Sunday, September 23, 2012

In times of change, learners inherit the Earth...

Will Richardson: "Do we really want our kids being prepared for their futures
by a system that hasn't fundamentally changed in 125 years?"

The above quote is a fair summation of Will Richardson's TED talk regarding the United States' public school model. Within his presentation, Richardson lambastes the current standardized-testing system. The government, be it at the local, state, or federal level, have looked to make schools "better," which Richardson has aptly decoded as "raising test scores." As an alternative, Richardson has proposed a "different" paradigm, one that utilizes current and future technology, a world where we are instantly connected to "2 billion teachers and the sum of human knowledge," ergo schools are no longer the de facto institution where students learn. Richardson continues that schools are not about test preparation, but life preparation, and that schools should serve as the primary conduit into a student's burgeoning curiosity and passions. 

It is very hard to disagree with any of this. It is obvious that schools are not providing the necessary life preparation for its students. Schools, teachers, and parents should be focused on good kids, not good test-takers, yet the focus is solely on whether every Tom, Dick, and Harry can pass his MCAS, SAT, and/or ACT. Because of this, we are snuffing out any creativity or outside-the-box, critical thinking skills that are imperative for "life prep." Teachers are being held hostage by the pressures of teaching to the test that they can no longer adequately teach.

Richardson also mentions the Common Core movement that is just now taking root. Richardson remarks that the Common Core has everyone "learning the same thing... kinda this one-size-fits-all curriculum, and that will probably lead to a national assessment that will make it really easy for us to make sure the kids in Louisiana are achieving at the same rate as the kids in Massachusetts." While I understand the point Richardson is trying to make (outside classroom factors that inhibit learning), I do not agree with this at all. To me, this sounds like Richardson is in favor of watering down the standards by state, a notion that should not be promoted. The sound of a national assessment does not sound appealing at all, but to chalk up the socioeconomic deficiencies by state as the reason for a student's or school's failure is ridiculous. We need to do whatever necessary to get students to reach the standards we have set out.

Another issue I had with Richardson's presentation is the lack of alternatives for standardized testing. I had to go to his website (http://weblogg-ed.com/2011/tedxnyed-talk/#comment-88248) to find his endorsement of "performance, artifacts, oral/written defense, [or] art," yet he undercuts his own point by mentioning that the "problem is they all take more time and expense to do well." Schools receive their funding from the government. The government wants to see a return on its investment, therefore standardized testing has been the "best" barometer. I agree with and understand Richardson's point, yet the likelihood of it happening any time soon makes it difficult to support. Furthermore, test-taking is an important skill to learn. Most professionals (doctors, lawyers, teachers, etc.) have to take tests. Rather than simply label test-taking the enemy, perhaps a balance of Richardson's alternatives and the current model would work best.

Ultimately schools will have to make a change. Teachers will have to embrace some, if not all, forms of technology. This is not a bad thing. Yet in a perfect world, standardized testing would be de-emphasized, and teachers focus solely on not just making students learn the material, but breed creativity and higher order thinking skills, and even inspire students to find their respective passions. Richardson's sentiment is easy to cheer, but challenging to hope for coming to fruition.

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