Amid all of the angst, turmoil, and argument over what we must do to improve public education in America, a dangerous but predictable thing has happened.

We have lost sight of what education is and who it is for.

Why we wake our kids up early in the morning each day, feed them breakfast, load them on a school bus, and send them to schools for seven hours a day, 180 days a year.

Why people enter the teaching profession and how to best prepare them.

What a good school or classroom should look like, sound like, and feel like.

The role of the teacher and the student and how it has changed.

What a well-educated high school graduate in the 21st century should know and be able to do.

As a nation we are also rapidly losing the opportunity to level the playing field for all students. We have become so obsessed with keeping track —of holding accountableof comparing and ranking and sortingthat we have little time or appetite to question what we are keeping track OF . . . or WHY?

We spend years debating which academic standards we should use that will somehow magically meet the needs of all learners in our classrooms at the same time. In reality, these new standards are rarely much better or much worse than what we had before.

To assess student mastery of these standards, we develop new and improved assessments that promise to accurately measure student achievement and annual growth with a multiple choice test. In reality, these assessments simply represent the modern iteration of the Iowa Tests of Basic Skills we took as children.

To evaluate our teachers, we place faith in highly flawed systems that claim to connect student performance on these standardized tests to the teacher, although objective research finds that teachers account for about 1% to 14% of the variability in test scores.

Many outside of education also use these results to make incomplete and invalid judgments about the quality of schools, the effectiveness of teachers, and the value of children.

Like a hamster on a wheel, we keep spinning in place, going nowhere.

Isn’t it past time for us to consider a fundamental shift in our thinking? Shouldn’t we be asking ourselves whether all the attention and time–not to mention money and resources–spent on creating new standards, developing new assessments, prepping kids for tests, and analyzing test results is actually resulting in better schools and better prepared students.

Isn’t it time to reevaluate what we mean by achievement, student success, and quality education?

Shouldn’t we at least have a conversation about the unintended consequences of the test-based accountability model .  .   . the drop out rates, increasing levels of student boredom and disengagement, high rates of college failure, and the loss of faith in public education to be able to successfully address inequity in our society.

As the expression goes, is it time we stopped putting old wine in new bottles? Maybe even look to a new vineyard?

We implement new programs, seemingly on a weekly basis. Too many people, both inside and outside of public education, are distracted by the next shiny thing. But in the end, results are not much different and nothing much changes.

The public seems satisfied by small modifications introduced in fancy packaging because it provides the illusion that we are doing something of substance, but in most cases we’re not.

An underlying challenge is we cannot even come to a common agreement over what defines learning.

Unfortunately, assessments and the standards to which they are married have become the definition of learning in America. But, learning is not about memorizing facts. Neither is it about learning skills and knowledge tied to narrow grade level standards in specific subjects.

Learning is about acquiring knowledge for the larger purpose of being mindful and using our innate creativity and imagination. Learning is to problem solve and think critically, to analyze and interpret different perspectives, to be creative and use the larger world as a tool to innovate, to gain proficiency at reading, writing, math, science, arts, and communication.

Learning is expressing and working with the desire and interest to keep learning.

Education, therefore, is the process by which teachers and learners collaborate in the best possible environments; one where all members feel safe, supported, and respected, and where kids and adults are excited and passionate about learning.

Ultimately, we should stop asking the same old questions that keep us grounded in old paradigms about teaching and learning.

Instead of asking “What standards do we need?” or “What are the best texts to support the curriculum?” or “How do we better prepare kids for tests?” or “How do we make our schools more orderly and efficient?” we need to focus on this one simple question:

What’s best for kids?

We are entrusted with the most important resource of any nation, its children.

They deserve better than old wine. It is time to redefine learning in our schools.

Can we at least talk about it?