” to whatever they suppose the problem in American education to be. The point the reformers seem to be missing is that willy-nilly reform efforts are unlikely to reform or transform the current educational system…in fact, these efforts are more likely to destroy the current system while leaving no real system at all behind–just a hodge-podge of hurried initiatives to improve our global position on another standardized measure.

 

While the various reformers don’t agree on the how, they are agreed on the what: we need to change how we “do education.” I can’t argue with that sentiment: times change and we must adapt to the times; however, I take issue that we are not moving in the proper direction. How often has it been said in business, “If you don’t have a plan, then you plan to fail?” It may be true as the headline of one of the related posts states, “Success in Educational Reform Requires Radical Change,” however, if we compare many of today’s schools with their counterparts of only a decade ago, hasn’t radical change already occurred? For example, a decade ago “Smart Boards” were unheard of and many families still had limited personal access to technology. Today the landscape is vastly different, as are the teachers who had not yet entered the classroom or who were just beginning their careers.

OF STANDARDIZED TESTS AND AUTO DMs

A tweet appeared in my stream regarding getting the subject of eliminating auto-DMs to trend. (For the uninitiated DM is an abbreviation for direct message). This tweep informed me that she knows many who are so aggravated by auto DMs that an auto DM is just cause to “unfollow.” Those who use auto DMs seem to be self-promoters from this writer’s perspective, and while there is nothing inherently wrong with self-promotion, I think the irritating factor with auto DMs is that they are entirely impersonal. Auto DMs remind me of the “signed” photographs that were once used extensively in political compaigns: they fooled a few of the people for a while, but they are not fooling anybody now. This leads to the topic of standardized tests. What are they measuring? Are they accurate snapshots? Can an impersonal standardized test truly reveal the quality of a given educator?

I am not an abolitionist when it comes to standardized tests. They have a place and can serve some valuable purpose within our educational system; however, they must not become the gold standard by which teacher effectiveness or student achievement are measured to the exclusion of all other measures. For example, many people (I am one of them) excel at taking standardized tests. I have taken some measures where I was asked to “respond as I would usually respond in a given situation.” Really? How much of a fool am I supposed to be? I am going to give the answer that the tester “expects” of a candidate for the position regardless of whether it is how I would normally respond!  Standardized tests measuring learning outcomes are no different: given four possible answers, two are likely to be off-base and can easily be eliminated by many test-takers; thus, increasing the probability that any given student has a 50% chance of answering any given question correctly. Is that a true and valid measure of either student learning or teacher effectiveness? One should hope not. Instead, ask the student to demonstrate application of a concept learned in the classroom. Surely it will be more time-consuming to measure; however, this would prove a more effective and reliable method of assessing actual ability and learning as well as effectiveness of instruction. Like auto DMs, standardized tests are cold and impersonal, and they shouldn’t be fooling most of us like those “personalized, signed” letters did for a brief while.

THE TONYS AND EDUCATION

How do the Tonys fit into any of this discussion? It’s simple: You can’t fake a live performance. Either you’ve got it or you don’t. If you miss a beat, you can’t just stand there like a deer in the headlights because the show must go on. You can’t do a re-take, you must simply carry forward. One well-known reformer and advocate of free and appropriate public education for all put it this way: “Keep live theater alive, everywhere!” Presently, we run the risk of taking away “live theater,” music programming; and other fine arts from American students because “reformers” can’t sit down together to make a plan; thus, they plan to fail; because ideological factions are more concerned about how students “perform” on an impersonal test than how well they can perform in public and develop into well-rounded citizens  with the same kind of varied experiences earlier generations have enjoyed. Finally, real, meaningful reform needs to take into consideration that both students and teachers are human, not automatons! There is no single “one-size-fits-all” solution when dealing with individuals, and until everyone understands that, many “reformations” will fail, but the show must go on!

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