disapproving kitty

Monday, August 15, 2011

I Wanted Larry, but Got Moe Instead

   I have had so much in my head lately that I haven't been writing.  It's like my thoughts are all jammed up in the doorway, Three Stooges style, so nothing can get through.  In addition, most of what comes out in my mental ravings to myself are rants about politics, or teaching, or society in general, and I need to keep these thoughts from running rampant in a public forum.
   So I think I will choose a safer topic, like using technology in the classroom.  You see,  I went to another teaching conference a few days ago.  This one was heavy on the ways we need to integrate technology into our classrooms if we are going to truly prepare kids for what lies ahead.  We have this old model, see?  The model where schools have all the information and we parcel it out it workable chunks and kids learn it and while they're doing that they learn how they are learning so that eventually they can do it on their own.
     Only we got bogged down somewhere along the way with really good sounding words like accountability and quality which are Good Things, because we do them in the real world.  We quality test in the real world.  We take the product and we use it and stress it and try to make it break.  That's how we know if we have a good product.  If the product fails, we go back and redesign it and try again.  This is a fine way to treat a product.  It's not so fine a way to treat a child, though, and we keep forgetting that.
     We have also fallen victim to "The Streetlight Effect."  The Streetlight Effect is from an old joke, about a drunken man, on his hands and knees, searching around a lamp post at midnight.  A cop comes along and asks what he's doing.  The man replies, "I'm looking for my wallet, ossifer."  "Oh," replies the cop, "where did you drop it?'  The drunk waves a hand, indicating a dark part of the street a ways off.  "If you dropped it there," says the cop, "why are you looking here?"  "Because this is where the light is good!" exclaims the man.
     This is where we are in our desperate quest to improve schools by making teachers and students accountable.  We are testing and collecting endless reams of data to demonstrate our progress.  Facts and figures and anything that can be answered by fill-in-the-bubble tests.  The lamp light is strong and bright here because it's easy to see if someone has learned what year the Gettysburg Address was given.  The vast majority of these assessments test only a little bit of knowledge and comprehension.  But it's really, really difficult to assess the ability of students to apply knowledge to new situations, or to test analytical reasoning, or synthesis or the ability that students have to evaluate what they are learning.  All of these higher levels of learning are nearly impossible to accurately judge based on a standardized paper-pencil test.  So we don't do that.  We look only where the light is good.
    What we really want schools to do is prepare our children to become productive members of society, able to work, have stable, meaningful personal lives and contribute positively to the community.  We want to hold teachers accountable for doing that.  But we only know how to test for whether they've taught kids how to memorize facts and figures, and how to effectively take tests.  As long as we keep insisting that everyone play this meaningless game, then we are not going to create successful schools any more than the drunk is going to find his wallet by that lamp post.
    The really idiotic part is that good teachers CAN and DO assess for all of the truly meaningful learning!  We just can't parse it down into standardized bubble-test numbers.  And so much time is spent worrying about the test, teaching to the test, working towards that lowest-common-denominator that there is little time left for actual learning.  We've become so convinced that teachers can't do a good job that we don't give them time or support to do it.  The system is working against itself--the very quest to hold teachers accountable and make them better at their jobs is actually making them worse.  Which makes me wonder what the real goal of all this testing is in the first place.
    I wonder this even more when the results of all this testing, which doesn't really test what we want it to test, is going to be used then to evaluate teachers.  Something stinks pretty badly here, and I'm fairly certain it isn't the drunk guy.  To quote Mark Twain, "There's lies, damn lies, and statistics."  And all this questionable data is ripe for some very funny number crunching, cherry picking and even some downright lying.



I seem to have gotten off-topic.  This post was supposed to be about wanting to seriously use technology in the classroom, and not just as novelties or toys.  Me wanting to write a grant for iPads in my room.  Instead, this rant on education.

This is what happens -- I finally start to write and the wrong Stooge gets through the door.

Ah, well.

There's always tomorrow.

1 comment:

  1. I don't know how things compare now, but I recall as a high school senior making the observation that if Texas spent they effort on teaching that they did on testing, then testing would not be necessary. I recall that there was some sort of general competency test that all Texas students had to pass, and one the Ohio students had to pass. Remember the ones we took during our junior year? I recall the Ohio one wasn't that difficult or worth writing home about. But when I got to Texas, I still had to take the one here. I recall realizing that I probably could have passed it during or right after elementary school. For example, I specifically remember that the most difficult questions on the math portion were multiplying two 2-digit numbers. No joke. And I even knew someone in my physics class (the advanced science) who actually failed that math portion.