Our nation’s current teach-to-the-test pathology is strong evidence of how our educational system has failed in deep, fundamental ways. However, President Bush’s No Child Left Untested debacle is a program that benefits nobody except his friends in the educational publishing industry. It’s bad for teachers and worse for students, who wind up graduating with no critical thinking skills, no ability to solve problems or unravel novel challenges, and an abject lack of skills necessary to succeed in college and the professional world that awaits them when their formal schooling ends. In essence, they learn to take multiple choice tests, a talent that’s of zero value in the real world.
However, we continue to insist on more and more testing so as to assure “accountability,” a cynical, silly misappellation that aggressively refuses to acknowledge the real problems facing our schools. In short, when your teachers are a) drawn from a pool of what’s available at bargain basement wage scale, b) under-resourced, c) saddled with obscene amounts of mind-numbing clerical work, d) placed into overcrowded classrooms that are little more than warehouses, e) forced to teach 21st Century students with a 19th Century educational model, and f) afforded no effective means of addressing disruptive (and often dangerous) students, it is patently stupid to suggest that “accountability” is even possible, and even more ludicrous to suggest that standardized testing (leading to the threat of school closings) will somehow improve education.
The fact that there are people who think this way in positions of authority is perhaps all the evidence we’d ever need to prove that massive, systematic reform is needed.
When talented teachers are provided the ample resources and effective support, accountability isn’t going to be a problem. When learning organizations are tailored to 21st Century skills, tools, requirements and dynamics, we can reasonably expect the failings that “necessitated” over-testing to disappear.
This isn’t to say that we shouldn’t have standards, appropriate measures for evaluation (for students, teachers, administrators and facilities) and processes for assuring the highest functioning of the system (and yes, that includes removing sub-par educators). However, our focus must be on curing the disease, not profiteering off the symptoms.