Sunday, March 13, 2011

Sherpas and the Race to the Top of the Peak

Dr. Tom King is an educator still in search of Eurekas! Retired Math teacher, founder of Saturn School, Director of Technology, Adjunct Professor, University of St. Thomas Tech & school. He blogs here.

by Dr. Tom King

In the words of Jerry Springer (remember him from the early days of TV mayhem?) "What is going on here?"

We've got the President and Ed Sec Duncan trying to get all the schools racing to the head of pinnacle. Never mind that you can fit many more angels on the head of a pin that you can schools. Anyone with commonsense knows there isn't room there for 16,000 school districts, 100,000 schools, let alone 50+ million students. Commonsense is very uncommon in DC these days.

Even if we could get all of K-12 education moving that upward direction, whatever that means, there's not enough sustaining funds to pay all the Sherpas of the world to get us or keep us there. And, if you look at the research, any school that makes it to, or even near, the top doesn't stay there very long.

The sherpas, in this analogy, are the 3 million teachers who labor incessantly to help learners learn and scale against all odds. Lately, the critics have taken to lambasting these helpers for laziness, incompetence and being overpaid.

Instead of worrying about the many children being left behind, our government and business leaders worry instead about schools being left behind, or teachers falling behind, or standardized test scores on nonstandard kids falling behind the standards, whatever they are. We all need a reminder to remember our kids aren't standardized?

One might like to blame some of this lofty, pinnacle thinking on a political party or some errant billionaires, but few seem to really understand the nonsense of their proposed remedies.

Standardized tests are called summative evaluations and are designed to produce a normal curve, a distribution where half are above the middle score and half below. It's impossible to have everyone above the median middle, unless of course, you live in Lake Woebegone and you have Garrison Keillor to extol your virtues.

These tests are made up of questions which only "sample" what learners know. They are far, far from testing the extent of basic knowledge and understanding we'd like all kids to know, to say nothing of the higher levels of learning, like analysis or synthesis or evaluative thinking. Those latter skills are what help us contend with good jobs and life, in general.

Doesn't it make much more sense to focus on helping more learners learning more? How about finding a way to bring more parents into the act? More importantly, let's let students and parents have greater responsibility for a Personal Learning Plan for their child. One that gives far more control and input into what each student needs to become a better learner. Who knows better than the student what they know and what they don't know. Often, they even know better what kind of help they need to be successful. Let each of them plan their work and work their plan, as that old IBM motto put it.

We don't want schools on the top. We want the kids on the top. Each one residing on their own personal peak of proficiency and performance. So, let's all put our efforts and energy into helping more learners learn more!

We teachers and parents are each the Sherpas. Let's help our kids reach the top.

1 comment:

  1. I'd love to see some comments here, pro or con. What do you think?


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