On this, the National Day of Blogging on Education Reform, I return after a long absence to offer a few thoughts.
Maja Wilson recently posted a piece to the Huffington Post about how she's come to hate the word data-- she compares it to a swear word. I recently journaled about other words I hate-- and then words I love.
Here are the educational words I hate: Data Assessment Formative assessment Summative assessment Common Systematic Measurable Testing Scores Levels Intensive Progress
These words, in isolation, are cold, inhumane, dehumanizing, technocratic, and, at best, uninspiring.
Here are words about education I love: Creative Holistic Human Observable Exercise Artistic Workshop Open Ended Messy Enthusiastic Passionate Fun Insightful Authentic Real Inspiring
The approach to education that is being forced from the top down on teachers and students is sterile, unimaginative, and stifling. Every time I go to a meeting where one more measure, assess, and classify scheme is unveiled, I end up with a splitting headache-- a headache that goes down my neck into my shoulders and makes my whole spine feel like it wants to split in two. Why? Well-- here's just one example of the irony going on here.
Reformers promote Professional Learning Communities. The object of PLCs seems to be, so far as I can tell, to insure that teachers in a subject area collaborate to make sure no one is being creative and everyone is doing the exact same things at the exact same times. Got that? Now, add to that the fact that reformers want merit pay for outstanding teachers. Here's my question: How can anyone be outstanding if everyone is being forced to teach exactly the same way? How can these two ideas possibly coincide? How?
Wait-- I'm going to take a couple of "Aleve."
I'm back now.
Education reform is not going to work if it alienates our best teachers and makes them think about leaving the profession. I can't tell you how many great teachers I know who are thinking of leaving the profession. I've lost count. And I start to think about it more and more frequently myself. And it's not the students that make me want to leave. Or the parents. Or my principal. I love my school. I don't love what is happening to education right now.
I get great test results-- but I do it by not focusing on testing. I don't focus on data. I don't turn my students into test scores. I treat my students as people, and I focus on real life reasons to read and write. I make writing and reading fun. I am constantly trying to come up with new, creative ideas that will motivate my students and teach them to read and write better in ways that actually matter to them.
Reformers give lip service to wanting great, creative teachers. What they really want is teachers who are motivated primarily on money and who care more about scores than about students.
Here are some suggestions for real educational reform:
Look at data with a "grain of salt," acknowledging its limitations and using it to look at trends, to see what students might need extra help, and not to grade teachers or condemn students to years in intensive classes that make them hate those subjects.
Focus less on what is measurable and more on what is observable. Do you really want to walk on a campus and see students being treated like numbers, teachers teaching in lockstep with each other and focusing on tested skills and standards?
At a workshop at the National Council of Teachers of English this weekend, we brainstormed what we'd like to see at school. Some of the answers: smiles, kids reading books just because they love them (not for points, and not because they had to chose books in their lexiles), creative lessons and projects taking place, student and teacher enthusiasm, student projects and work on display, engaged students... the list could go on.
Put the cart in front of the horse. Test scores should be indicators that the right things are going on in a school. What happens at a school shouldn't primarily be about getting higher test scores.
If education reforms make good teachers want to leave, they are bad reforms. I think I'm a good teacher. I know these reforms make me want to leave.
If education reforms make students hate school, they are bad reforms. My new sixth graders told me they were actually enjoying writing in my class and that they'd been hating it. When did they start hating writing I asked? In fourth grade, when they took the state writing assessment. Over-emphasis on testing kills enthusiasm.
If education reforms kill creativity, which is the skill of the future as Daniel Pink points out, they are bad reforms.
If education reforms dehumanize students and make them feel lost in a system where their scores matter more than they do, they are bad reforms.
True education reform will promote teacher initiative and creativity, as well as authentic learning experiences that focus on student creativity and student engagement. True education reform will honor the fact that teachers are motivated not by quick bonuses for test scores, but by trying to help kids and love of their professions.
True education reformers would listen to teachers, students and parents, not statisticians, politicians, and businessmen.
True education reform would take away my headache and make me happy to go to work each day again.