Joy in Education By Shea Howell

Thinking for Ourselves

Joy in Education

By Shea Howell

Oct. 1 – 8 2011

The failure of the market place view of education should be evident to everyone. In a little publicized announcement the College Board said that SAT scores fell across the nation. The average writing, reading and math scores all dropped. Only 43% of all test takers achieved a score that indicated they were prepared for doing B minus work in college.

Meanwhile the Obama administration was forced to set aside the demand for continual improvement in local schools because more than 50% of all schools are unable to meet the draconian standards set by No Child Left Behind.

We have endured a decade of testing of our children, the expansion of charter schools and the introduction of business and military personnel to lead our teachers and students. These measures were designed to correct the previous foundation- funded decade of experimentation that emphasized small schools. This effort failed to produce results, but managed to evade real issues of small classrooms and teacher preparation.

With more than half the schools failing to meet the improvement standards of No Child Left Behind and less than half our students prepared to succeed in college you would think that the politicians and foundations who have been backing these failures would pause to question their approach.

Robert Schaeffer, public education director of FairTest, a nonprofit group critical of much standardized testing, said the declines were an indictment of the nation’s increasing emphasis on high-stakes testing programs.

“How many wake-up calls do policy makers need before they admit that their test-and-punish strategy is a failure?” Mr. Schaeffer said. “Policymakers need to embrace very different policies if they are committed to real education reform.”

Instead of looking at themselves and the policies that have so evidently failed, the College Board blamed the failure on the students, specifically all the immigrants and other “minorities” who took the test. According to the NY Times:

“The College Board attributed the decline to the increasing diversity of the students taking the test. For example, about 27 percent of the nearly 1.65 million test-takers last year came from a home where English was not the only language, up from 19 percent a decade ago.”

“About 30 percent of those who took the SAT were black, Hispanic or American Indian, groups whose scores have stubbornly remained lower than those of whites and Asians.”

This effort to blame the students who take the tests rather than the testing culture that has destroyed education is outrageous. It is further evidence that those driving educational reform are so committed to the market place ideology that they cannot admit to the obvious.

Meanwhile, one of our readers pointed to an important article in this month’s Smithsonian. There LynNell Hancock writes about the success of Finland’s child centered, place-sensitive educational culture. Hancock says of Finland’s success,

it “kind of came out of nowhere. No one had really been focusing on Finland. Then as I read about how they had done this without standardized testing, with a strong teachers’ union and with lots of things that are just the opposite of America, it further piqued my interest. And as the debate has escalated—with conservatives pushing for marketplace reforms and progressives pushing for greater public support—Finland keeps coming up, argued and misunderstood by both sides. It became even more important to me to go see what’s up.”

And what is up in Finland’s schools? “These schools are joyful places,” says Hancock. “In America, we tend to think you have to suffer to be the best, but the Finns think, no, if the kids are suffering, you’re doing something wrong.”

Our children deserve much better than to be blamed for the failures of adult policies makers. Joy in education would be a far better standard.

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