Recently one of my friends shared an article regarding a highly successful alternative education model put in place in the bustling backwater of Danville, Kentucky. The school district has recognized what we all ought to have recognized by now: standardized testing is not bringing about the excellence we want for our children. No Child Left Behind is at best a case of making sure educational mediocrity is not left behind; the NCLB was one of the first pieces of legislation I read while I was getting my first degree. I went into it expecting that people were exaggerating the problems with it. But to my surprise, it was even worse than what they had described to me. It was essentially a strategy for making sure that no child was left behind by shooting their schools in the head.
As I’ve mentioned before, there are other education models that will work very well for producing excellence in education if you look to Uruguay, for example. And now in Kentucky, a state hardly renowned for it education system or a high average educational attainment among its populace, is making strides by embracing high standards, research and project-based learning much like what is happening in Uruguay, and ditching the tests that go along with the Common Core. I have reviewed the Common Core standards, and I have to admit that they are a decent solution to the educational problems we faced several decades ago. Unfortunately, the folks making the decisions about education are of an age at which they remember the problems of several decades ago really well.
While I applaud their good intentions and think that a lot of the complaints about the content of the Common Core standards are trivial, I think the model of teaching to the testing has failed miserably over the past few decades, and doubling down on the failing strategy has not helped.
The model that does work is to use project-based learning, practical competence assessments, and making sure that they can work on something they actually care about. If the reduced dropout rates and life-ready skills much better than the ability to color in bubbles with a pencil don’t sound good enough, consider the quality of the child’s life for most of the day while in school. Do we really want them sitting around all day trying to make sure that they can answer multiple choice questions, a skill which will not really help them once they are out of high school?
The best thing we can do for our schools is to fail the test. Give the testing system an F so that the kids can learn in a way which actually invests them in what they are learning and consistently develops in them the research and project management skills they will need to succeed in life.