I Don’t Give a Crap

Cross Posted on the Huffington Post.
The PISA results were released this month and my overwhelming response was: Who cares? Many of my fellow Canadians were quite happy to be ranked sixth in the world. What does that even mean? Is that cause for celebration? Should we be upset? What would we do if we were first? (Hint: I’ve talked to many educators from schools with high test scores. They are the most resistant to try new things and be innovative for fear it will lower their test scores). Once again, these tests perpetuate the idea that:

  • Schools should measure math, reading and science only.
  • Arts, Health and Physical Education are not really necessary (rewatch Ken Robinson’s video on creativity).
  • Tests taken on a single day are a good and accurate measurement of student learning and achievement.
  • Rankings against other countries/districts/schools/classrooms/students is important because education should be competitive.

There are no questions on the test that measure creativity (if that can even or should be measured), collaboration, or media literacy, never mind their ability to learn or their understanding of their body. The other thing it doesn’t measure is whether or not students like school. I’d like to know where Canada ranks on that scale. As a parent, I value that. I’ve been around schools enough to know that there’s lots of learning that happens, even in our so-called “worse” schools and classrooms. Sure, there are some teachers and schools better than others, but I also believe that students that are happy and enjoy school actually learn more. But of course, we don’t consider that important data. I’ll bet some people would consider it fluff. Instead we get the usual discourse from non-educators about how education sucks and the curriculum has to be revamped. Diane Ratvich recently debated a high ranking U.S. official about the obsession with testing and he challenged her with the the oft heard claim:

“You measure what you treasure.” To which Ravitch replied, “No, you cannot measure what you treasure.” How do you measure, friendship, love, courage, honor, civility, love of learning?

And because those things are hard to measure, many think they aren’t all that important. That’s really sad. Some openly dismiss those values as pie in the sky or “nice but not necessary” for learning. Few dare to openly state that, but I found one who wasn’t. I wrote about Michelle Rhee over 2 years ago when she made the following statement to Time Magazine:

People say, ‘Well, you know, test scores don’t take into account creativity and the love of learning,'” she says with a drippy, grating voice, lowering her eyelids halfway. Then she snaps back to herself. “I’m like, ‘You know what? I don’t give a crap.’ Don’t get me wrong. Creativity is good and whatever. But if the children don’t know how to read, I don’t care how creative you are. You’re not doing your job.”

This presumes you can’t do both. I think we can. I would argue that as educators we’re obligated to do both. But until we begin to design assessments that actually give credence to the love for learning, creativity and other so-called 21st century skills, I’m not going to “give a crap” about any of these tests.

Photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/27087959@N00/359572656/

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  • Raj

    I certainly agree, a proper test of learning however would take far too long and produce too few shiny metrics that could be shared with the media and the various politicos involved to allow for appropriate chest thumping or hand ringing

    • Easy solutions to complex problems is the order of the day. This is akin to measure your kids versus mine. Sad, scary and useless.

  • The fact that Michelle Rhee DOESN’T give a crap is exactly why her way of thinking is so wrong. Too many people don’t give a crap about the fact that we are teaching human beings who need caring and nurturing teachers, creative outlets, physical exercise, music and art for their souls… and so on. They are not little automatons that we can spit out from an assembly line, producing 100% on standardized tests. Ugh. I have NEVER in my life been as frustrated as an educator as I have in the last two years.

    I’m with you… I don’t give a crap about test scores. I care about my students. Period.

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  • Standardized tests don’t judge character any better than they measure creativity, effective and constructive social skills, or practical real-life problem solving. Granted, schooling ought to involve contributions from the family, the community, and the school. As a parent, I care even more about the role of the school in character building than in academic development. Likewise, the role of the school in helping my child to develop constructive social skills is far more important than the academic stuff. Science, math, and reading are important, but character, creativity, authentic problem-solving and the ability to relate well to others matter infinitely more. I don’t give a crap about the PISA test scores either!

  • Good post, Dean.

    What I struggle with here is having any hope at all that things will change—and with what my role as a classroom teacher in change efforts should be. While I love the rah-rah-ness of eduthinkers who say that I have the most power in driving change because I control what happens in my classroom every day, it’s always a bit disingenuous simply because those same rah-rah-ers aren’t working in classrooms any longer.

    They don’t have principals breathing down their necks when their test scores are the lowest on their hallways. They don’t have county level leaders tracking the number of times that they log in to online district curriculum guides and making the implementation of scripted lessons a part of their evaluations. They don’t face the challenges of having absolutely no control over the purchasing decisions in a school—and therefore, having no control over the resources available to teach with.

    That’s discouraging stuff.

    In a lot of ways, I feel like a rebel fighting against an established government for freedom and change. I guess that’s the American in me, huh? The problem is that most rebellions are mercilessly crushed long before freedom and change ever happens.

    And the worst part is I don’t know if I’m being pessimistic or pragmatic in my thinking!

    Sorry to be a downer,
    Bill

    • Bill,

      I can certainly empathize with your plight. I also have to acknowledge that in Canada, the pressure we face isn’t close to yours. Perhaps that’s why I feel that there is hope to stop the movement before it goes to far. In addition, there’s a healthy skepticism to most anything that the US does and we tend to be more apt to follow the likes of Finland where they do focus more on the whole child

      I suppose as discouraging as it may be I continue to point to people like yourself who are fighting the good fight. I don’t mean to be trite in my declaration but certainly hope that continued voices denouncing the standardized test obsession has some value. But I certainly recognize that it’s a complex and day to day battle for many teachers.

      • Dean wrote:
        I don’t mean to be trite in my declaration but certainly hope that continued voices denouncing the standardized test obsession has some value.

        It does, Dean. It’s actually heartening to see so many leading thinkers in so many interesting places—-NYT, HuffPo, WashPo, books, blogs, reports—-coming out against simplistic accountability measures because it helps me to believe that my feelings about the damage that testing is doing to teachers and students is legit.

        What I’m worried about, though, is the passion against standardized testing is rivaled only by the passion “to hold schools accountable.” When people like Rhee harp against “our failing schools,” it strikes a chord inside the average person. And then when people realize that more responsible forms of assessment will blow the budget, we get the “testing is better than nothing” mantra.

        And I’m just not sure that education is going to come out on the right side of the conversation. The tension between positions is strong and both sides have powerful voices, but Rhee and Company have heaping mounds of cash and Oprah.

        Does this make any sense?
        Bill

  • I agree with you Dean. I empathize with Bill. I struggle watching my students make excellent progress this year, knowing that they probably won’t do well on testing. I don’t care how they do. But I do, for them. If they don’t pass, will they, as eight and nine year olds, be able to weigh it against the fact that they had an enjoyable year, grew a lot, and found a way to love to learn? Or will they feel the outside letdown and feel diminished by others’ perceptions? Academic heartbreak does not elude our youth and it fosters an attitude of under-achievement – I didn’t make it even when I put all of my effort and hard work into it, so why bother?

    I don’t give a crap about the testing, but I do give a crap about the kids.

    • What role to teachers/schools have to help parents revolt against this obsession?

  • Dean, add me to the list of those who don’t give a crap. And I agree with Bill, it is a struggle. I had never heard that Rhee quote before. I am glad to see that my existing view on her views is totally accurate. As someone who teaches music, directs school theatre, works with stage crew and plays music, I see first hand the learning and the love of it. So measure that all of you who subscribe to a Rhee like vision!

  • mark

    I have mixed feelings about Rhee and while I do “give a crap” about creativity I also believe the Ms. Rhee’s heart and mind is in the right place. I agree that we are failing our children if they can’t read. We can care about them as people but we also need to care about their future and the number one thing that will lead to academic success for them in the future is learning how to read.

    I hear Bill and completely agree…the pressure on classroom teachers is ridiculous and isn’t leading to better results. It is not about pressure it is about professional practice and doing what helps the students achieve/learn.

    I do give a crap about the PISA simply because it is one more piece of data that we can take in context to compare our system with the world.

    However, our nation cannot expect to improve teaching and learning simply by applying more and more pressure. There are other economic and societal issues that need to be addressed as well.

    • I agree that Rhee probably wants to do what’s right. But her efforts reflect a model that tries to reduce school to a very specific and narrow belief that school is about reading and writing and math and we need to focus the bulk of our energy on that. First off, there is some disagreement about the role of school. Many also believe school is about a holistic experience that must deal with character as well as academics and even within the academic discussion, many disagree on what the focus ought to be.

      i equate good schooling to good parenting. While it might be great to assume that character and citizenry be left to the parents, that’s not a realistic view. Schools need to reflect the complexity and challenges of daily living. Rhee and others are working to reduce things to simplistic measures and attributing the problems to bad teachers. Until we embrace a more diverse and complex view of schools, we’ll continue to battle this.

  • Hey Dean, great post (and catchy title). This is my biggest lament as and educator and, most importantly, as a parent of two very bright and creative students. My daughter reads as if books are essential to life itself, is artistic, has an ability in math that astounds me, and is subjected to the same droll routine of test-preparation curricula that de-motivates students nationwide. My son is a creative problem-solver with a sharp wit who has never met a puzzle or brain-teaser video game he couldn’t master. He complains that school is “no fun.” Of course, in kindergarten, both of them LOVED school. It was filled with songs, games, art, etc. Yet, somehow, miraculously, they learned. It has been my observation that kindergarten is now the last bastion of creativity left in our schools (other than as isolated, elective fine arts courses). We lament our un-engaged and misbehaving students while systematically eliminating the very elements that engaged them in the first place. By the time they are secondary students, even upper-elementary ones, they are no longer bringing home the pictures to hang on the refrigerator, and the magnets hold only memories of better days.

    What is left is for parents to become the sole proponents of opportunities for creativity for our kids, and this is simply unacceptable. When left to politicians, the only subject matter which matters is that which can be assessed in a spreadsheet. I hear this country or that country touted for their “high achievement scores.” When I do, I have come to always say, “Name a great artistic, creative, or technology innovation that came from there.” The blank stare tells me what I already knew, and what our leaders must come to understand. I hope you’re doing well, my friend. By the way, I will be integrating some of your ideas in my presentation at TCEA in February, which, coincidentally, is on Web 2.0 and creativity.

  • Standardized testing is killing education and learning. Too much of it has invaded the normal curriculum. In Texas, starting in the 2011-12 school year, 25% of the school’s calendar is dedicated to standardized testing. That only counts the actual test days. Figure in the benchmarks, practice tests, and pull out times, and you have no time left for innovation. Sad. A superintendent we had once said, “How can you fatten the hog if you are always weighing him?” Wise man, that guy.