No one has yet invented a broad, replicable and accurate way of assessing student learning and the edutechnocrats are far, far away from being able to pin student learning, or lack of it, on any single teacher Yet we increasingly hear talk of tying performance bonuses and even job retention to student standardized test performance.
At some point we have to move away from the false idea that students only learn in classrooms and from teachers. Not only is this not true in any sense of the word true, it does not even take into account that the US Dept. of Education says the optimal way for students to learn is socially as part of a learning community. Anyone who looks at how students actually learn will quickly realize that students learn far more from their parents, each other, and their home community than they do from teachers.
Despite this, teachers are blamed for falling scores on easily manipulated tests (ever notice how the scores always go up in election years?), and other indications that society is falling apart. I am surprised that teachers have not yet been blamed for the current economic crisis (‘If the consumer education and math teachers were doing their jobs none of this would ever happen!’). The curricula we are required to teach are so overloaded that saying it is a mile wide and an inch deep is a drastic understatement.
It is time to make very difficult decisions about what we teach. We must decide which is more important, that a student walk out with a battery of skills to apply to any future situations, or should the take-away be a collection of disconnected bits of specific factual knowledge? If the latter, a very difficult question: what knowledge? If the former, what skills will students who will graduate into a future evolving even faster than it does today, need?
Until such a time when the President, Congress, Governors, state legislatures, city councils, town meetings and school boards have the determination and courage to answer those difficult questions, they should stop criticizing us for not being adequately able to feed those massive curricula into student heads while, at the same time, igniting their thirst to be life-long learners. Life long learners do not have to be created by teachers, we are all born that way, and we continue to learn despite, not because of, what goes on in our schools.