"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Friday, January 11, 2008

"Hard Times" Comes to Pa. High School Students

From Beaver County Times and Allegheny Times:
Published: Thursday, January 10, 2008 7:21 AM EST
Education is supposed to make children think, not churn out better test takers.

In yet one more step toward testing-based factories that will masquerade as schools and wring all the joy out of learning, the state Board of Education is considering the adoption of a statewide graduation test.

The Associated Press reports proponents have said the rules would ensure that all students entering college and the work force meet the state’s academic standards.

The regulations, which would take effect for the class of 2014, call for students to pass a battery of state-approved tests in reading, math, science and social studies that would replace traditional final exams. Failing students would be allowed to retake the tests, but schools would have to provide remedial help for them first.

In the draft under consideration, students can demonstrate their proficiency in a given subject by passing the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment tests; a state graduation competency assessment; local exams approved by companies that evaluate educational tests; or Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate exams.

In a rare show of unity, the Pennsylvania School Boards Association and the Pennsylvania State Education Association, the state’s largest teachers’ union, oppose the proposal. The AP reports they and other groups that oppose the new state tests say the revised proposal doesn’t address their objections that the plan places too much emphasis on a single test and undermines local school boards’ policymaking authority.

But there’s a larger matter in regard to this issue: As the result of the federal No Child Left Behind Act, the PSSAs and other standardized exams, test preparation is crowding out learning in America’s public schools.

Education is no longer child driven; it’s data driven. Children aren’t being taught to be lifelong learners; they’re being instructed on how to be better test takers. Teachers are no longer instructors; they’re test preparers. Children aren’t being taught to become thinkers; they’re being turned into automatons that will vomit back what’s been poured into them. It’s not what children learn that matters: it’s how well they score on standardized tests.

As a result, American children spend far too much class time preparing for tests, leaving little room for creative thinking. They read the same books, take the same tests and think the same thoughts — the ones that they’ll be tested on. They are being conformed to think as one.

Thomas Gradgrind would be right at home in American education today. Unfortunately, he was a fictional education-reform ogre of Victorian England.

In Charles Dickens’s “Hard Times,” Gradgrind blustered, “Now, what I want is, Facts. Teach these boys and girls nothing but Facts. Facts alone are wanted in life. Plant nothing else, and root out everything else. You can only form the minds of reasoning animals upon Facts; nothing else will ever be of any service to them.”

American education truly has fallen on hard times. Dickens’s nightmare has become our ideal.

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