Well Said

(UPDATE: 4/24/2012 – see the update below-)

Mary Broderick, President of the National School Boards Association, wrote a heartfelt letter to President Obama about the sorry state of education in the US after years of “reform.”

I especially appreciated points she made like:

“We want for each American child the same things that you and Michelle want for Sasha and Malia—inspiration, aspiration, creativity. I know you don’t want an overemphasis on testing. I have heard you say it.  Experience in schools and communities, supported by research, tells us that relentlessly focusing on standardized tests erodes our national competitiveness and deadens curiosity and drive. Clearly, we need some testing to gauge student learning, and we have no problem with appropriate accountability. But we have swung to a far extreme that is significantly hurting children. “Students are numbing over testing for testing’s sake…. We can’t test this country into excellence.” (Sonny Savoie, LA)”

As well as:

“The focus on strict quantitative accountability has never worked for any organization, and it has not worked with No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top. Teachers are trying to meet the mandates of those programs and consequently “our children suffer and are not getting educated to their individual potential.” (Carolyne Brooks, IL) Teachers’ focus on tests is undermining their potential and initiative, making it more difficult to share a love of learning with their students.”

It is a strong letter that is well worth your time.

4/24/2012 UPDATE: Tim Holt left this comment on the School Board News blog where my link above takes you. Tim makes a great point!:

“Madam President,
While I applaud your letter, especially the idea that your organization has finally taken a stand after only two decades of standardized testing throughout the US (we have been living with it in Texas since the mid 1980?s), may I suggest a follow up letter:

How about a letter to each school board that is a member of your organization asking that they stop the practice of hiring superintendents with the sole purpose to “bring up test scores?” This would do more than anything that President Obama could do; if your members would stop the insanity at the district levels.

Imagine what would happen if your organization members all of a sudden stopped hiring district leaders based on what a superintendent can do for test scores.
Stop approving purchase orders for materials whose sole purpose is to remediate for test.
Stop paying for consultants to help teachers teach to a test.

I would love to see that letter as well.

Tim Holt”

Learning is messy!

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8 thoughts on “Well Said

  1. Brian,
    It takes a village, right? Obviously, her letter to President Obama is strong, but when I wrote the reply, I thought to myself “Who is she leading? Who can she directly influence?” In Texas, over 380 school boards have adopted a resolution against standardized testing. In my district, the race to make the grade on tests has literally torn the district apart from within, with arrests, FBI investigations, principal re-assignments, supposed retaliation when speaking up, etc: http://tinyurl.com/6lrb5os

    When it gets to the point where Superintendents are arrested and principals are fired and students are denied education just because of a test, then maybe at the district level, we have gone too far.

    Thanks for starting the conversation.

  2. I’ll admit I’ve become pretty jaded on this issue. I really do think the focus of NCLB and RTTT has nothing to do with improving schools. The agenda is to paint schools as failing so politicians can win support for tectonic legal changes that open the door for online virtual charter schools and other forms of privatizing public education.

    It’s a passionate letter, and I like her “We can’t test this country into excellence” language. The problem is, the “real players” who have pushed for NCLB/RTTT and the continued focus on painting all schools as well as teachers as ‘failures’ aren’t interested in excellence or improving schools. They are not interested in helping our schools communities grapple with and overcome the challenges of poverty. Instead, they are interested in enriching their private corporations by privatizing public schools around the nation. We are in the middle of this morass in Oklahoma today. See my video response to last week’s “Digital Learning Summit” in Oklahoma City hosted by our state department of education. I tried to walk a line in the video calling out some of the positive things which were said and done… but the bottom line (which I emphasize later in the video) is we must reject high stakes testing. I know that is the focus of this letter, but I think we need to identify and call out the motivates of many “education reformers” for what they are, and make an aggressive case for our continuing need for PUBLIC education which is not dominated by private, corporate interests.

  3. One of the most important pieces of the problem is the answer to the question: “How do we create educational experiences, not educational institutions, which create in students the continuous desire to learn.” Certainly not by testing students to death. Several times when I have been conducting professional development, on a variety of topics, I have been asked: “How are your test scores?” My replay is that my test scores are good, but not because I teach the test. If I can create thoughtful students with the habits of mind necessary to be a succesful person, then their test scores will be fine. However, creating students who are good test takers does not create successful adults. We have lost the vision of educating for personal development and the creation of tomorrow’s citizens.

  4. I am a EDM 310 student at the University of South Alabama and have been assigned this blog to read and comment on. Being an education major while this rise of academic awareness and change is happening in the U.S. is enlightening. Not only do my fellow classmates and I learn strategies of teaching, different ways a child can learn, and many other very important classroom techniques, but we also are given the opportunity to soak up the political strife revolving around our nation’s education system right now. The letter to Obama just goes to show you that there are still people in this great country who will not give up on their passions. Without leaders like Ms. Broderick and first lady Michelle Obama our school systems could possibly end up in the lions den.

  5. I agree in part that standardized testing has gone too far. However it has served a purpose. I am returning to teaching after a 20+ year leave, teachers are much better about teaching content and staying on course when they have a goal, but the goal was never meant to be the end all of educating our students, only a goal. After teacher testing eliminated a number of the inefficient, the ones remaining are actually doing a much better job.

  6. Hello! I’m a student in EDM 310 at the University of South Alabama. I can agree with these letters. If they stop hiring people at the district level who only there for one purpose and that is to raise test scores, then students would have time to focus on what’s more important. I graduated from Moss Point High in MS in 2009 and this was the case for four years. Teachers taught around the test instead of teaching students and giving them the enjoyment of learning. Instead, students are forced to learn the materials that may possibly be one the test, and if they don’t pass, then they are haunted by this failure and fear of not being able to pass onto the next grade level. Thank you!

  7. Always focusing on teaching the test and “bringing up test scores” does not allow students to experience real life learning opportunities. Growing, learning, and becoming a productive member of society happens outside of the testing environment.

  8. I think there are a lot of good teachers and principals who don’t want to “teach to the test”, but they know that when testing season comes around their jobs are on the line if the results aren’t as favorable as they’d like them to be. Some measures of accountability are necessary, and testing will never disappear, but when it takes the joy and wonder out of teaching and learning it has not achieved its objective. It has gone too far to be effective. Teachers don’t do their best teaching under that kind of intense pressure, and the tests are no longer measuring what they think they are. They’re measuring how well teachers and students perform under pressure, not how well the objectives were taught or how much students have learned about the content.