Sunday, November 30, 2014

Purpose: We don't need no stinking Purpose

Efforts and courage are not enough without purpose and direction.

JFK could spin a phrase. I love this quote because I believe education has lost its purpose.  Maybe lost is not the best way to describe it.  Maybe education hasn't actually lost its purpose in so much as we have been given multiple, conflicting purposes.  I think the plethora of educational purposes are at the root of today's problems.  Is our purpose to prepare every student for college? Their Career? To become a good Citizen?  Is our purpose to get kids to pass tests and graduate high school?  Is common education's purpose to produce a suitable workforce for Oklahoma's industries? Is the school's purpose to teach students good manners, good character, and other necessary social skills?  If you said yes to each purpose, then you are right in line with the College, Career, Citizenship BS being shoveled by politicians trying to appease everyone while accomplishing nothing. 

Let me ask you C3 believers a question: How do we accomplish all 3 when all the punitive aspects of education are centered around test scores?  Every reform aimed at making schools better has been concocted straight out of the "lets get more kids to pass standardized tests" point of view.  TLE was created to give teachers and principals a grade on how well their students do on tests.  A-F comparability was created to let parents and businesses know how well the students do on standardized tests.  Kids have to pass 4 out of 7 standardized tests to graduate high school, so therefore graduation rates are just an indication of how many students can pass tests.  You think a teacher who might be fired at the end of the year because of their TLE score is going to take a day away from instruction to teach students about any of the mandated "citizenship" lessons? How many music programs, field trips, science experiments, class projects, and other valuable learning activities have been cancelled or made to wait until "after testing" all in the name of increasing test scores?

It is no secret Oklahoma public education is at a crossroads.  Academic achievement, as measured by standardized tests, has plateaued. Students are unhappy.  Teachers are unhappy.  Parents and other educational stakeholders are unhappy.  All this unhappiness has led to stagnation in the system; students are not motivated, teachers are leaving the profession faster than they can be replaced, and parents are searching for the right fit for their children. Adding to the stagnation are a series of reforms which are meant to "jolt" the system, but which is actually perpetuating the problem.  Education is being pulled in multiple directions by multiple groups of stakeholders.  How can we improve the system when we are spending all our time fighting with each other?  How can we improve student experiences when we focus so much on passing a test and not the understanding of the material?  How can we expect our best teachers to stay in the profession when all that seems to matter is the passing rate on the end of the year test?  How can we expect parents to understand that a 70% passing rate school might be a better school than an 80% passing rate school?  

 College, Career, and Citizen ready is a worthy and lofty purpose for our teachers.  I think it is a purpose worth our courage and effort.  But if we want to improve education in this state, we have to stop talking about one purpose while passing legislation that creates another.  Efforts and courage are not enough without purpose and direction. If Oklahoma wants to be a great education state, we must focus our efforts and courage toward a purpose that is not bound by the number of students who pass a test.

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