Monday, August 12, 2013

Serving Up Failure

As kids begin returning to schools around the country, inevitably, the battles over testing and curriculum are beginning to float to the surface like so much grease floating to the top of a poorly cooked school lunch.

Indeed, in the DC area, the big news lately has been record high test scores, the best in six years for DC public schools. The problem, of course, is the perpetual difficulty regarding tests and numbers: Those who agree with the positive numbers trumpet them as proof of their success. Those who disagree with the numbers simply cite other numbers and studies and claim that the "winners" are really losers according to some other form of measurement.

In Nebraska, the fight over testing of schools has been going on all year, since Nebraska turned down the Common Core Standards passed by 45 other states in January. The Cornhusker State even went to the trouble of funding its own study comparing Nebraska's standards against the national Common Core standards, which recently came out. Not surprisingly, Nebraska's language standards stack up well against those of Common Core.

The problem is rarely in the numbers, or even in the different ways of measuring. Indeed, if you count how many times we've already mentioned "standards," "numbers," and "test" or "testing" we've referenced all of those words more than a dozen times just in our first three graphs today.

If you count how many times we've mentioned "kids" though, you'll notice the same problem that educators, parents, and politicians are having: That testing and test prep are completely hogging the discussion, and leaving the kids with no real substance or serious attention.

You can blame the issue on President Obama or President Bush, on 'Common Core Standards' or 'No Child Left Behind.' This issue isn't even one that divides the electorate along strict strict partisan lines.

The fact is, the altruistic ideas that drove 'No Child Left Behind' under President Bush and are currently driving the idea of 'Common Core' standards under President Obama are similar. Those basic ideas are attractive and even laudable. Kids at the same grade level should have a similar basis of knowledge, if for no other reason than if their parents drag the family to a new city, the child won't be completely lost in his or her new school. Similarly, the ideas of testing teachers is, on the surface, a good idea. Teachers who can't communicate and can't do the job should be let go, so those who are great at teaching can have those job positions. No one can argue with either of those ideas.

What spoiled both programs though, is also the same thing - billion dollar for-profit testing companies, who also spend lots of money on lobbying to push politicians and educators to spend more education dollars with their companies.

Even if you ignore the billions of dollars in testing today, the biggest problem with all of these tests is that too many parents, teachers, administrators, and politicians are all looking for shortcuts on how to judge the performance of teachers and the success of their kids. Too often they all seem to forget the most basic goal of our education system isn't some pile of statistics on a plate.

It's feeding the minds of children so they learn the basics, while also teaching those kids how to learn, so they can keep learning throughout their whole lives.

If we forget that most basic goal of education for any American child, the only things we'll be serving up to the future are empty promises and piles of problems.

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