Wednesday, February 28, 2007

David Driscoll on Education Reform

Our Commissioner of Education, David Driscoll, wrote an op-ed in today's Boston Globe. At first, I thought he was speaking prophetically. He makes some good points: Massachusetts may be this nation's leader on education, but we're only the best player on a very bad team. He recognizes that this country has changed all sorts of things when it comes to our educational system, hoping to make it better, but those changes never permeate through to the surface.

So, the Commish wants to create changes that aren't just on the surface. His solution?

Toughen and expand Grade 10 assessments to include a tougher battery of tests

Yikes! More tests! He complained earlier in the peice about teachers "teaching to the test," yet just wants to make them have more tests they're going to teach to? Is he (how do I put this nicely?) insane? I'm not intrinsically opposed to testing in schools, even if some of that testing determines whether or not students will graduate. I'd rather them just be used to show which schools need help and where - but there certainly are certain things that every student should know before they graduate and a test could be that determination.

However, the only reforms Driscoll actually offered were tests, tests and more tests. I have no doubts that more testing will achieve a higher grade on all these exams, but does that mean our students are any better off when they graduate? Will a test help them make a business presentation? Will a test help them on stage, create art, take photographs or write a good example of journalism? Perhaps, but none of the tests we have today do any such thing.

What would help students learn more is addressing the actual reasons why they aren't. Maybe they aren't trying in school because they don't value what they're learning? I can tell readers that there were certainly classes that I felt useless or easy - and when that happened, my effort plummeted. Anecdotal? Sure, but I doubt I'm alone there. If we can find ways to make students actually interested in what they do, they're that much more likely to learn.

Maybe we need to offer students more choices about what they learn. After all, who made up the rule that students have to learn about European history? What if they wanted to learn about Japan instead of England? Who says people have to take either French or Spanish - why not Mandarin Chinese or Italian?

Maybe schools need to tackle some of the real problems that millions of students face: external stress. Maybe we need more counselors to help students deal with problems, such as relationship issues, sexuality, dealing with all that work, whatever. Maybe we need to figure out a way to get parents more involved, so they can pass on the appreciation for education - whether they have a college education or not. Maybe we need to figure out ways to help with real problems at home, because if your parent is an alcoholic getting an A on your math test isn't going to be a high priority.

I don't know all the answers, but I do know more testing isn't one of them. Perhaps we need to try some trial and error, with more pilot schools to test out these theories. Driscoll did offer one good idea: longer school days. However, they shouldn't be just about core curriculum. They should be able extra help for those who need it and fun for everyone, including those getting extra help. It should be the opportunity everyone has to participate in sports, learn instruments, create works of art and do any number of things. Yet, all of these things would cost money - a lot of money. It's going to take a lot to convince enough people in this state of the value of longer school days with more opportunities for students before people will invest more money in it. Furthermore, there's probably no feasible way of doing it without raising taxes: would the Commish write an OP ED suggesting in favor of that?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Not every kid can go to Harvard. We need to go back to the idea that some kids should go to a "Commerce" high school, learn enough math to be a good shipping clerk/factory machine operator. Other kids can go to a "Classical" high school, take classes (Geometry) that lead to college and engineering degrees. Gear the tests needed to graduate from each high school to the expectations one would find for each.

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