Moving at the Speed of Creativity by Wesley Fryer

Technocratic, Texas leaders want to prepare kids for the 1800s

When are our leaders going to realize that the traditional, “tried and true” methods of instruction are not adequate to prepare students for the 21st century workforce environment and for success as a global citizens in a network economy? According to the July 5th article in the Houston Chronicle, “How English is taught in Texas likely to change:”

Many on the [Texas State School] board want to replace a student-centered curriculum that calls on students to use their own attitudes and ethics to interpret texts with teacher-centered instruction that emphasizes the basics of spelling, grammar and punctuation.

I think I am going to become actively sick.

The ridiculous emphasis we saw last year in our second grade son’s classroom on spelling tests and scripted writing activities– where literally every student in the class was forced to write a “how-to” essay on “how to make a hamburger” and not permitted ANY CREATIVE CHOICE in writing topics– was a huge reason I was glad to be job hunting and looking for public school districts with more progressive and authentic approaches to literacy instruction. I was a fourth grade writing teacher, so I definitely don’t have a problem doing a sample writing activity with students on something like making a hamburger. You need to ask kids to write where they are “deep” and have some schema, and most kids know about hamburgers. But PLEASE!!! Give the kids some choices when it comes to independent writing. Invite them to connect writing with their own lives, their own lived experiences, their attitudes, their interests and their opinions. We do not need a new generation of mere fact regurgitators. This continuing trend in Texas education to further limit curricular autonomy and hamstring teachers into teaching from a narrow script is going in EXACTLY THE WRONG DIRECTION for the twenty-first century. Do we need to buy copies of Dan Pink’s book “A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future” and send it to the Texas State School Board members? Would it help? What would help? I am at a loss.

Bob Pearlman has the right pedagogical philosophy in mind in his recent Edutopia article from June, “New Schools For A New Century.” Pearlman writes:

No matter how sophisticated the tools we put in classrooms, the curriculum designed to educate students to meet the new standards is sorely inadequate to help them after they leave school. In short, learning — and schooling — must be totally transformed.

“Today’s graduates need to be critical thinkers, problem solvers, and effective communicators who are proficient in both core subjects and new, 21st-century content and skills,” according to “Results that Matter: 21st Century Skills and High School Reform,” a report issued in March by the Partnership for 21st Century Skills.

These include learning and thinking skills, information- and communications-technology literacy skills, and life skills.

Students of today enter an increasingly globalized world in which technology plays a vital role. They must be good communicators, as well as great collaborators. The new work environment requires responsibility and self-management, as well as interpersonal and project-management skills that demand teamwork and leadership.

Instead of the “more of the same, harder and harder” traditional educational approach many Texas educational leaders seem to be supporting, Pearlman makes a persuasive case for project-based learning. The tasks we ask students to do in school must change, and so must the assessment methods. Check out this from the article:

Current assessments don’t do the job. State testing and accountability are aimed at schools, not individual student learning, and reports are released once a year, after students have moved on to other teachers. Periodic assessments in managed curriculums mainly provide information to teachers. Students can’t improve or become managers of their own learning without constant, real-time assessment and feedback, referred to in PBL instruction as assessment for learning, as opposed to assessment for school, district, or classroom accountability.

New Tech schools, highlighted in the article and supported by the New Tech Foundation, have a simple strategy for reaching the objectives of preparing students in our schools with the skills they will need in the 21st century workforce:

To learn collaboration, work in teams.
To learn critical thinking, take on complex problems.
To learn oral communication, present.
To learn written communication, write.
To learn technology, use technology.
To develop citizenship, take on civic and global issues.
To learn about careers, do internships.
To learn content, research and do all of the above.

Will someone please tell the Texas state school board members to catch a clue?! We are in the 21st century now. The world is flat, and we need to help our kids learn to have “a whole new mind”– one that is encouraged to be creative, think out of the box, and solve problems that haven’t even been invented yet. And we need them to do these things powerfully, using the latest technology tools. Can anyone tell me with a straight face that emphasizing traditional grammar and spelling tests, and stopping kids from writing based on their own attitudes and experiences, is going to do that?! I don’t think so.

I’ve taken my own children out of Texas schools and moved to another state. We are still sticking with public schools, but can I make a stronger statement about my opinion of the current state of affairs in Texas education? Certainly there are many WONDERFUL teachers and administrators in Texas, and I have been blessed to work with many professionally– and have had several teach my own children. But the system itself is sick. We need a sea change. And we need it tomorrow, because our kids are in schools RIGHT NOW (or at least they’ll be there again soon in August) and they don’t have time for the pendulum to swing over a period of several years.

PLEASE. We need strong, visionary leaders for the twenty-first century who understand the importance of engagement and assessing real-world skills in education, not just content dipping to assess the knowledge/comprehension level of Bloom’s taxonomy. High stakes accountability is not saving our schools and our kids, it is ruining it and making many of the kids hate learning and school. For Pete’s sake, we have schools formally stopping recess at 3rd grade, so the teachers and kids can spend more time on test prep! This is an immoral crime, people! Listen to Dr. David Berliner on this subject. We need to move forward, not backward. We need to speak out in the F2F world on this, beyond the blogosphere. Apparently the Texas state school board members aren’t subscribers of Edutopia or reading reports like “Results that Matter: 21st Century Skills and High School Reform” (PDF).

They should be.

Thanks to Scott Floyd for bringing this to my attention.

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5 responses to “Technocratic, Texas leaders want to prepare kids for the 1800s”

  1. […] Earlier in the year, Will Richardson highlighted a pay for test results plan coming out of Texas that had him “oy”ing in dismay. I was astounded at the time and said so in the comments section but thought that maybe it was a particular peculiarity of that US state. After all, Wes Fryer was putting the Texas education system under the blowtorch in his most recent post. […]

  2. Stephanie Sandifer Avatar

    Wesley —

    First let me say that words can not express how much this backwards movement by policymakers and state education leaders depresses me.

    Why can’t students write on topics of their own choosing and draw on their own background/viewpoint in their writing? Why does this become an either-or situation where the two options are exclusive of each other?

    I am continually baffled by people who argue against project-based learning and student-centered instruction because those methods “take time away from preparing students for the test” or from teaching students the basics. WHY CAN’T STUDENTS LEARN THE TEST OBJECTIVES AND THE BASICS THROUGH MORE STUDENT-CENTERED, ENGAGING, and RELEVANT ACTIVITIES!!! (sorry for the shouting — this just aggravates me!)

    Why can’t we at least find ways to strike a balance between the two?

    You make one statement that I feel the need to repeat — there are many good (and excellent) teachers and administrators working IN Texas schools. I work with them and dialogue with them daily. I am always impressed with the large number of highly intelligent, passionate, and caring people who work IN our schools and who work daily to create more student-centered learning environments DESPITE the actions of our state leaders.

    The important word here is “IN”…

    The people making these stupid policy decisions ARE NOT IN THE CLASSROOM. State policy-makers don’t have a background in education — how long has it been since our state educational leaders have been in a classroom or participated in professional development focused on research-based effective instructional strategies? When was the last time ANY of them read any of the current research?!

    Okay — I’m done (for now).

    I’m very happy that you and your wife have located a better public school — although, I am sorry that you had to leave Texas to find it. I remain hopeful that the tide will eventually turn and we will be able to make significant improvement in the right directions before it is too late. It’s taking ALOT of my energy these days to stay optimistic — but I am trying.

    Take care,

  3. Scott S. Floyd Avatar
    Scott S. Floyd

    Stephanie, you are right on, but unless we can inspire the teachers of Texas to get out and vote and testify before these committees (even though leadership does not want us there) we cannot make a difference.

    I see you are in Houston. I am from the Longview area. Let me tell you that while I was in Austin this past weekend I heard even more troubling news about our fearless leader. He has already decided that once he is re-elected that he will can the TEA commish because she does not offer as many yeses as she once did. He already has a replacement in mind for her spot, and once again the person does not come from an education background. Well, that is, unless you count miserable years on the SBOE a long time ago and then a lengthy stint in the House as the chair of the Public Ed Committee. Yes, you know who I am talking about. It is not a happy time if we do not have a change in the leadership. It really is that serious here in Texas. We just have to get the word out. If the leadership has its way, the pendulum will not be swinging; it will just all of a sudden appear on the other side one morning with no gradual movement.

    It is our job to protect our students in this case. We cannot stand idly by while uneducated, no, make that ignorant bureaucrats mess up public education worse than they already have in the last six years. While I teach in a 3A school, I still go to Austin about five or six times a year to fight the good fight for my students. I go to lunch with my state rep. I call other state reps in my area and have become email buddies with several of them (read that as public education friendly reps). My senator calls me for advice. These are the relationships we have to create in order to protect public education. I don’t mind change. I just want to make sure it is positive change before I drink the Kool Aid.

  4. Stephanie Sandifer Avatar

    Scott —

    Thanks for shedding more light on our troubling situation.

    You made a very important comment — we need to get out and vote if we want a change in leadership.

    The only thing I can add to your comment is that not only do we need to get out and vote — we need to be more vocal and more active in educating the public about these issues.

    Blogging helps — but we, the teachers of Texas, need to do more… we need to attend neighborhood public forums and roundtables to educate parents and community members who don’t have children in the school… we need to write to our state reps (as you mentioned)… we need to find a voice in the main-stream media (if possible)… we need to be creative and find other means of being heard…

    We know what is at stake, but many parents and community members are not aware of the gravity of the decisions that are being made at the state level.

    We do need to get out and vote — and we need to do everything possible to educate other voters before it’s too late.


  5. Mink Avatar

    Touche! Education better get better or else! I feel good that kids make it through school in spite of their watered down, feel good curriculum.
    Some teachers can wade through this s*** they call curriculum and make a difference anyway.God bless consumerism, credit cards , capitalism, gas guzzling cars and our overfed , culturally ignorant (for the most part) society.