Yesterday’s article in eWeek, “Lack of Computer Curricula Deemed ‘Disastrous and Shortsighted'” laments the lack of enrollments in computer technology courses in most US high schools, despite business job projections of a shortage of qualified US applicants for IT positions in upcoming years.
Teachers polled noted that the low enrollments in these computer science courses were not the perceived difficulty of the coursework or the perception that it is “geeky,” but a lack of time in student schedules.
These perceptions line up with what I generally hear teachers express in schools. NO TIME. No time for projects, no time for fun activities, no time for in-depth learning because there is too much curriculum to cover. I am becoming increasingly convinced that part of the educational reforms we need, at a public policy level, involve a reduction in curriculum requirements for teachers and students at all levels. This is in line with the message from Dr. David Berliner, when he shared the presentation “High Stakes Testing is the Enemy” several weeks ago in Lubbock.
Do we need standards? Certainly. But do we need the ridiculously long laundry list of standards laid on the plates of teachers and students today? Definitely not. The quantity of standards that individual teachers have to deal with today is totally ridiculous, and I don’t hear many people saying this. It’s like the elephant in the room. To criticize standards seems almost “un-American.” We’ll I’ve got news for you folks: It isn’t. We need more voices of reason speaking out in this era of educational ridiculousness. I am sick and tired of both teachers and students working in environments of FEAR. Yes demographics are working against us as more workers in India and China join the international economy, but this is no reason to act like Chicken Little. Instead of getting scared, as Dan Pink exhorts us in his excellent book “A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future,” it’s time to get more creative than we ever have before. Sadly, our public school system seems opposed to changes that are creative, innovative, and especially those that are potentially disruptive of traditional patters of behavior.
Is it a problem that few US high school students are taking computer courses? I think it is. And it is an even bigger problem that relatively few teachers are willingly embracing the opportunities afforded by our digital environment to authentically engage students and help them learn in digitally enhanced ways both during the traditional class day and beyond it? Yes it is. The fact that state legislatures and the federal government mandate high stakes testing on these curriculum standards is a MAJOR part of the educational problems we face, rather than part of a solution.
Standards and testing will not save us or take us to the educational promise land. Only outstanding teachers and administrators can do that. To attract and retain those excellent teachers in large numbers, we need to pay them more and support them better. Part of that support formula must be an end to our ridiculous era of overwhelming numbers of educational standards.
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