Tuesday, April 19, 2016

What’s it all about Alfie?

Remember the old song, “What’s it all about Alfie?”  The next line is “is it just for the moment we live?”   I would like to change that line to “is it just for the moment we learn?”
We are obsessed as a society lately with raising standards for our educational system.  The immediate translation for this phenomenon is testing and more of it.  Every five to ten years we have a new batch of tests, each one promising to be more rigorous and to yet again raise standards.   By now our kids should be doing graduate work while still in high school.
In fact just the opposite is true.  After 20 years of testing and raising standards, institutions of higher learning are still reporting that about a third of all incoming freshmen need zero credit remedial work because they are not prepared for college.  Taking these zero credit courses costs students more money for their education and delays the completion of the 4-year degree. 
Why aren’t these tests working to improve what kids know?   First of all, after a year or two of the testing, scores always go up.  Why is that?  Simple enough.  Teachers catch on and begin teaching to the current test.  We are told that isn’t so but what would any teacher in her right mind do when she knows the end-of the-year evaluation will depend on test scores of students.
Secondly, kids know the information is just for the test.  So once the test is over they are free to forget it and fill their brains with the information for the next test that they know will be equally useless.⨪
What would happen if the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Career (PARCC) actually paid attention to the careers portion of the readiness?  First of all we would teach Algebra 2, only to those students who were going on to technical training in college.  The rest of the kids could take Economics 1 where they could learn to be wise money managers about debt, signing contracts, credit applications and paying their taxes by themselves online.  Maybe instead of teaching the colonial period six times over we could teach a better course in government and citizenship.  A course in which the responsibilities of citizenship receive just as much attention as the rights of citizenship would be a welcome addition to the curriculum. 
Kids could learn about careers that had more openings than trained prospects.  They might even learn to do some of the skills in those careers.  We have made going to college a political//social issue.   We have young adults heading to college without the skills to be there, a good reason for them to be there and not a clue what to do once they get there.

Over the last 20 years we have learned that better test scores have yielded mainly better test takers.  OK, we have done that.  Now could we move on to educating our students for the world they are about to enter.  Maybe if we taught them some things they could use right now, there would be a better chance that what was learned was retained.  Because the truth is Alfie, it is not just for the moment that we live nor is it just for the moment we learn.

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