So here is what I propose: that each blogger reading this today – whatever else you write about on your blog – take on one issue or a small aspect of one issue, follow it in the mainstream press, on alternative media and political sites online, on other blogs as it is debated and once a week, write about what you’ve learned on that issue. Make yourself an expert on it, do some research, give us the facts, tell us what the candidates are saying, how it’s being spun by their surrogates – and your opinions too, if you are so inclined.
Education is one area in which I have abiding interest, based on twenty years of experience that includes classroom teaching, training teachers, and developing and implementing statewide policies, including the state’s Learning Standards.. And, I have opinions. Very strong opinions. Especially about student assessment.
Everyone knows that what’s on the test determines what gets taught. And, in general, not enough effort is put into developing engaging ways for “how” it all gets taught. Everyone knows that, in terms of students developing a love of learning and then learning well, the current “teaching to the test” approach is an overwhelming failure. Student learning needs to be assessed so that we know if they’re learning how to apply what they’ve learned, or not.
This piece on the website of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching presents a different approach:
In the ambitious New Standards Project, a national initiative that regularly brought teachers together from around the country to learn techniques for integrating instruction and assessment, participating teachers learned to literally merge these two activities in such a way that they were indistinguishable. Lauren Resnick of the University of Pittsburgh, one of the visionaries behind the project, noted that rather than bemoan the inclination to teach to the test, we should take advantage of it. We should make exercises so compelling, and so powerful as exemplars of a domain, that honing one’s ability to solve them represents generalizable learning and achievement. Viewed in this light, teaching to the test is no longer vaguely disreputable because the skills and knowledge are themselves general and are the very things we wish students to acquire.
So, I begin to look at where the presumed presidential candidates stand on issues of education, specifically assessment. And here’s what I found:
McCain focuses his statements on education on school choice –that is, if a school fails a student, then the student should have the freedom to move to a different school. McCain believes that many schools are failing, and No Child Left Behind helps to illustrate the problem. Obama believes that public education was broken before NCLB –and that NCLB was intended to fix the problem, but was poorly conceived, never properly funded, and was poorly implemented.
Hmm. I believe that, while “school choice” does work to the advantage of some students, what most students need is access to a system of 21st Century public education that does what it’s supposed to do — prepare students to think about what they’re learning and to want to continue learning so that they can live fulfilled, productive and positive lives. Duh. Is that what’s happening? I don’t think so.
OK. So, what are the education platforms regarding assessment of the two presumed candidates?
McCain’s education platform is built on merit pay for teachers and school vouchers for families who would like to trade in their students’ failing schools for private schools. According to McCain, families whose children are stuck in failing schools should have choices and opportunities that are not limited by entrenched bureaucracy or unions.
Pretty flimsy platform, it seems to me.
Standardized testing is stuck in the crossfire in the debate over accountability, and Obama has stepped up to take aim. He says that too often standardized tests fail to provide valuable or timely feedback. Meanwhile, “creativity has been drained from classrooms, as too many teachers are forced to teach to fill-in-the-bubble tests,” Obama says. While we do need some form of assessment, he says those tests should be measuring what is valuable for students to learn. “I will provide funds for states to implement a broader range of assessments that can evaluate higher-order skills, including students’ abilities to use technology, conduct research, engage in scientific investigation, solve problems, present and defend their ideas,” says Obama.
Thanks Barack. I couldn’t have said it better.