"[I]f I had to live my life again, I would have made a rule to read some poetry and listen to some music at least once every week…The loss of these tastes is a loss of happiness, and may possibly be injurious to the intellect, and more probably to the moral character, by enfeebling the emotional part of our nature." --Charles Darwin

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

High expectations vs. Uniform expectations

I am not breaking ground or being controversial when I say that most teachers accept the idea of accountability AND of raising academic standards. The question remains how that is to be done and how do we avoid turning the means into the end.

In that connection, there is a very cogent piece by Alfie Kohn in the current issue of Education Week called Debunking the Case for National Standards: One-Size-Fits-All Mandates and Their Dangers. The heart of his argument is as follows:
Are all kids entitled to a great education? Of course. But that doesn’t mean all kids should get the same education. High standards don’t require common standards. Uniformity is not the same thing as excellence – or equity. (In fact,
one-size-fits-all demands may offer the illusion of fairness, setting back the
cause of genuine equity.) To acknowledge these simple truths is to watch the
rationale for national standards – or uniform state standards -- collapse into a
heap of intellectual rubble.
This disconnect is evident every time you put the current Core Curriculum Content Standards next to a sample HSPA, which is the current high school graduation-requirement test in New Jersey. For example, here are some of my core content standards:
  • Analyze how an author's use of words creates tone and mood, and how choice
    of words advances the theme or purpose of the work.
  • Compare and evaluate the relationship between past literary traditions
    and contemporary writing.
  • Recognize the use or abuse of ambiguity, contradiction, paradox, irony,
    incongruities, overstatement and understatement in text and explain their effect
    on the reader.

You show me the standardized multiple-guess, true-false, matching test that will effectively measure any of those. And yet those tests, despite DOE undertakings to the contrary, are the actual standard to which teachers and students are to be held.

The core curriculum content is one animal, and the standardized tests are another, and the twain does not meet. We have built a system around tests which measure things other than the things we are supposed to teach.

Can't wait to see what our politicians will propose to solve the contradiction...

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