A climate of change in US schools

It’s no secret that students attending US schools score lower than their peers in countries such as Finland, Korea and China on international aptitude tests. In 2009, students in the United States placed 14th in reading, 17th in science and 25th in math among the 70 countries who took the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA). Currently, there is research underway that is surveying this trend in order to better understand student performances. In an article published earlier this year, Marc Tucker, the president of the National Center on Education and the Economy, stated that U.S educators and policy-makers have traditionally been unreceptive to adopting teaching strategies and practices from top-performing countries. Among other practices, Tucker sites the push to evaluate teacher and school performances based on standardized test scores as one that is uniquely American and “downright bizarre” to many education leaders in high-performing countries. Similar to the “downright bizarre” practice of over-testing students is the more recent practice of blaming teachers (rather than the overall system) for student’s lack of success. In 2010, President Obama suggested that all bad or failing teachers be fired for not fostering student’s success. Read that article in the Politico here.

There is a climate of change happening in schools and education departments across the United States and it appears to be one that includes an over saturation of testing and a whole lot of finger pointing.

While government leaders are busy blaming teachers for student’s scores on tests like the PISA, they are failing to address the larger problem that exists, which includes (among others) a systematic curriculum failure. Rather than (mis)placing their focus on standardized test scores, policy makers and education leaders need to figure out how to adopt a mastery-based approach to teaching and learning. Create a standard guide to instruction that encourages and enables students to develop, create, produce and question more. The most important academic areas for students to master today include science, technology, engineering, mathematics and reading/literacy. Policy makers have already acknowledged that these are the most important content areas for students to learn in order to compete in the globalized, 21st Century. Now they need to reform the curricula that guide these areas of instruction. And yes, creating a common core, national curriculum that mirrors those of high-performing countries would be a step in the right direction. Policy makers could even take things a step further and offer training on best practices, better pay and a bit more respect to teachers. But to continue pointing the finger at teachers while spending more money on shiny new testing programs is a continued step in the wrong direction.

 Instead of playing the blame game, lets use our understanding of this issue to push leaders toward adopting mastery-based approaches to teaching along with a more relevant national curriculum that promotes the success of our students.

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