Sunday, May 22, 2011

Sham Standards: Teaching to the Test

I JUST READ THIS MORNING in the New York Times that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is spending millions to push for “common core academic standards.” Education reformers like Chester E. Finn, Jr. praise the effort. At last count, forty-five states had adopted these new guidelines.

 The other five are probably run by incompetent governors. 

I, for one, have serious doubts about the efficacy of standards. I’ll keep my blog sweet and simple for today. “Standardized testing” means what you get in the end is “standardized teaching.” 

For many years, I was able to bring amazing speakers into school to talk to classes. We had a Holocaust survivor, a Quaker woman, a man who survived ten years in a Siberian prison camp and several Vietnam War veterans.  

Call me stupid, but bringing in speakers seemed to me to be a good but “non-standardized” method of teaching. 

In May, 2008, three weeks before I retired, I organized a program that brought fourteen veterans in to speak to 700 students at Loveland Middle School. We set up a schedule that allowed every student to hear three speakers or groups: and those speakers were tremendous. Joe Whitt survived the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Ace Gilbert, a former Marine, saw heavy fighting in Vietnam. Mark Adams was an F-16 pilot who dodged missiles in the sky over Baghdad in 1991. Seth Judy had been badly wounded in Iraq in 2003 and Dave Volkman, a Loveland High School teacher, was just back from a tour in Afghanistan.

 THE QUESTION THAT BOTHERED ME at the time—and still scares me today—was this: “Was this really education?” 

Joe wasn't going to stick to a script nor would any of the other speakers. So, if we’re going to tie teacher pay to standardized test results, technically, this entire day was wasted. I hate to tell a billionaire like Bill Gates—or break the news to Finn, who never taught a day in his life—but this is nuts. 

Left to right: John Neal, Milt Rooms and Tom Thomas, all combat veterans in the Pacific Islands in 1944 and 1945. 

If Mr. Neal talks about dodging bullets and bombs on Iwo Jima, which he did, will students be “learning” if the standardized test doesn’t include a question about Iwo Jima? 

What if the standardized test focuses on Songhai trade instead? Don’t tell me you don’t know about Songhai trade! 

THE OHIO ACHIEVEMENT TEST included questions on Songhai two years in a row, in 2006 and 2007.


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