I didn’t set out to become an education reform advocate, but somewhere in the process of writing a book about the benefits of music education, my research let me to funding of the arts, which led me to the consequences of No Child Left Behind, which led me to…
The video above addresses the potential consequences of a standardized testing program in Rhode Island, but it is a representation of an education epidemic that affects all of our children:
The escalation of the reliance on standardized testing as an assessment mechanism is hindering our ability to focus on the individuality of our students, and to help them identify and prepare for their unique calling and vocation.
It is said that everyone has the ability to perform at genius levels at “something.” Our job is to help students discover what their particular “something” is. I believe that in this world there are too many square pegs trying to fit into round holes due to fear or complacency, or because they were not given the proper tools of self-discovery. The greatest productivity gains that we as a society can achieve is by realigning those pegs.
In a related note, here’s a trailer for the movie Race To Nowhere, an indie film project about the current status of our education system, driven by a concerned parent.
A fellow music education advocate recommended the film Race to Nowhere. I must say that I haven’t had the opportunity to see the film, but the trailer echoes many of the frustrations with the direction of education that we’ve discussed here previously. The film is being screened in selected markets and will be released this fall.
The film website also has links, resources, and tools to get behind this message. It’s also important to note that testimonials indicated that the movie leaves you with a sense of hope rather than just taking the easy route of bashing education and leaving the viewer frustrated.
While we generally discuss music education in this forum, many of the themes addressed in this documentary are questions we raise in that debate including:
- Personalized approach to students’ needs
- The importance of a well-rounded school experience (educated vs. informed students)
- The pressure to perform on standardized tests (schools, students, and teachers)
- Developing the ability to think rather than memorize
- Redefining success
As I’ve stated previously here in a letter to the Aspen’s Institute on No Child Left Behind, “Our ability to meet performance metrics is meaningless if those metrics are not a true measure of the needs of our students.” Any thoughts from those who may have seen this film would be appreciated.
Diane Ravitch is the research professor of education at NYU and the author of The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education (2010). In “Just Say No to the Race to the Top” she discusses how although standardized state tests are considered inadequate and a poor representation of the effectiveness of an educational institution (even acknowledged by Secretary of Education Arne Duncan), educators are held hostage by test-based methods in terms of allocation of dollars, teacher evaluations, and classroom priorities.
It’s interesting that there are several dozen comments to this very articulate blog post, mostly from educators who share her frustrations. Schools have been demoralized by these standards, and studies indicate that the greatest prerequisites of effective education are a motivated teacher and a motivated learner.
If teachers, parents, and students are fed up with the obsession on standardized tests, who’s steering the ship?
Link to “Just Say No to Race to the Top” by Diane Ravitch
I discussed in a previous post a report by the Center on Education Policy (CEP) regarding the effect of the No Child Left Behind Act on the classroom that discussed the shift in education resources toward subjects that are assessed via standardized tests. CEP also provided recommendations based on their findings, one of which was to encourage the states to “Consider including measures of knowledge and skills in art and music among the multiple measures used for NCLB accountability,” based on their research that indicates “What gets tested gets taught.”
That brings up a touchy subject that gets debated in the academic world – How do you implement tests for the arts that truly capture artistic aptitude and competence? By definition the arts are about creativity, and standardization can discourage creativity. How would Charlie Parker or Pablo Picasso have performed on a standardized arts test? My fear is that standardized testing for the arts would drive the move toward memorization of facts rather than creative application, which is essentially what the arts are all about and the greatest benefit of arts in our schools (see item #5 of the 9 Common Lessons of Music Education that Translate into Success).
These thoughts led me to the emphasis on memorization in education. As a parent of a 12 year old, I can say that education today is similar to my education experience in that regard. Let me preface my remarks by saying that I believe that unless we find a way to transfer artificial intelligence to human beings in real time, memorization will always be a part of the education experience. But Social Studies, Science, and Religion (in private schools) are almost exclusively an exercise in memorization at the elementary school level. Math and grammar are of course a hybrid of memorization and application.
My point is that as the access to information becomes closer and closer to instantaneous with mobile devices that can access the web, the importance of memorization is diminished. Our schools are doing a relatively good job of addressing the importance of technology and familiarizing our children with computers and the web, from what I can gather. They are not, however, addressing the “creativity/memorization ratio” in terms of time spent on these skills in the classroom relative to their importance in the 21st century.
In this video, Dr. Yong Zhao of Michigan State University’s College of Education discusses the effect of standardized testing and the narrowing of educational focus on global competitiveness. Dr. Zhao warns of this approach and discusses the lessons we can learn from China’s approach.
As a strong advocate for the benefits of music education, I find some recent statistics from the Center on Education Policy disturbing. Since the implementation of the No Child Left Behind it seems that schools are allocating more time to math and English at the expense of other subjects due to pressures to demonstrate results on standardized tests.
Yet I have found in my research that music education has a tendency to keep students involved who don’t feel part of the mainstream, wouldn’t ordinarily be interested in school, or who might have dropped out altogether.
In short, we are cutting back on the programs that actually keep children from being left behind. Oh, the irony.
More on this topic in the weeks ahead, but you can follow this link to read the press release of the CEP’s findings.