Thursday, April 5, 2012

E is for..........

E is for..........Education.

As a teacher, I can't help writing about education on the blog from time to time. I really do love teaching, and I try to focus on the positive aspects of education, the relationships and interactions with students that make teaching a uniquely rewarding experience.

This has been a tough year to focus on the positive. My school is under a lot of pressure to improve our standardized test scores. I have spent more time teaching to the test than I would like, but our current reality makes it unavoidable. This means I spend a lot of time teaching kids how to analyze the mood of obscure poetry or how to find common themes in folktales from Norway and Japan. Both worthy exercises I suppose, but not exactly riveting for kids. I don't have a problem with standardized tests, but I do think there is too much significance placed on them. Our society has decided that kids are essentially the sum of their test scores, no better or worse than their data. It bothers me that this doesn't bother more people.

We've gone from Bush's No Child Left Behind to Obama's Race to the Top. It is now the educational policy of the United States to have winners and losers. The game is standardized testing, and the losers will be stuck with all the crap minimum wage jobs our politicians talk about with such pride. And to the winners, well, the way things are going, most of them will be working minimum wage too.

The US collectively wrings its hands about our standing in the world, middling test scores a sign of our impending doom. Bullshit. I'm not saying the US educational system doesn't need to improve. Of course it does. It's strange to me that the public thinks politicians are more capable of improving schools than teachers. You know, the people who actually care about kids as human beings, not just as employees.

Bit of a rant here. Thoughts?

I promise I'll be more positive the next time I write about education.

20 comments:

  1. Rant away, Tim. You're so right that we've become entirely obsessed with test results.

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    1. You gotta let it all out sometimes.

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  2. It is no different in the UK and we are also under the thrall of standardised testing.

    Please rant.

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    1. Thanks for the British perspective.

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  3. Here in France, the politicians voted to lower the difficulty of the high school graduation tests - now they're all proud of "their" results because more students are passing it. Duh. Minimum wage is an epidemic here, even for those with higher education - my husband has a Bachelors in Health and Safety and gets paid minimum +100 euros for a job in his field. I agree that it's for teachers, and even more, for parents to be concerned about education!

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    1. You're absolutely right about parents, that's a whole different rant. And thanks for the French perspective.

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  4. I feel for you. Though I would have loved being a teacher (and I think I could at least be halfway decent considering all the lunkhead ones my kids get stuck with), I would never have survived the aggravation that comes with the job (i.e. low pay, standardized tests, etc). I do admire teachers like you however, that are obviously good teachers, care about what they do, care about the level of education they are providing. Feel free to rant, you've probably earned that right over and over.

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    1. lunkhead-nice word-they're definitely out there. Thanks for the kind words.

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  5. Teaching is one of the hardest but least valued professions. I'm not sure what the answer is to fix the situation, but until we find a more efficient form of measurement, what we have are standardized test scores.

    I don't think the problem is the tests in and of themselves - there were standardized tests back when we were kids too. Maybe it's the overemphasis placed on teaching to the test to the exclusion of other learning.

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    1. You're right about the tests, they certainly have their place. I took them in my day too, and I support using them to measure skill. But like you said, I think they are overemphasized, particularly in schools like mine, where there are so many other factors that affect academic achievement.

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  6. Education unfortunately is the lowest priority we seem to have in the good ol' US of A. The first place budgets get cut when the government on any level is in trouble is education. Our society values being entertained way more than they value anything else. Why should a grown adult be paid millions of dollars to play a game? Why do singers demand hundreds of dollars for the "privilege" of attending one of their concerts? Actors make millions to pretend on a daily basis. Yet those people that actually do something for this world like teach our children are paid nothing for what they do and expected to use their own money for supplies. Test scores are low because not all kids learn the same or are on the same level especially the ESL students. Some kids just suck at tests and that doesn't mean they are incapable of learning and school funding should be cut. But enough of my rant, good thought provoking post! Good luck with the rest of the A to Z Challenge.
    -MJ http://creativelyspiltink.blogspot.com/

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  7. I was a teacher myself. Believe me, you've earned the right to rant. :)
    Great A-Z post!
    Nutschell
    www.thewritingnut.com

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  8. Just keep doing the best that you can do. All of these programs have good intentions behind them. Nothing is going to be perfect. So just keep swimming.

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  9. I know several teachers, and they all have the same rant. That's one thing I've never understood, why politicians are treated as the ones to improve the school system. No one would expect politicians to come in and run a hospital, so I'm puzzled why they are treated as education experts. I can imagine it must be very frustrating to those of you in the field.

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  10. Great post!

    I know lots of people who feel the same way you do. It's clear that kids need to be inspired and engaged, but not enough people seem to be trying to figure out how to do that, so the politicians (who don't know squat) turn to standardized test scores instead.

    I wonder what would happen if we threw out grades when it came to employment and college admissions and just looked at essays and projects and did in-person interviews. Those methods seem to be more effective at finding out who is going to be good at what than looking at a standardized test score.

    Here from the A-Z Challenge. Nice to "meet" you!

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  11. Visiting from the AtoZ challenge linky.
    I come from a UK university lecturer perspective and just this week in the news has been a discussion about university lecturers setting A-Level (the exams taken at 17/18) because of universities bemoaning the fact that students aren't prepared for degree level study.
    I teach on a course that uses problem based learning that demands quite a high level of reasoning skills (and intrinsic motivation - interested in your earlier post too). I'm not altogether convinced standardised tests lend themselves to developing those skills. But after all they are skills to be learnt so perhaps we expect too much. I do however think if a range of teaching and learning (and assessment) styles could be used at younger ages it would put students in a better position when moving on to higher level study or 'real life'.

    Great post thanks for sharing.

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  12. I'm a teacher too, and the emphasis on tests drives me up a wall. I'll try not to get on my soapbox about it, but one thing I will say is, certain subjects are more appropriate for standardized tests than others. Math = appropriate. Reading, spelling, vocabulary = appropriate. Anything more interpretive, like history, literature, creative writing, etc. ... INappropriate. (Wow, just flashed on Conan O'Brien there.) And in the case of history (as you may have guessed, I'm a history teacher) there's a political component to it that goes unacknowledged. Forcing history teachers to teach to standardized tests effectively keeps them from straying from the state-approved narrative of history. It's pretty fascist, if you ask me. As a history teacher my choices are 1) risk getting fired or at least reprimanded for low test scores or 2) betray my personal ethics by ignoring really important stuff in history and allowing the kids to learn everything from textbooks that contain statements like "After World War II, the United States was committed to the right of political self-determination for all countries." Riiiight. Tell that to the south Vietnamese who suffered under Diem. Or the Chileans under Allende. I could go on.

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  13. Rant accepted. "Teaching to tests" is something I hear a lot of ranting about and I'm happy I graduated before it became the norm. I think public education hasn't quite been sorted yet in terms of what is the best way to educate the masses. I feel like, as a society (world, not just US) we're figuring that out. I don't think the SOL approach is the best way, it seems more like a knee jerk reaction than anything else.
    Fellow A-Zer
    http://libbyheily.blogspot.com/

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  14. I agree that teachers need to be empowered to change the system. And they can. If only people would let them do it.

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