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Governmental Non-Control

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A Tweet from Dr. Tyson on April 14th: “When Students cheat on exams it’s because our School System values grades more than Students value learning.”

Obviously, parents want their kids to have the best education possible. For some with the means to do so, that means private school or home school or tutoring or any/all of the above. For most families, this means public school. Kids should be able to receive a good quality, functional, non-judgmental education through their local public school. Personally, I think education should be a basic human right. The problem lies in defining “good quality” and “functional” (and sometimes even “non-judgmental”), and how to evaluate whether these programs are working.

This article in the NYTimes unintentionally illustrates a lot of the problems very well. It describes (and circumscribes) the following problems:

  • a testing/textbook company with power over the schools, the teachers, and the students (and Texas influences a lot of texts across the country)
  • the decline in funding for schools (cuts are happening in Texas and elsewhere, too)
  • legislators who don’t understand what they’re voting on, what they have already voted on, or how it could affect kids
  • a need to have some sort of evaluation system, to prove schools’ efficacy to parents and society in general.

The federal Dept of Education controls some money, regulates policy regarding discrimination, and monitors data. But there is no unified system to guide this country’s education policies within classrooms. Education isn’t mentioned in the Constitution, so it’s technically a state issue as to exactly what, when, and how subjects are taught. Thanks to NCLB, every state is required to have some sort of testing system that evaluates students every few years in reading and math, at minimum. This is just the beginning of the problems with controlling what exactly kids learn in school.

The NYTimes also ran this editorial piece on testing with Common Core standards. (Side note: I think it’s interesting that the Times felt it necessary to note that Common Core was a bipartisan effort.) Here’s another thing in the editorial I think is interesting:

The standards are flexible so that states and localities can implement them in varying ways.

So this means that the standards aren’t really standards? Couldn’t we always get to a particular standard via multiple roads? But if the curriculum is truly flexible, then any particular standardized test will have a sort of hit-or-miss outcome, depending on its content and the instruction thereof. The bottom line is that there is still one standard test in every state, so flexibility of implementation of curriculum is nice, but there’s still a particular set of standardized data that somebody thinks is the ultimate goal.

So that’s where legislators and society wants kids to be. What do teachers want?

In this interview with the Center for Digital Education, on pages 4 and 5, this is what Dr. Tyson thinks teachers do. I agree that generally, there are only a few teachers who will significantly impact a student favorably over their academic lifetime. I strongly disagree with Dr. Tyson in his implication that teachers are content in their menial roles as stewards of tests. Perhaps I’ve worked in unusual situations, but the teachers I know hate tests, especially standardized tests. These tests provide students (and teachers!) with very little experiential input, other than closure of a textbook chapter. To teachers, the real meat of the class is on non-test days, with experiments and brainstorming and puzzles and what-ifs and creative writing and building and making.

And as far as students destined for greatness, grades were not (and are not) my mental calculation as to future possibilities. In my so-far limited experience, my A-students are the ones I don’t have to worry about academia-wise. It’s the B-students and C-students I think about: the ones who don’t give up and proudly earn that non-A grade; the ones who coast by grade-wise, but ask interesting questions; the ones who are genuinely curious about my subject and want to know more about non-textbook materials. And really, I’d be deluding myself if I thought that many of my students were going to be chemists when they grow up.

But I hope I can inspire them to wonder a little.

So what’s a good standard for students? I don’t think there is a single standard that can evaluated by multiple-choice test that would apply to every kid across the country. But I think a better question for those who think they’re in charge of education (i.e., legislators) is why are we evaluating our kids by generated numbers when we should be applauding the kinds of people they’re becoming?

What do teachers really do? Taylor Mali has some words:

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