Will Richardson has his own blog, where he writes about many topics, especially technology.
I invited him to write for us, and he graciously consented.
Will Richardson writes:
Last week I had the opportunity to work with a group of teachers and administrators in a state that is supposedly leading the way in education “reform” here in the US. It’s a state where schools are getting letter grades, where teachers are being assessed in large measure by results of student tests, and where not surprisingly, educators at the ground level are not given a very large voice in the conversation.
Two things struck me in my discussions with them over those two days. First, despite the barriers, these 100 or so educators were more than willing to tackle the conversation around what now needs to happen in classrooms and schools now that we have access to so much information and knowledge and so many teachers through the devices we carry around in our pockets. Almost all agreed that we urgently need to begin to redefine the value of schools and rethink what relevant learning looks like if we are to fully prepare our students for this new world of learning that the Web is creating on a global scale. Their excitement and energy were palpable
But what struck me even more was this: their appetite for that change conversation is being driven in no small measure by their sincere frustration with what the state is imposing in their classrooms. Frequently, teachers spoke of their inability to take risks, to be creative in their practice, or to deviate from the script for fear that results on statewide assessments would regress. One teacher told me that when administrators visited her classroom, the expectation was that she should be teaching the same topic in the same way at the same time as all of her colleagues who were teaching other sections of that class. Another said that regular weekly objective assessments to measure “progress” were raising her kids’ stress levels “through the roof” as well as her own. Lesson plan titles reflect the day of the school year (as in “Day 47”) rather than the unit or goal of the lesson. And more.
Some of the administrators I spoke with expressed concern that many excellent veteran teachers are choosing to retire rather than deal with the new expectations. One actually said that he counseled his son to pursue a career outside of education given the new realities of the evaluation system and its after-effects. And almost all of them said they felt hamstrung by the ever narrowing measures that the state was placing on “learning.”
But here might be the most troubling piece: according to most of the folks I talked to, parents, by and large, just want the scores. Policy makers and corporate reformers have done a great job of convincing the public that the tests tell all, that if a school gets a “D” by some formula that didn’t exist a year ago, that means the kids in that school aren’t learning much. And if their kids don’t do well on the tests, it’s their teacher’s fault.
We have many battles to fight if we’re to build an effective counter narrative to the “reforms” that seem to be currently in vogue across the country. I’m becoming more and more convinced, however, that until we articulate a message for parents that can scale, one that can convince them that their children need much more than the tests are measuring and that there is a lot more to “learning” than just numbers on a scorecard, we’re going to have a very difficult time gaining a voice in the “reform” space.
(Will Richardson blogs at willrichardson.com, Tweets @willrich45, and is the author of the just released “Why School? How Education Must Change When Learning and Information Are Everywhere.” Details at whyschoolbook.com.)