THE GENIUS OF AMERICAN EDUCATION
TEACHERS ARE DECISION MAKERS
September 13, 2010
Schools at ALL levels of the educational spectrum are now in a new academic year and are operating in a "full throttle" mode. And daily, educators artfully apply the scientific principles of teaching and learning while literally making hundreds of significant professional decisions. Strategically, teachers are key decision makers with respect to the class and with respect to EACH student. That is what good teachers do and that should be a quality indicator in the assessment of American education.
American exceptionalism can be, in part, tied directly to the genius of American education. With few exceptions, the system of schooling in America from pre-K through the University has become one of the most creative systems of education in the world. And hence, American Exceptionalism is deeply rooted in our system of education. Etched in our rich American history of great scientific, social, and ideological developments are our American schools as centers of rich leaning and prudent teaching. Truly, exceptionalism at its best.
Recently, many schools have developed an approach in educational practice that places increased emphasis upon testing. In fact, American elementary and secondary schools administer more tests each year than do schools in any other country of the world. One argument posited by some as the rationale for emphasizing such testing is that more testing will require more teaching and thus greater learning. In fact, some schools may even teach for the tests as their curricular guide. Clearly, this is not the most prudent use of such tests. It is true, many tests which are standardized and yield comparable data, have a degree of sophisticated precision. It is disturbing, however, that there are those who see that these tests possess an undeserved aura. To some, they are the primary source for judgments concerning the quality of education. We question the absolute reliability of that position.
We believe that the function of schooling is NOT primarily to enable students to perform well on certain standardized tests. But rather, the purpose of schooling is to provide a level of instruction that enables students to develop academic skills and conceptual understandings that go well beyond that which any test is designed to measure. More importantly, schools should develop an appetite for learning and stress student's self-motivation for success. They should strive to develop attitudes and patterns that will provide young people with a zest for continuous intellectual growth, command of the subject matter fundamentals and conceptual utilization, an appreciation for excellence and self-discipline, an appreciation of the work ethic, and growth in work and study skills as useful developmental tools.
There is the assumption that the best way to identify schools that are successful is to examine their test scores. Test scores are important but it does not end there. We suggest that raising test scores on such narrow measures of educational achievement is no significant educational victory at all. Tests are contrived tasks that are intended to sample behavior that makes it possible to determine what a student knows and can do. Test scores are believed to be proxies for the quality of education that students have received. We suggest, however, that what test scores do best is to indicate "at that moment" an obtained achievement level and predict results on future test scores; that is pretty much it. Think about it, how often does one encounter such tests in the real world of life? Thus, what we have done is to have designed a system that employs rare events (such as tests and more tests) to make significant judgments about the richness and quality of education. We suggest that in addition to paper and pencil test results, schools ought to examine the comprehensive learning and attitudinal growth of their students and achievements of their graduates in the real world. There are examples of students achieving well on tests but have done less well in their personal and work world. And then too, there are those who have not performed well on tests but have demonstrated a high degree of success in the world of adulthood and work. An attitude of motivation, drive, self discipline, and pride has played a key role toward their success. Some of the most successful people of modern society are so as a result of perseverance and tenacity. Indeed, one's attitude determines one's altitude.
We believe that far more creative comprehensive measures of attention need to be developed and used to determine the quality of education. To do so, one must know well the individual learner and his or her background readiness, the culture of the school, and the nature of the environment. Talented teachers, and many of our teachers are extremely talented, are prudent decision makers, unlocking the learning potential and learning style of each individual learner in a coordinated and timely manner. And a good teacher "connects" with the individual. THAT is the practice of a creative teacher. It is complex but clearly achievable. It is a comprehensive human process that calls for... in addition to pencil and paper instrumentation... thoughtful, dedicated teacher judgment and professional decision making. For good teaching is indeed an ART scientifically applied by the best practices of learning development. And paper and pencil tests are only the tip of the iceberg to the creative world of teaching and the exciting world of learning. That is how I see it FROM THIS PERSPECTIVE.