Put me in coach!: What I would have said at the NYT Schools for Tomorrow

Jose-

I recently attended the NYT Schools for Tomorrow conference that you called out for not acknowledging the expertise of teachers as innovators and change agents in the national debate on the direction of educational technology innovations. I wanted to say thank you. I am not sure I would have been able to attend if you hadn’t spoken up. I was happy to learn that most of the crowd in attendance were not capitalist know-it-alls determined to colonize and subvert public education but thoughtful and passionate advocates for a more innovative and flexible education system. I have a more thorough summary of my experience that will be published elsewhere but I did want to bring-up the importance having teacher voice in discussions of the future of education.

I was stoked that the international panelists really “got” that education in the future will require more expert teachers not less. To reach Teaching 2030 we will need reflective practitioners who are trusted and given the autonomy to innovate. After finding validation in the international session I decided to ask another question in the “Tools Available” session. My next question was too hot for the panel. To his credit, Randy Reina, Senior Vice President of Technology at McGraw-Hill School Education Group attempted to answer the question but he did not really have an answer. This was my question:

“I think the thing we are not talking about right now is standardized testing and the statistically valid form of creating those tests that wants to get 40% of kids not getting it right. I think that when we talk about technology and the reason for technology I would like to hear what people have to say about how that technology is going to be used to either support the paradigm of standardized testing or change that paradigm of standardized testing.”

Randy’s answer, I am paraphrasing here, was, “That is a good question. We really need to decide how these new technologies will be used. New technology tools could be used to create online portfolios and the like or they could be used to keep testing the same way. We need to decide how we are going to use this technology to measure student achievement.”

I was a little disconcerted. There is nothing wrong with his answer, and he was fielding a hot potato there, but it doesn’t really answer the question.  I was asking these non-teacher, education experts, to stand up and agree or disagree with the use of standardized testing as it is currently implemented and how it can/will/should be changed by the next wave of technology reform. If I were on the panel this is how I would have answered it:

“When standardized testing began it was for the purpose of deciding where to put resources to make schooling more equitable. It was a paper and pencil bubble test which was expensive so it could only be administered on such a vast scale once a year. Sometimes the test was only administered to certain students, on certain subjects. Teachers knew this was good and did not argue too much. Then NCLB was born and testing became about accountability, sanctions, and honors to more tightly couple the curriculum and what teachers do in their classroom. Teachers knew, from their vast daily experience with behavioral psychology and group think that this was not good and argued. Suddenly, in the view of the popular media and the general population, teachers were arguing against equity. What technology has the power to do now is make testing and teaching synonymous through the use of continual formative assessment. Testing online is much cheaper than testing on paper and the data is immediately available. In Utah teachers have been able to take part in the open source assessment process for years by designing classroom assessments that are shared across the state to seek cross validation. Abandoning the use of the end of course online bubble test for online assessments that show growth and inform instruction as it is happening in classrooms is the step we should be taking. Stakeholders can get their accountability data from growth scores and students can make spiraling upward progress without trying to know one thing, on one day, in May.”

That’s what I would have said if I were on the panel. It may not have been the most politically correct answer but, at least someone would have pointed in a clear direction by saying, “We need to go that a-way.” Instead of saying, “hmmm, good question, but I’m not going to answer it.”

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    Please discuss and try to

    Please discuss and try to refute the following comments:

    Poor teaching is not responsible for the poor academic performance of American children. We do not have a school crisis, we have a cultural crisis. Only about 20% of a student’s academic performance is do to the quality of the teacher.

    Please consider these two natural experiments. The children and grandchildren of poor non-english speaking Jewish immigrants who came to this country at the beginning of the 20th century have done extremely will academically. The children of poor non-english speaking Asian immigrants who immigrated to this country in the last 25 years have also performed brilliantly in school. They went to the same schools with the same teachers as all other American students. The only thing that explains this phenomenon is the culture these student brought with them from other countries.

    What does it say about American’s attitude toward education when Allen, Texas just built a $60 million football stadium for High School students???? The teachers must have made them do it !!! It seems to me that we are saying as a culture, that we do not value what they do as much as what all these other people do and, yet, we need to provide career coaching to them and teach young people so that they can learn to be doctors, lawyers, scientists, small business owners, etc.