Education Reform: Wizards of Data not necessarily Wizards of Humanity

I have grown to appreciate Diane Ravitch’s blog more and more this year. One of her posts involves an interview with John Kuhn, Superintendent of Schools in Perrin-Whitt school district north of Fort Worth, Texas. In this interview, Kuhn highlights how more than two decades of data-driven standards testing in the United States has led to the failure of the public school system, the loss of opportunity for growth in students, exodus of good teachers, and a general loss of confidence of parents in the system.

“There are also hundreds of school boards in Texas that have signed a resolution that says standardized tests are strangling education and draining it of its vibrancy and excitement for learners. The resolution—started in Texas—has spread to several other states.”

“Are my concerns widely shared by local educators? I would guess yes, but I can’t prove it. Many educators prefer to keep quiet and keep their jobs (which aren’t as secure as they used to be) so you won’t hear too many speak out publicly about the burdensome and sometimes near-impossible demands they face. In fact, an educator who speaks up is usually condemned fairly quickly as an apologist for the status quo. Meanwhile, the real status quo is the expensive and ineffective testing-and-labeling we’ve been doing for 30 years in Texas.”

I love how Kuhn is blunt about what is wrong with public education. I love how he doesn’t shy away from admitting that yes, there are also poor teachers out there. But that does not excuse a systemic and systematic falling-apart of the public education system due to the US data-focus and testing fetish. What’s even more refreshing about Kuhn is that he offers a solution. And not just any solution, he offers a practical solution to the current public education woes in the US. And it is this that we would do well to listen to and reflect upon as Canada and Manitoba contemplate moving towards more data and more testing…more than twenty years after the U.S.. Not that Kuhn’s solution is complete, and I certainly do not agree with all of it, but it is at least moving away from the data-drivenness and moving towards the humanitarian aspects of education.

Kuhn advocates Tom Pauken’s approach. Thomas Pauken is a Commissioner of the Texas Workforce Commission. “Pauken’s approach is child-centered, with multiple paths to graduation: a math/science path, humanities/fine arts path, and a technical/vocational path. Students get ownership of their education and focus on their strengths instead of adhering to one-size-fits-all mandates from outsiders. Elementaries need a well-rounded curriculum including core classes, arts, physical education, and recess for unstructured play.”

Pause a minute. Reread that last quote. Doesn’t that sound a lot like what we’re currently offering in Manitoba? So why is it that Manitoba Education, school boards, and divisions are looking stateside and trying to move more towards data and testing when Americans themselves are advocating what we’ve already got?

We in Manitoba, in Canada, do not need to, and should not, look state-side for education reform ideas. They are looking to us. Yes, we can get better at what we do here. But let’s not jump onto a bandwagon that’s been tried for 2 decades and found extremely wanting across the border.


About tjthiessen

explorer, administrator, consultant, student, leader
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