In the context of a conversation about 1:1 technology learning initiatives and school reform, the author of the Left Lane Ends blog asks:

So, where do we begin? …I am in full agreement… on the need for a dramatic changed [sic] in the process that entangles our education system. Yet I also believe that it is only through tried attempts, both good and bad, that we will ever come to realize our goal of reforming curriculum.

We begin, I think, by defining what we believe is high quality teaching and learning. And that, unfortunately, requires a major revolution today.

It is almost impossible for people (at least the Texans I mostly have contact with currently in 2006) to discuss education without assuming that we must have standardized measures of student performance. Many people cannot even conceive of the day (which was not too long ago actually) when students went to school, teachers taught, and everyone was not freaked out over statewide assessments and tests.

I am going to take this issue head on in my keynote at the TCEA CAMP-SIG meeting in Austin in two weeks on February 8th. The title of my presentation is “Cultivating Digital Literacy Through Blogging and Podcasting.” What I plan to start with is the HUGE contradiction that exists in the minds of many, but perhaps mostly our business community, in simultaneously advocating for a vehement focus on student test scores alongside calls for 21st century digital literacy skills for the workforce.

These ideas are congealing for me as I write more on my doctoral dissertation, which is focusing on the ways we define “success” in 1:1 laptop initiatives like TxTIP. For most people I think (legislators included), it is an article of faith that raising student academic performance as measured by standardized test scores should be the goal of any school reform initiative: those which involve technology or others.

I disagree. Raised test scores should be a byproduct of our primary focus, which should be cultivating learning environments rich in 21st century skill development. Our myopic state and now national level focus on test scores is producing student and teacher casualties all over the place, and is NOT creating the sort of public education system we need for our nation or I want for my own children. And isn’t the lens of viewing what we want for our own children the most basic and persuasive framework for analyzing education?

We need, as a body politic, to reconcile our goals of wanting student achievement to improve, and simultaneously wanting students to acquire digital literacy skills. I am not exactly sure why, but this is a major NO KIDDING fact that somehow seems to elude our state legislators in Texas. When legislators tell school districts, “Do everything you can to improve student test scores,” everything beings to roll downhill. Principals have a myopic focus on test scores, and they attempt (usually successfully) to force their teachers to have the same perspective in the classroom on a daily basis. This legislative formula, now embodied in our former governor and now President’s NCLB program does NOT naturally lead to the following educational outcomes:

  • Students engaged in collaborative learning projects.
  • School curricula and student assignments situated in meaningful and engaging contexts of problem-based learning.
  • Students and teachers creatively tackling problems with out-of-the box thinking.
  • Students developing a love of writing, a love of learning, and an intrinsic desire to keep “doing school” because it is so engaging, fun, and worthwhile.

I, for at least one, have absolutely HAD IT with policymakers who seem to have the attitude that they don’t really care about these negative educational outcomes, because all their own children and grandchildren are either in private schools (outside the punitive reach of the state education agency’s “cat ‘o nine tails” accountability system) or in home schools. In fact, I think for our upcoming elections, as voters we should know exactly where the students our federal and state legislative candidates go to school.

Toward this end, I have started an open wiki (http://texaseducation.wikispaces.com) others can contribute to also in finding answers to these questions.

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On this day..

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3 Responses to Clarifying Educational Ends

  1. Vicki Davis says:

    I agree that focusing on tests can certainly stymie creativity in the classroom. However, there is always a way to integrate 21st century skills into your teaching of the material. We use wikis
    that tend to make even mundane subjects like the SAT even more exciting.

    I think that we will find the answer in some of the new social technologies that are out there. We need to communicate in methods salient to today’s youth to make it relevant.

    Unfortunately the pendulum swings back and forth. Now we are getting behind other nations in technology and education. I was reading Design News recently and came across an article called America’s High Tech Quandry. In this article it states that China is heading towards 1 million engineers per year with India at 350,000 per year. America has a paltry 75,000.

    In our high tech society we have become technology driven. We’re going to have to import educated people if we cannot educate our own.

    I think lawmakers are grappling with this at a macro level and having a hard time getting a hold of it at the micro level. How do we improve our education system?

    Being an entreprenuer, I often think that competition does more to issue “wake up calls” than in propping up the monopoly. We do what we have to do. Decentralized businesses move faster than centralized.

    I think we must get more competitive in education. I too disagree with how we are going about it.

    Lobbing anger at private schools forgets one important thing — we all need each other. We all have a purpose in the education of the students of this nation.

  2. A major revolution is right on target – the trick is being able to do that within our current framework. That’s where we have to be creative. It was not long ago when the severe test anxiety was not present … I taught in Texas then. So, the question I ask myself as I work within the contstraints of my state legislation is ‘how do I be as effective as possible within my current framework?’ I push when I can, I am vocal about where we need to take education when I know people are listening, and I listen when I know I should.

    Vicki mentions above “Lobbing anger at private schools forgets one important thing – we all need each other.”

    I struggle with this. In a society of have’s and have-not’s, when do we draw the line? When do we speak up? When do we revolt?

  3. Wesley Fryer says:

    I am not angry at people sending their children to private schools– I think this would be a bit irrational, of course most people are going to send their students to the best schools they can when education is a priority for them. I am upset that our legislators are apparently not hearing the stories I hear regularly from neighbors, teachers, church members, etc. The stories are things like incoming 3rd graders having repeated nightmares during the summer because they dread the high stakes test and the pressure they will face come fall. Stories of teachers burned out from teaching in the classroom, because they are not allowed to teach any projects anymore (even about Texas history!) and the majority of the time they just do test prep. I agree with Jerram that we should struggle with what we accept and what we get upset about. We should be upset by some of the things going on in our educational environment. Working within our existing framework is key also though. I am glad to have sparked some great comments and thinking along these same lines.

    I guess one of my major life goals is to contribute positively to needed educational reforms in our great country. I am thrilled to have the venue of web 2.0 and the blogosphere to share reflections and ideas with people like yourselves on these critical topics.

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