Let’s Stop Pretending . . .

Earlier this week Iowa-based education blogger, Scott McLeod (dangerously!irrelevant) threw out the following challenge via the interwebs:

Please join us. When it comes to education, what are 5 things that we have to stop pretending? Post on your blog, tag 5 others, and share using the #makeschooldifferent hashtag. Feel free to also put the URL of your post in the comments area so others can find it!

As of tonight, at least 38 bloggers nationwide have responded to this challenge. It’s a pretty awesome list. Check it out HERE.

Here’s my short list. When it comes to education, we have to stop pretending…

ONE: The results of standardized testing are valuable for improving teaching and learning.

If reformers and lawmakers actually took the time to ask actual live human teachers, they would learn they place little value on a report from an out-of-state testing vendor on how the students they taught LAST year performed on an assessment the teacher never saw. Read my analogy HERE.

The reality is that we don’t have teachers sitting around from August to April every year thinking: “I sure wonder if my kids are learning anything this year. I can’t think of any way to figure this out. I suppose I’ll just have to wait to get the state test results back.”

And if there are administrators out there who need the results of standardized tests to decide whether or not their teachers are doing an effective job, they really ought to seek another line of work.

TWO: Student performance on standardized tests is an accurate measure of school quality.

I really don’t need to explain this one, do I?

These tests may not be accurate predictors of school quality but they are HIGHLY precise measures when correlated to the size of homes in the neighborhood surrounding the school.

But, do we need really tests to tell us that students from intact, stable, mostly affluent homes tend to do better in school?

Reformers claim that these annual tests are necessary for parents to ascertain whether the school their kids attend down the street is good, average, or of cesspool quality.

Apparently, parents don’t have a clue how their child is doing in school until they get the report back from a company in Great Britain (Pearson), which tells them how well their kid bubbled in correct answers on a 50-question multiple choice standardized test on one day last year.

We must also remember that raising test scores DOES NOT equate to improved teaching and learning. Almost all schools can succeed in raising average test scores. However, as author Alfie Kohn wrote 15 years ago, this may not be a valuable outcome:

We just need to deprive kids of recess, eliminate music and the arts, cut back the class meetings and discussions of current events, offer less time to read books for pleasure, squeeze out the field trips and interdisciplinary projects and high-quality electives, spend enough time teaching test-taking tricks, and, you bet, it’s possible to raise the scores. But that result is meaningless at best. When a school or district reports better test results this year than last, knowledgeable parents and other observers respond by saying, “So what?” (Because higher test scores do not necessarily reflect higher quality teaching and learning) – Or even, “Uh oh” (because higher test scores may indicate lower quality teaching and learning).

THREE: Charter schools are a panacea for transforming public schools through competition and innovation.

A primary rationale for the modern charter movement is that enhanced autonomy will permit charters to develop new education techniques, practices, and programs. Further, that these innovations will then be transported out to public schools to improve the quality of education for all students.

Here’s my challenge for charter fans–name ONE educational technique, one pedagogical breakthrough, that started at a charter school and has since spread throughout the country to all sorts of public schools.

As national blogger Peter Greene explains (using New Jersey charters as an example):

If you get to pick and choose the students you teach, you can get better results… (But these results are often very difficult to replicate outside of that unique school setting.)


This is the equivalent of a laboratory that announces, ‘We can show you a drug that produces fabulous hair growth, as long as you don’t make us demonstrate it on any bald guys.’

The bottom line is that there are some very good charter schools, a lot of average ones, and some fairly mediocre ones—much like we find with public schools.

FOUR:  Higher academic standards will help more students become college- and career-ready.

Let’s be honest—“high standards” by definition refers to standards that every child will not be able to meet. If every child could, that would be taken as obvious proof that the standards were too low – and they would then be ratcheted upward – until failures were created.

Not convinced? Imagine if the statewide passage rate on the third grade reading test increased to 98% this year. Would lawmakers rush to commend the incredible work of teachers and students in raising these scores? No way. What would really happen is people would claim the standards were set too low to allow more children to pass. They would insist that the standards be increased to ensure a certain number of students be found non-proficient.

To use a track and field analogy, if a number of students cannot high jump a bar set at five feet to meet a physical education standard, will setting the bar to SIX feet cause more kids to meet the standard, or cause even more to fail?

Despite the sugar-coated rhetoric, the whole standards-and-accountability movement is not about helping all children to become better learners. It is not committed to leaving no child behind. It is the opposite: it is an elaborate device used to rank and sort children, teachers, and schools.

FIVE: Finally, we need to stop pretending that either political party is going to help us out.

Both Democrats and Republicans benefit from the false narrative that public schools are failing. As a result, leaders of both parties perpetuate practices that allow them to sustain this narrative. If the worship of standardized tests were to end, the reformers would lose the hammer by which they hope to shatter the remnants of the American public school system. And there is simply too much money involved to allow that to happen without a fight.

This leads me to. . .

FIVE B: Parents and educators will eventually tire of the fight and roll over.

Not going to happen. We are just starting to organize! And, we’re not pretending to be serious.




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5 thoughts on “Let’s Stop Pretending . . .

  1. Just came across your blog – thanks for all the valuable things you have to say.

    Wanted to share: I recently left a TX Title-One middle school to teach in a small private school in East Africa. We do standardized testing twice a year, but what a difference from the TAKS/STAAR tests! There’s no penalty hanging over any of us; there are no weeks of cramming specifically for the tests; and most importantly, teachers receive specific details on what skills tour kids need help with so we can adjust instruction – without anyone breathing down our necks or labeling us as failures.

    I never thought I’d say this, but I look forward to getting the scores back so I can see how my students have progressed and how I can support them. Of course, our American expat kids have to be taught NOT to freak out about testing because of the stressful, high-stakes environment they’re used to. But *that’s* a problem I can deal with!

  2. Believing that bureaucrats in Washington, DC can effectively and efficiently dictate how a single classroom, much less a local school system, should be run makes as much sense as believing that the Joint Chiefs of Staff can direct the government of Iran to stop development of nuclear weapons by drafting a letter declaring Iran to be a defeated and subject territory.

  3. Rob you have done a good job of covering this but I want to add a couple more.
    1. Stop pretending that the legislators we have elected in our state house and senate that are dead set against public schools and are following other outside group agendas like ALEC are going to see the light and take care of public education. It will not happen and we must make sure that they are not reelected.
    2. Stop pretending that taking the standardized tests are going to help our public schools. Too much evidence shows that they have no relevance but are a tool used to batter our schools and our educators. The only way to let these legislators know that we are tired of the abuse of our children and educators is through opting out of testing.

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