I’ve just finished watching President Obama’s Town Hall Meeting on Education, hosted and televised by Univision. I can only repeat a tweet by Diane Ravitch:
Does President Obama know what his Department of Education is doing?
He said many good things (except for his positive comments about Race To The Top), particularly his comments on standardized testing. Here are a few excerpts:
ON STANDARDIZED TESTS:
What is true, though, is, is that we have piled on a lot of standardized tests on our kids. Now, there’s nothing wrong with a standardized test being given occasionally just to give a baseline of where kids are at. Malia and Sasha, my two daughters, they just recently took a standardized test. But it wasn’t a high-stakes test. It wasn’t a test where they had to panic. I mean, they didn’t even really know that they were going to take it ahead of time. They didn’t study for it, they just went ahead and took it. And it was a tool to diagnose where they were strong, where they were weak, and what the teachers needed to emphasize.
Too often what we’ve been doing is using these tests to punish students or to, in some cases, punish schools. And so what we’ve said is let’s find a test that everybody agrees makes sense; let’s apply it in a less pressured-packed atmosphere; let’s figure out whether we have to do it every year or whether we can do it maybe every several years; and let’s make sure that that’s not the only way we’re judging whether a school is doing well.
Because there are other criteria: What’s the attendance rate? How are young people performing in terms of basic competency on projects? There are other ways of us measuring whether students are doing well or not.
So what I want to do is — one thing I never want to see happen is schools that are just teaching to the test. Because then you’re not learning about the world; you’re not learning about different cultures, you’re not learning about science, you’re not learning about math. All you’re learning about is how to fill out a little bubble on an exam and the little tricks that you need to do in order to take a test. And that’s not going to make education interesting to you. And young people do well in stuff that they’re interested in. They’re not going to do as well if it’s boring.
What we’re trying to do as the government is to make sure that we’re providing more incentives for schools to improve their parental involvement programs. We’re trying to make sure that schools are open and understand that it is up to them to provide a welcoming environment to parents so that they can be involved in their child’s education.
And specifically with respect to young people who are coming to school and English may not be their native language, we’ve got to make sure that we continue to fund strong programs, both bilingual education programs but also immersion programs that ensure that young people are learning English but they’re not falling behind in their subjects even as they are learning English.
And there’s a way to do that that is effective. We have schools that do it very well; there are some schools that don’t do it as well. We want to lift up those models that do it well. And parents should be demanding and insisting that even if your child is not a native English speaker, there is no reason why they can’t succeed in school, and schools have an obligation to make sure that those children are provided for. They have rights just like everybody else.
So what we want to do is encourage schools to use technology. But technology is not a magic bullet. If you have a computer, but you don’t have the content and you don’t have teachers who know how to design good classes around the computer, it’s not going to make a difference. So it’s not just the technology. We also have to make sure that we have the teachers that are trained to work with students so they can use that technology to explore all these — all the information that’s available out there today.
It seems to me that he may be accurately representing some of what the Department of Education is actually promoting in the areas of parent engagement and technology.
But his words on standardized testing seem like the polar opposite of what Arne Duncan and the Department of Education have been doing from the very beginning of his administration.
Do you think it’s safe to say that there is a major disconnect here?