Is there hope for the future of education in America? Will someone in the bureaucratic world wake up and take notice that educational behemoths are making a fortune while teachers and students have ludicrous multiple-choice testing forced upon them with no consideration to meeting the needs of diverse learners. Our classrooms include gifted students, struggling learners, students with special needs and second language learners. Morale is at an all time low and as stated in a recent New York Times op-ed article, “Thirty years later we’re still ‘a nation at risk.’
Recently in my school email, a resignation letter from a veteran teacher, which was originally posted on his Facebook page and had gone viral, came across my desk. It had been sent out by a colleague, it was one of the most telling accounts of what is happening in our schools today and how the present state of our educational system will have long-term repercussions for years to come. Gerald Conti, wrote, “My profession is being demeaned by a pervasive atmosphere of distrust, dictating that teachers cannot be permitted to develop and administer their own quizzes and tests (now titled as generic “assessments”) or grade their own students’ examinations.” I see this happening on the very floor that I teach on. The same ELA Modules are being distributed and taught in classes all across the state being touted as Expeditionary Learning. By definition, this should mean authentic learning, which by the way does not come in a box. Wikipedia describes this model as based on educational ideas of German educator Kurt Hahn. Expeditionary Learning is exemplified by project-based learning expeditions, where students engage in interdisciplinary, in-depth study of compelling topics, in groups and in their community, with assessment coming through cumulative products, public presentations, and portfolios. The model emphasizes high levels of student engagement, achievement, and character development. An assigned module cannot replicate a real learning experience as described as encompassing learning expeditions if the students never leave the class.
Seems that the same mindset is everywhere as Conti explained,“ The development of plans, choice of lessons and the materials to be employed are increasingly expected to be common to all teachers in a given subject. This approach not only strangles creativity, it smothers the development of critical thinking in our students and assumes a one-size-fits-all mentality more appropriate to the assembly line than to the classroom.” Amen.
On the other hand, we have Nikhil Goyal’s book, One Size Does Not Fit All: A Student's Assessment of School, published in September 2012. He was a 17-year-old high school student attending a public school in New York at the time it was written. He also blames the failure of our schools on the test-obsessed culture and makes the case that American schooling is stifling children's creativity. Nikhil believes that we are treating learning in a draconian way where rote memorization is the norm and behavioral compliance is expected. He affirms that schools are still configured for the 19th-century industrial workforce. He argues that if schools are going to properly prepare 21st-century students, a shift to emphasizing innovation, creativity, and student-directed learning must take place.
I couldn’t agree more, as a teacher of 30 years I have seen it all come and go and then go round again. We are now in the staunchest, most conservative, over zealously tested scenario in schools than ever experienced in my career. For the life of me, I don’t understand why the “Opt Out and FairTest movement has not caught on. Where is common sense? Are we really afraid as a nation to stand up and fight for what’s best for our children? We need to give serious reflection to Gerald Conti’s message and heed Nikhil Goyal’s warnings if we are to ever have a hope of making schooling meaningful once and for all.