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Sunday, July 19, 2009

What is Wrong with Trying to Raise Test Scores? Five short answers.

I had the opportunity to meet with the great test score promoters in Washington but turned it down. What would be the point? The entire administration is devoted to raising test scores. I would convince no political person to change his or her view. That having been said, what could be really be wrong with testing and emphasizing test scores?

  1. Testing teaches that there are right answers. The problem is that is that in real life, the important questions don’t have answers that are clearly right or wrong. "Knowing the answer" has made school into Jeopardy. It is nice to win a game show, but important decisions are made through argumentation and force of reason not knowing the right answer.

  2. Testing teaches that some subjects are more important than others. The tests are small in number. If there were thousands to choose from, then perhaps people could get tested in fiber optics instead of history. But the system has determined which subjects are the most important. Just remember that the system made that determination in 1892. Some things have changed in the world since then. No one in Washington seems to have noticed.

  3. Testing focuses teachers on winning not teaching. Many teachers are extremely frustrated by the system they have found themselves to be a part of. They cannot afford to spend time teaching a student or getting a concept across if the issues being taught are not on the tests. They are judged on the basis of test scores. So, any rational teacher gives up teaching and becomes a kind of test preparation coach.

  4. Students learn that memorization is more important than thinking. Teaching students to reason ought to be the beginning and end of what education is about But in an answer-obsessed world, "go figure it out for yourself" or "go try it and see what happens" are replaced by more memorization. Giving kids a chance to fail helps them learn. Actively preventing failure by telling the right answer just helps kids pass tests.

  5. Innovation in education is eliminated. How can we offer new curricula and new ways of learning if no matter what we do children must pass algebra tests? The administration says science is important over and over again but since science in high school is defined by boring tests of vocabulary terms and definitions for the most part, who would be excited to learn science? If a really good scientific reasoning curriculum were created the schools could not offer it unless it helped kids pass the very same tests that that curriculum was intended to replace.

Oh. One more thing. Testing also reduces knowledge to short answers like the ones I have given here. In reality, serious argumentation is much more lengthy.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

My Transportation Policy son sends me a job announcement about Education

My son, who works in transportation policy in Washington, forwarded the following announcement to me:

Job Announcement for Executive Director
The nation's largest coalition of education associations seeks new executive director
starting January 1, 2010. The Committee for Education Funding (CEF), established in 1969, is a strong, unified voice in support of federal education funding, ranging from pre-school to postgraduate education in both public and private systems.

I wrote back saying that I was against federal funding for education and he responded that of course I was right. This is a funny thing for someone who works on funding issues in transportation to say. What is the difference between transportation and education?

Highways that don't connect to highways in other states would be a problem for the country. Airlines that followed different rules in each state would create chaos. That is why we have a federal government. Making rules about infrastructure is critical. But education is not infrastructure. States can, and should, have different rules. Farming matters in some places and managing casinos matters in another. Some states have aircraft jobs and some have marine related jobs.

The federal government, nevertheless, insists on national standards, treating everyone the same, which usually means lots of algebra and literature for some unknown reason.

The President announced $12 billion in funding for community colleges the other day. Yippee, Yahoo. Real education for real people related to real jobs.

Uh oh. Maybe he means to impose national standards on community colleges too. Please don't do that Mr. President. Community Colleges are not interstate highways.

Friday, July 10, 2009

all opinions all the time aided by technology

I read an article the other day about a 3 year old child talking on a cell phone and infuriating the doctor he was going to see by walking right past him while talking. The writer of this article was asking for people to express their opinions about it.

We live in a world where all opinions are equally valid and must be expressed.We also live in a world where children must all have cell phones and will imitate their parents who likely treat their phone call as more important than the people they are having dinner with. This is the technological world we have created. I am all for new technology of course, but at some point we need to ask software companies to start creating intelligent applications for that technology.If kids are going to play with electronic gadgets at dinner, could we at least make the software on them something that opens their minds in some way? When we build e-learning software could we try to make it better than school and not worse? When we report news constantly could we be done with Michael Jackson in something less than all day every day for weeks in every country in the world?

The fault is, of course, due to Google and Microsoft. They have plenty of smart software people whose main intention, it seems, is to beat the hell out their competitors. How about harnessing their abilities to help education?

We are heading for a time when no one talks to anyone except via technology any more. This wouldn't be so awful if they had anything of interest to say. Everyone expresses their opinion all the time. No one gets any smarter as a result. (Me too.)