Guest Post by Taylor Lux, Educational Leadership Graduate Student, Drake University
Education is being ruined by best efforts. Attempts to improve the education system through the use of high-stakes testing as well as through well-intentioned, isolated acts by individuals actually have negative effects on education as a whole. No educator that I know sets out in the morning to ruin education, however, our collective best efforts are the downfall of the system; systematic change is necessary.
What is designed to be encouraging and to measure quality in our schools – testing – is actually discouraging quality by focusing the investment of resources on inspection rather than the quality of the system itself (Langford, 2008). In our efforts to produce highly productive citizens, properly prepared, tested, and sorted to be college-ready, we also manage to educate the joy out of students, leaving them associating learning with the stress of high-stakes testing. Langford (2008) frequently refers to his daughter’s, and many students, joy, and love for learning in their preschool and early school years. This joy diminishes as students age through our school systems. Ambiguous goals and quotas regarding increases in test scores, improved attendance, or decreased dropouts are not achievable because they place emphasis on a side-effect of a broken system; a system, while not intending to do so, is robbing joy from learning. In my experience, test scores and grades are even weaponized, as a way to threaten students into compliance (ex. turn in five missed assignments or you cannot participate in the volleyball game this week). There is little room for joy, curiosity, intrigue, or inspiration in a system that prioritizes compliance over learning.
Even educators doing the work for all of the right reasons (to incite curiosity and joy in students, for example) contribute to the ruin of the system. Some of these wonderful educators whom I have met have explained to me that good teaching just feels right, that if students are having fun the learning will come, that you can ‘just tell’ when a student ‘gets it’, and that numbers and data collection do not matter. While I argued above that high-stakes testing is contributing to the ruin of education, so is the avoidance of data and measurement as a tool for improvement. Within the system there must be measures of success in order to keep track of progress and to remain focused on continual improvement, however, those measures need not be standardized and in the form of an inspection. Langford (2008) said, “The need for mass inspection through testing becomes minimized because the improvements in the overall system are guaranteeing quality in the first place.” Education will not be fixed by testing, nor will it be fixed on feelings of ‘giving it your all’.
Best efforts to improve education lack perspective of the entire system, and fail to address many important questions: Where do students come from? Where are they headed? What do they need (on an individual basis) to be successful? What are all of the resources we have available to educate them, outside of classrooms and teachers? What does success look like for each student? Most importantly – what brings each student joy, and how can we use that as our starting place?
Langford, David. “Changing Education Systems through Management and Cooperation.” Langford International, Inc., vol. 12, no. 1, 2008, pp. 32-36.