Get a group of educators together and ask them about state-mandated testing and what it does to teaching, what it does to innovation and creativity in the classroom, and what role it plays in making students hate learning.
Do the same with a group of parents and the same with the students themselves.
I'd bet most of the three groups would at least achieve agreement on one thing: that standardized testing sucks the energy and excitement out of teaching and learning.
Instead of becoming more daring in our teaching methods at the K-12 level, we are bogging teachers down, insisting those grades being tested spend too much time on mock tests, too much time teaching students to circle this, cross out that, and bubble properly. It's make-work and it's tedious and does little for students or teachers. It makes my job as a college professor harder, too. At least so far, there's no circling this, crossing that out and bubbling in my class room. Yes, there are goals and outcomes and assessments. But so far, there isn't state mandated testing.
Students come to me ill-prepared to think, to create, to innovate. They don't know how to read and synthesize materials and they have the belief that all the work they do is tedious make-work with no real goal besides the college credit.
President Obama may pay lip service to the idea that we can "educate to innovate," and put focus on the scientific, mathematic and engineering fields and raise money and partner with businesses, but the trickle-down effect of this lip service has not manifested in the elementary classrooms where math has been turned into a meaningless, disconnected ritualized process, where science is not a challenging subject but instead a series of worksheets and vocabulary fill-in-the-blanks.
It's not education. It's warehousing. It's bureaucracy run amuck.
Lowell Milken, an educational advocate who puts his time and money into making sure that teachers and education are truly innovative, wrote, "There is something inherently optimistic about the fact that we can create and foster what our society most needs in order to flourish. And in this age of uncertainty, it's a good thing to know that far from being finite and nonrenewable, the world's most important resource—human capital—is limitless and generative. It is up to each of us to make the most of this opportunity."
This optimism is only possible if one looks outside the traditional educational settings where governmental bureaucracies are currently strangling innovation and handicapping caring, innovative teachers by burying them under state and federal mandates that are more about filling out bubbles correctly than they are about educating the next generation.
What are frustrated educators and parents to do? Some of us reach the point that we walk away from the public school system entirely. Having tried to work within it, we realize that we don't have the time to lose. We need to change how we educate our children now. Parents turn to private schools and to home schooling. According to HSLDA, in the 2002-2003 school year, around two million school-aged children were homeschooled. And according to the HSLDA, it's making a difference: "Home school students do exceptionally well when compared with the nationwide
average. In every subject and at every grade level of the ITBS and TAP
batteries, home school students scored significantly higher than their public
and private school counterparts" (emphasis mine).
Homeschooling, both by creating an educational plan for the child at the personal, individual level and by supplementing by using commercial products like K12 which offers a variety of plans, from online public schools, to online private schools, to individual courses allows parents and their children to innovate their children's education at the individual level.
It opens the world to the students and the freedom to explore it at their pace and to go where their interests lay. It speeds up learning and all but guarantees that they'll continue to seek out education opportunities.
Obviously, for public education to truly innovate, to create self-motivated, creative learners rather that bubble-filling automatons, the state and the federal government are going to have to back off mandated testing. Instead, long term outcomes need to be put in place. Assessment is still possible, but it ought to be meaningful assessment. It ought to be looking at students' abilities to innovate, create and self-teach. It ought to be looking at divergent thinking and problem solving. Testing has its place, but let it be done at the classroom level as the material is covered and let the material truly build on what has gone before.
Give teachers and students back the power to decide what their classroom looks like, how it functions and how it's going to achieve its goals. If we don't we're going to continue to lose our ability to compete with other nations who have embraced innovation and exceptionalism.