Friday, June 20, 2014

Standardized Tests Have Got To Go

It's time for standardized tests as a formal measure of anything to go.

For all of the 21st century, our public schools and students have been on a downward slide, and I blame much of it on standardized testing.

We use standardized tests to plan curriculum, evaluate students, and decide gifted or special ed placement.

We buy houses based on test scores.

We fire teachers based on test scores.

This is patently absurd.

Yesterday, even the Gates Foundation acknowledged that evaluating teachers based on test scores from the Common Core standards should be halted until students get used to the test.

"Last week, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation joined the two largest teachers' unions in calling for a temporary halt to evaluating teachers based on Common Core tests. The foundation has spent more than $200 million implementing the Common Core standards nationwide."

Why? Because the tests are flawed. They incentivize cheating (see D.C. cheating scandal under media darling Michelle Rhee's watch, and Beverly Hall's ridiculous ruination of thousands of children's lives). They drive an inflexible curriculum that offers no place to see students as individuals. 

Last week, my daughter, the only current student at HoneyFern School, took her annual standardized test. She took the reading and math sections only. We did zero test prep. I bubbled in her Social Security number the night before, and she took the math sections one day and the reading sections the next.

Her scores as an 8th grade student put her at a grade-level equivalent of post-high school.

Yes, she is gifted, but not profoundly. We follow no book curriculum, but she did design and build a house. She took it to the White House this week. Her education has been guided by her interests, and I have designed all of her instruction around what she is passionate about. 

Standardized tests focus on numbers, dollar signs, and politics.

It is time to focus on students in education, not politics or big money or textbook publishers. 

Standardized testing as a driver of any curricular or instructional or evaluative decisions needs to go immediately. 

HoneyFern can be scaled up and successful; the Met School in Rhode Island is an example of this (also, ironically, supported in part by the Gates Foundation but under increasing pressure to standardize even though they have had amazing success with some of the most challenging populations). It is time for parents and lawmakers and teachers to demand something different for their kids. 

Public school right now is not good enough, and it's time to change.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Ask a Teacher

Here’s the funny thing about research in education: most of the fancy expensive studies that have been done come as no surprise to teachers in the classroom. I am not talking about the teachers who are there for a paycheck and summers off (of course they exist). I am talking about the teachers who find their life’s work in the education of kids (of whatever age).

Take, for example, the recent “groundbreaking” study that found that when parents helped kids with their homework too much, the kids got no benefit. Go figure. I could always tell when a parent helped a kid with their homework for two reasons: 1) the style and voice were nothing like the kid themselves, which was my job to know, and 2) the parents who did their kids’ work were the most upset when they got a bad grade.

But I digress.

The next “groundbreaking” study is on kindergartners and how we underestimate their number sense and should expect more. OF COURSE WE SHOULD. But in this country, instead of expecting more out of our kindergartners with regard to challenging content, we expect more out of them with regard to sitting still, filling in worksheets, and following rules. If we let our kids explore, play, experience numbers, and ask questions, we would be utterly astonished at what they can do. This particular study also points out that kids gain nothing from repeating what they already know.

Also not shocking.

Repeat, for those who are unfamiliar with my philosophies on education as I have been writing them for three years via this blog: there is nothing wrong with the children. The system is broken. The adults are broken. The society is broken. We know how kids of all ages learn and do best: through play, through exploration, through trial and error and failure. Why do we continue to give them a worksheet with one right answer? Why do we continue to sit them down for hours of mind-numbing lecture and regurgitation?

These studies perpetuate the myth that studies like these are actually necessary. Want to save time and money? Ask a teacher. They’ll tell you.
Image by Marco Belucci via Flickr

Monday, April 7, 2014

Still Here?

You know what is pretty amazing?

You are still here.

Guess what?

So am I.

I have not forgotten about education. It is not off my radar. I am still reading, watching. I talk about it. I dream about it sometimes.

I may start writing about it again, although at a certain point it begins to feel as if I am shouting into the darkness.

But still. Lately I have read encouraging repeats of some of the ideas I have been writing about for the past three years. And HoneyFern was just awarded official federal tax-exempt status. So all options remain open.

If you have questions. or would like me to write about something in particular, please leave notes or topics in the comments. Maybe it's time to start the revolution again.