As summer is just around the corner, it's getting warmer outside, flowers are blooming, and productivity goes down the drain. This is also the time when school's are about to be let out, and standardized test scores across the country will soon be released.
There has been a lot of news coming out of the world of education. Recently, a panel of superintendents from around the country came together to create national standards for America's schools. Even though the panel neglected science and history, the subjects that they did take on will help schools know where there students need to be and implement reforms that will get their students up to par. Also, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan gave out the first round of the Race to the Top money, but with mixed results. Only two states received any money, while many others who had changed their policies in order to compete, received nothing. Now those states are saying they will not participate in the second round because they don't see the point.
The fundamental problem I see here is how we are determining which schools need to improve, and which ones should be looked at as good examples. The No Child Left Behind law required states to report their schools progress in order to keep receiving federal money. The law let states determine how they would assess their schools, and most of them decided to use standardized tests. Why not? It helped the state get money, and if the students were passing the test it was obvious they were learning, right?
If only it were that simple. We now know that states would purposely make the tests easier so students would do well, thus qualifying the state to get more money. That is why Secretary Duncan recently came out to change this system. These new changes will require states to not just submit test scores, but other factors as well, which hold individual teachers and students accountable. President Obama took a lot of heat for saying he supported the closing failing schools, but what other choice is there? With only being able to look at test data, there is no way to determine why a school is failing.
Standardized tests are a good way to get data on students, but this is only a macro snapshot of a problem that needs a micro solution. Usually, the main factor of students doing well on standardized tests are their families socio-economic situation. While more affluent families can afford tutors, or their parents have a college degree and can spend extra time with their children, students of lower income do not have these advantages. Plus, there is no correlation between a teacher and how well his or her students did on a standardized test.
New policies need to be implemented to make sure this problem ceases to exist. One solution is to have new teachers go through a training program before they actually start teaching. States have hired many new teachers in the last year, but many of these individuals (while they may know the material they will be teaching) have never lead a classroom before. Instead of having teachers learn on the job, they should go through a paid program to develop the necessary skills to teach. This will ensure that there is a steady stream of teachers going into the classroom who from day one can effectively teach students what they need to learn. There is an organization called Urban Residency Teachers United where they pay individuals to do a residency program so they can gain experience in the classroom. This model is based on what doctors are required to do before they are allowed to practice medicine.
Also, because we are in the 21st Century, there are now many websites where teachers can write about problems or questions they have, and get feedback from others who are teaching. This should be encouraged. Like everything else, teaching is a skill, and some are better at it then others. Secretary Duncan should help promote programs that allow teachers to use these sites, and go to forums where they can learn new skills and methods to teach their students.
Standardized tests are only good for students who want to practice memorizing facts and fill in a bubble. Secretary Duncan is right when he says we only have one chance to teach the next generation, which is why we need to make sure we are doing it the right way.