U.S. Public School: If it’s not working, just repeat the same mistakes

I recently read about the state of the U.S. public educational school system. What struck me was how powerful old school paradigms are and how people in power are unable to see what is happening. As expert analysts, they are in the Cynefin Framework’s Complicated Domain and suffer from perceptual blindness. Unfortunately they cannot see that existing methods and solutions (i.e., student testing) are not working. However, instead of finding another solution, the direction is to do more testing.

The article was written by Lisa Guisbond, a policy analyst for the National Center for Fair and Open Testing, known as FairTest, a Boston-based organization that aims to improve standardized testing practices and evaluations of students, teachers and schools. Excerpts from her article:

  • As children head back to school after a decade of No Child Left Behind (NCLB), will they benefit from lessons learned from this sweeping and expensive failure? Will schools do anything differently to avoid NCLB’s narrowed curriculum, teaching to the test and stagnant achievement? Sadly, instead of learning from the beastly NCLB, the Obama administration is doubling down on a failed policy.
  • NCLB’s mistakes and coming “reforms” will continue or intensify the damage, not correct it. One reform will increase time and other resources spent on testing instead of unleashing teachers’ and students’ creative potential.
  • NCLB demonstrated many ways that high-stakes standardized testing damages and corrupts education. In addition to narrowing curriculum and encouraging teaching to the test, the NCLB era has produced waves of cheating.
  • Struggling students have been pushed out of school to raise the test score bottom line, with far too many youth entering the prison pipeline. School climate has suffered as fear of failure is passed down from administrators to teachers to students. Many good teachers have chosen to leave rather than comply with drill-and-kill requirements and corrupt their students’ education.
  • Author and lecturer Sir Ken Robinson often speaks about the importance of making mistakes, to learn from them and try again. He says educational standardization and pressure for conformity stunt our children’s growth by teaching them to fear and avoid mistakes. “Conformity and standardization and sitting still and doing multiple-choice questions and being tested at the end — these features of education are inimical to the kind of original thinking and confident imaginations that underpin real innovation,” Robinson says. What we need, he adds, is not “reform” but “revolution.”
  • Olympic gold medalist Usain Bolt credited his teammate, Jamaican runner Yohan “The Beast,” Blake, with helping him improve by beating him in earlier races. The defeats forced Bolt to reflect on what he needed to do differently to improve. Bolt’s victory modeled a powerful lesson: Always try to learn from your mistakes, rather than repeat them.
  • To unleash our children’s potential, we need to unleash the full capacity of teachers and schools. That means acknowledging the mistakes of NCLB, learning from them and fundamentally changing course.

To read Lisa’s article in full, click here.