Friday, May 11, 2007

What schools need to be

It may be my naivete in education, or just my all-too-positive outlook on the future, but I can't agree with Chris Lehman any more when we says the following on his blog today:
Here's, to me, one of the great paradoxes of education:

When we stop pushing the kids toward some idealized standard of
knowledge, but step back and support the process of growth and learning
and improvement, we actually stand a better chance to reach and exceed
that idealized standard.
I have worked in four schools now, one private and three public. One of the things I noticed was that expectation is what achieved high test scores. When the students were expected to achieve, and given a program that stressed quality work, they reached the levels that they should have, according to the state.

For a long time now, I have wondered what effect teaching to the test has on our students ability to think originally and solve problems.When we bring to the forefront the practice of test preparation, and subjugate critical thinking, what are we telling our students? I don't think its the message we want to send.

When you want to sneak some medication by your child, you mask it in something else, something that has meaning to them, like fudge.The same holds true with high-stakes testing and preparation for it. Do we want our students to perform well on these tests? Absolutely because our funding and our reputation depends on it. But we should disguise our test prep under the guise of curriculum that is rich, investigative, and inquiry-based.

The first public school system I worked in did a fine job of that. The students were held to high standards, of which they were all keenly aware of, and the curriculum that supported those standards incorporated aspects of original thinking and learning by student and teacher, rigorous standards that mirrored and even exceeded those of the state, and a requisite engagement level that the teachers had to meet. By this, I mean that the material the students were given was varied, and heavily influenced by Roger Taylor's methodology.

Those students far exceeded state averages of proficiency in all areas tested. And I can barely remember a day of test prep in regular education classes, other than letting them know what was expected of them. It's a leap of faith on the part of the teacher, the administration and the district, but it is akin to what we talk about here with technology. Chris mentions fostering an environment of support and growth in learning, and I think we would be surprised at how many schools out there are not ready to do that at the level that his school is.

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