Thursday, October 21, 2010

Is the System Worthy

A considerable amount of attention has been paid towards education in the wake of Waiting for Superman, Mark Zuckerberg's donation to the Newark public school system, the Obama administration's Race to the Top initiative and the results of the D.C. mayoral election. Criticism has been directed towards teachers unions, school systems and teachers protected by the tenure system.

Everyone seems to offer an opinion on how to fix America's education system. I agree with other educators in stating that current public discourse should focus on learning. Parents, educators, students and politicians need to re-imagine learning. The factory model of scholarship no longer addresses the needs of students looking to make a difference in the 21st Century. Without intense and reflective discussions about how technology impacts learning, schools will be stuck supporting outdated practices.

Another important conversation that must happen has to do with systems that govern students assessment. A colleague of mine always asks what does a C or a B represent. Grades are supposed to represent student achievement, but can be viewed as an arbitrary delineation based upon a formula that varies from teacher to teacher. Can one be assured that an A represents the same level of achievement in every classroom?

Isn't the bottom line about whether or not students meet program benchmarks. Going under the assumption that a course has clearly defined objectives, it should be the job of teachers and students to collaboratively work towards ensuring that benchmarks are met.

Are we currently supporting a system that works against student progress? Where outside of education are grades that represent such a broad range of proficiencies used to determine one's capacity. In addition to critically thinking about learning and the types of experiences privileged for students, educators need to examine how student progress is defined. As the traditional approach to teaching and learning dissipates, it will become harder to evaluate students based upon the letter grade system. Just consider the standards produced by NCTE for 21st Century Literacy. Students cannot address just some standards or parts of a particular benchmarks, but should demonstrate proficiency in all. Without that, how can students progress within a school and eventually, graduate from high school.

The time is ripe for these conversations to happen. Let's hope the moment does not slip by.