I drove to meet friends in New Orleans last weekend.Â From Houston, this is a six-hour trip, one way.Â The traffic congestion in Houston took a while to clear but eventually I was on the open road.Â Mmmmâ€¦ I really like the open road.Â You have a broad view of where you are and where you are going (unless you are behind a big SUV).Â The horizon stretches out before you, you are the master of your destiny and you are going somewhereâ€¦
Driving on a longer trip instills a different mindset for me than my usual commuter and errand runs.Â If something goes wrong, Iâ€™m not near anyone I know.Â So, I make sure that I have enough gas.Â I check my tires for air.Â If there is a major item that needs repair, I address it before I leave home.Â I have a general game plan for my route. Â And, I set the pace, the starts, the stops and I enjoy the destination.
As I make my way, I get to know other drivers.Â Sometimes I find a small group of cars who are running the same speed and we form a loose camaraderie. Â Â Other times, I drive along independently.Â As I drove, I was struck with the idea of how this matches education.Â Do we have a commuter mindset or a long-haul mindset when we think about the education system?Â Are we even conscious of the difference?
Many educators lament the tests and accountability as the downfall of public education.Â One friend recently forwarded the blog apology from a teacher in New York State to her students.Â As I was partially educated in NY (grades 7-12), I read it.Â Â Ruth Ann Dandrea wrote:
â€śI spent last night perusing the 150-plus pages of grading materials provided by the state in anticipation of reading and evaluating your English Language Arts Exams this morning. I knew the test was pointlessâ€”that it has never fulfilled its stated purpose as a predictor of who would succeed and who would fail the English Regents in 11th grade. Any thinking person wouldâ€™ve ditched it years ago. Instead, rather than simply give a test in 8th grade that doesnâ€™t get kids ready for the test in 11th grade, the state opted to also give a test in 7th grade to get you ready for your 8th-grade test.â€ťÂ Â Â The Regents is more or less like the TAKS or STAAR tests in Texas.Â It is the more rigorous path, presumably for college-bound students.
This view of testing strikes me as a commuter mindset.Â Short haul.Â Get from A to B. Donâ€™t put too much thought into it.Â You have fall-backs if it doesnâ€™t work out.Â Expect a cheap, easy to score test to set the benchmark, blame the scoring rubric and lament the outcomes.Â A worse idea is to teach to the lower level. Use Test A to prepare for Test B.Â Tie your hands as a teacher and blame the state, the administrators or the kids.Â Prepare for the test as the end. Â In my own childâ€™s school, grammar was not tested in middle school per the state testing schedule.Â It was, therefore, dropped from the curriculum.Â Really?Â Is that because it isnâ€™t important or because my childâ€™s teachers and administrators were only preparing for the short haul, this yearâ€™s test?
The kids donâ€™t get smarter from taking a test.Â And yet, the test has value.Â This is how the child or young adult did on this day, with these questions, with that preparation, etc. Â We cannot replace the focus on learning with a series of measurement taking and expect to meet our destination.Â In my car, the fuel lights, speedometer and the tachometer all provide valuable information.Â My goal, however, is to get to New Orleans.Â Activity doesnâ€™t always lead to progress.Â I could drive for six hours, making loops between Houston and Beaumont, and I would never make it to New Orleans.
The reality is that some kids are not prepared to take even the most basic of tests.Â Some kids sit in algebra, perhaps with a long term substitute, and cannot add and subtract.Â The test isnâ€™t the problem.Â The focus on the short term and a lack of real progress is.Â Having a warm-bodied student in a seat and calling it algebra does not mean that it is algebra.Â Employers struggle with a generation of young adults who donâ€™t have the basic skills and knowledge to meet the needs of the workforce.
We need a long haul mentality in education.Â Where are we going? What is the purpose of this trip? How are we going to get there?Â What supports, benchmarks and relationships need to be provided along the way? Who should be the driver? Â What systems are in place in our schools that prepare the kids for long-term success?
For the child, the school is the system.Â Going through the motions fools no one for long. Â Â To Ms. Dandrea, I say: keep your focus on the goal!Â Explain the test and the standards.Â Kids can understand the different rules. Â If we want to make public education different, we need to hit the gates all the way through and not lose sight of where we are going.