Beginner's Heart

Beginner's Heart


Dear Education Reformers:

education reformI’ve spent much of this month  listening to teachers. Their stories break my heart. Because these are teachers who are voluntarily seeking to improve. And they are exhausted, folks. Bone-deep, brain fugue, blank-eyed exhausted. It’s all they can do to get up in the morning and go to work.

From small rural Oklahoma districts, they tell stories of tests that no one can explain. Tests that define their students’ futures as well as their own. They speak of students who throw up from stress over these tests that ostensibly measure teacher accountability.

Accountability to whom? Certainly not to their students, who stop paying attention once testing is over (because after all: school now is about testing, isn’t it? not learning, right?). And yes, that’s one of the stories they tell: students halt all work once tests are done. Because hey: it’s all about the tests, right?

Tests do NOT measure learning. I know non-educators find this hard to believe, but a far better measurement of a child’s learning is asking him or her to teach the topic to someone else. Another good assessment is a portfolio of work, so you can see the student’s progress over a span of time.

There’s no time for that these days. Portfolios are labour intensive, and watching each student teach another? What dreamland do I live in? What there is time for is testing. And worrying about testing. And preparing for testing. But not — please note — a decent discussion of what this is supposed to accomplish, or how the tests are graded. Some, in fact, are graded electronically. By computers, w/ ‘rubrics.’ circuit board

Here’s a link to an essay — written by a teacher at MIT, Les Perelman — that scored a 6 out of 6 on a prestigious e-graded test. A shorter, cogently argued (and sensible) essay only received a 5. Hmmm… You’ll note that the ‘winning’ essay is total junk.

Folks, teachers are indispensable. I don’t WANT my grandson graded by computers. There are enough computers in our lives — and I even like computers (well, most of the time). But I like teachers infinitely better.

And our teachers are not happy these days. For very good reasons. Maybe, if we want our students to perform better in school, we should listen to these teachers. You know, the people who work with our kids DAILY. For HOURS. Who say that hunger, neglect, poverty, stress, and other human errors are what cause students to perform poorly.

I guess that would be too simple, right? Just a thought…



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