One of the drawbacks to being an older adult who has returned to work in Educational and Curriculum Design as well as Teaching after having first gone to school during the time between the Kennedy and Carter administrations is that my first reaction to the state of the current educational system tends to sound like it comes from the guy that screams at your kids to stay off of his lawn all summer long. You know the type. The one that begins every third sentence with “When I was in school… yadda yadda yadda”.
Oddly enough, with the money getting tighter and the technology branching out, we have two entirely different things going on: More kids are dropping out, and the ones that are not, are competing harder than ever to get into the best colleges. The problem with the former group is obvious. But the latter group is becoming an increasing problem “out in the world” as well. From the abomination that is “No Child Left Behind” (more about NCLB is a post for another day) to Common Core (also all kinds of problems, but then again, babysteps), the problem in trying to figure out who gets the limited finances available at the state level was dealt with by standardizing not only the tests, but the expectations.
On the surface, it’s a tidy little solution: We now have “STANDARDS”. We test the students, we match the matrix, we dole out money. Never mind a few little complications like:
- We are giving the same lesson designed for an at-risk teen in Harlem or East Compton as we are for an affluent resident of Central Park West in New York, or a student who grew up on a farm in Ottumwa, Iowa . A noble idea, but with a little flaw: These three groups do not have the same readiness or support system. They are culturally as different as can be, and the same teaching techniques, curricula, and learning objectives will frustrate one group and bore another.
- We teach ONLY these test answers, so that learning doesn’t in fact take place, just rote memorization.
- We restrict money to schools (and thus to teachers, administrators and school programs) based on these scores, so schools have even taken to cheating, or at the very least, to contemplate cutting corners.
But we have so much more available to us in the way of options these days. We have the ability to Differentiate how we teach our students. Simply put, that means we figure out how to increase the number of ways we teach, the number of ways we assess, and the number of ways we challenge the next generation. New technology tumbles out every week from all over the world, not just Silicon Valley: new research is done every year about how we learn as a species; and new social media evolves to tie both together.
In the coming days and weeks, we’ll look at some of these alternatives, their advantages and disadvantages, and things we can do. One student, one parent, one educator at a time.