Filling the Vacuum
First, a prediction: the anti-excessive testing drive is not going to lose steam and disappear. To the contrary, I expect that it will only pick up momentum during the coming school year. Even if the Congress manages to agree on a replacement for No Child Left Behind that the President is willing to sign, it’s too late to counter the genuine revulsion many people feel about excessive testing.
**Too many people now realize that the US is the only advanced country that tests kids in order to judge (and sometimes fire) teachers.
**Too many people are upset about the intrusive nature of testing and data-collection, and too many parents are distrustful of a system that treats their children as a number, a test score.
**Too many people have lost faith in ‘big data’ in education and in the testing industry in general.
As we have reported on the NewsHour, the “Opt Out” movement is made up of strange political bedfellows, united in their opposition. How long these folks remain together depends, it seems to me, upon what happens next.
It’s never enough to curse the darkness. Being passionately against something works for a while, but it cannot, in the end, carry the day. At some point, you have to be FOR something of substance.
But if high-stakes tests are on the way out, student learning must be assessed. We also need reliable ways to evaluate teachers and measure school quality. I hope the anti-excessive testing people will insist on being part of those conversations.
And the second big question: If kids are not going to spend their time prepping for tests and taking tests and reviewing tests, what will they do instead? What should they be opting into?
What will fill the vacuum?
How about arts-based education, which has been tried and has proven true for 20 years? I refer to the A+ Schools program now in four states, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Louisiana and Arkansas. For a look at how an A+ school works, take a look at the NewsHour piece Producer Cat McGrath and I did last year.
Arts-based education unlocks student (and teacher) creativity. It’s often project-based and team-based, good preparation for what awaits young people when they leave school. (You will see some of this in our new film, “School Sleuth: The Case of the Wired Classroom,” which will be on most PBS stations in November.)
I have written about one teacher at that school, and earlier this week I spent a day-and-a-half with about 250 teachers and principals in the A+ School program. There are few better feelings than being in a room full of arts teachers, whose energy threatens to elevate the roof. Their intelligence, vision and commitment are palpable and infectious.
The true test of an arts-based school, one person told me, is that you often are not certain exactly what class you are in, because music suffuses math instruction, and vice-versa….as it should because music and math are inextricably connected.
It’s not a quick, order off-the-rack way to re-form a school. It takes time, energy and commitment. Teachers have to learn a new way of working. A bigger challenge: Many school principals attended schools where ‘the arts’ were pushed to the side, a frill, and so those leaders have to be re-educated. The A+ program offers guidance and training, so that’s a help.
You’ve seen those protestors with their posters, “My Kid Is Not a Test Score.” True, but what is your kid, and what do you want him or her to become? Recalling Aristotle’s wisdom, “We Are What We Repeatedly Do,” what do you want your child to DO repeatedly in school?
Time to get together to decide on ‘post-protest schooling.’