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L.A. Times Writes Shockingly Good Editorial On Schools — With Convenient Amnesia

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The Los Angeles Times, the paper guilty of pioneering extraordinary moral lapse of publishing teacher’s value-added ranking (see The Best Posts About The LA Times Article On “Value-Added” Teacher Ratings) just published a shockingly good editorial titled Education’s pendelum: Thinkers or test takers?

After warning that countries that outscore the U.S. on tests now want to emulate us because they realize they want more of the creativity to innovate, analyze and solve problems the U.S. students have developed in our system, here’s how it ends:

Now, even though academic performance among U.S. students is still lagging, many parents and educators are complaining that the push toward a standard curriculum and standardized tests is bleeding lessons of liveliness, and that schools do too little to foster creativity and analytical thinking. They’re not entirely wrong. In keeping with the tests, which are mostly multiple choice, schools have assigned less writing and project work. Teachers have tried to make sure they go over every speck of material that might be on the tests, and because the approved curriculum tends toward the broad and shallow, there’s a lot of short-answer information to cover but not much depth to explore.

Aiming higher on academics shouldn’t have to mean leaving deeper or more open-ended thinking skills behind. No one in the American school reform movement ever told teachers they had to abandon their own creative instructional skills or drop critical-thinking lessons from the school day, but the relentless emphasis on covering tested material obviously pushed them in that direction.

The switch over the next few years in many states, including California, to the so-called common core standards, which emphasize learning fewer things in greater depth, should help somewhat but still falls short. State and federal officials endlessly debate the role of test scores in teacher evaluations, but they pay too little attention to enabling teachers and students to take academic risks — considered essential to building creativity — while ensuring that vital academic material is still covered. It’s not easy to figure out how schools can balance creativity with academic rigor, productive thinking with knowledge. The nations that do so will have the competitive edge in the future.

I know and appreciate that everybody can learn — Bill Gates might be another example of someone who’s changing his attitude about teachers and schooling (see Surprising — At Least To Me — NY Times Interview With Bill Gates On Education).

I just wish that these same institutions and people would also acknowledge that their initial attitudes and actions contributed to the climate that they now decry. Doesn’t the LA Times realize that publicly humiliating teachers who didn’t focus on test results pressures them to teach to the test?

I’m adding this post to The Best Sites For Getting Some Perspective On International Test Comparison Demagoguery.

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Author: Larry Ferlazzo

I'm a high school teacher in Sacramento, CA.

4 Comments

  1. It is a surprisingly good (for L.A. Times) editorial. But don’t you find it strange that the N.Y. Times piece on China they refer to as a “recent article” is from 2002?

  2. Regardless of one’s position with respect to the pseudo-dilemma between test-taking and thinking, we need, on both sides of the Pacific, a better approach to assessment. There are leaders here who are doing excellent work that appears to be going unappreciated. One such venture is the new partnership between Cambridge Assessment and the College Board, the AP Cambridge Capstone Research Project. This initiative, which appears to be a response to the IB’s Extended Essay, illustrates the truth that academic rigour need not be purchased at the expense of higher order thinking skills; instead, as the Times belatedly notes, it requires them. We need to move away from these simple dichotomies if we want to make the progress that we need to make in education for a better world.

  3. Thanks for sharing this. I agree that there’s a degree of irony — had the media and some of the so-called experts listened to teacher and administrator outcry from the beginning rather than passing it off as whining, perhaps we could have worked together on better solutions.

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