Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Don't Much Like Windows, Either

There was a little blip in Parade Magazine last September that's still annoying me. Essentially, it says Bill Gates is concerned about the bottom 80% of students in American schools who are not well served by the current system. Like many from the business world who dabble in education reform, he laments the lack of rigorous national standards testing and advocates phonics for reading instruction.

(I'll give him credit for encouraging small high schools, though. If you're going to have high schools at all, smaller may well be better than big.)

But sheesh! You'd think by now No Child Left Behind would have made it obvious that standards tests do not cause learning to happen. The idea, I suppose, is that because of the tests, educators will revolutionize their methods and curricula, causing Real Learning to suddenly occur. In reality, standards tests mostly seem to cause educators (or their more politically oriented supervisors) to focus specifically on the tests and let real learning shift for itself.

What we end up with is a narrowed curriculum which concentrates on skills and factoids amenable to multiple-choice evaluation and students who are legitimately more and more bored and disengaged as they drudge their way through what we call their education.

Critics of progressive education reform often sneer about the futility of "throwing money at the schools." But throwing money at testing companies doesn't seem to be any more effective, and at least when we threw what little money we tried throwing at schools, kids and teachers ended up with a few materials actually in the classroom.

As for phonics, don't even get me started!

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