The Grumpy Giraffe

Critiques on social and education issues

Obama wants more innovation in high school, but might not get it for a while

Obama is asking for teachers to provide more innovative teaching in high schools, but it seems unrealistic considering the education situation in America.

To summarize the era of No Child Left Behind (NCLB), an education reform by the Bush administration, an open letter from a high school teacher has been circulating around r/Teachers, a subreddit for Teachers. It talks about the increasing practice of “teach to the test”: anything that will not show up on the test will not be given the same amount of time as content that will show up on the test.

Just because a student does well in, say, the writing portion of the standardized test set up by the National Center of Fair and Open Testing (“fair” is ironic) does not necessarily mean that they can write at a high quality level. Moreover, the writing portion actually does not score for grammar, rhetoric, or conventions of a proper essay (clear topic statement, introduction, etc.). This teacher had to train their students to write badly.

Due to the limiting structure of the test, some students may not receive education in the arts, music, or any other non-tested (or non-quantifiable?) subjects. The U.S. is moving backwards: schools are becoming factories again.

Obama asks for innovation in high school and better preparation for the workforce, but when teachers are severely handicapped to follow the NCLB, how can they have the time to be creative? Additionally, students’ exam scores are expected to be accurate and complete reflections of teachers’ quality of teaching, but teaching is not a one-way street: How much a student learns depends on the quality of teaching and the students’ motivation and ability to learn. Perhaps this is not what Bush knows about education.

Most of the public have already been disillusioned by NCLB and the effects it has had on real education (such as cutting out libraries in high-needs schools), but it is also easy to see why NCLB is still in place:

  • more progress was made for 9-year-olds in reading in the last 5 years than in the last 28 years combined
  • parents are given information, which may include free tutoring
  • 13-year-olds scored the highest math scores the test ever recorded
  • reading and math scores for black and Hispanic children were at an all-time high

However, as the teacher has written in the open letter, how do they quantify quality of reading? Writing portions on tests do not necessarily reflect real, quality writing. Similarly, reading is a long and reflective process for oneself (or a group) to wrestle with issues at a more meaningful level (i.e. more than “What did Peter do at the carnival?”). Keep in mind that these results were from the test, meaning that the scores on “writing” and “reading” are not the writing and reading we know of.

Fortunately, Obama has been trying to rectify the NCLB’s strict and irrational interpretations of education by letting states apply for waivers. America is moving in the right direction, but baby steps. The U.S. is not known for being the greatest in education reforms, but perhaps the states and federal education authorities can think of a different way of measuring progress without the need to quantify everything, and that subjects like the arts are holistically beneficial to human growth.


4 comments on “Obama wants more innovation in high school, but might not get it for a while

  1. Pingback: Obama’s pre-K plan falls before it has begun « The Grumpy Giraffe

  2. Danielle
    February 16, 2013

    I appreciate how cautiously hopeful your response is – there are, as ever, monumental burdens placed on teachers at every level of education.

    In response to Obama’s reference to the German system, I think there are already movements being made to better prepare high school gradutaes. (I went through the Running Start program in Washington, which allowed me to graduate high school and community college with my diploma and A.A. simultaneously.) Hopefully this kind of program, were it implemented more frequently, would alleviate some of the pressure on high school teachers, and even encourage the kind of maturity in students capable of fostering a better dialogue in the classroom, and a better ethic in the workplace.

    (Everything is complicated, though, I know! There’s never one solution. :P)

  3. Samantha
    February 15, 2013

    It’s always annoyed me that standardized test scores were always this huge thing, when they don’t tell the real story they way everyone would like them to. The same thing with regular tests in school: some people are terrible test-takers, others are great ones, and even if both groups study the same material the same amount that is beneficial for them, they still may not get the same score on the test. Quantifying everything is a mistake, and making sure all the kids get passed through rather than taking the time to teach widely and properly, is a disservice to education.

  4. remedythink
    February 15, 2013

    While I was in high school my teachers told me to write one way for the test and then never write that way again. It’s truly sad. My acting teacher was actually forced to start giving multiple choice question exams and when showing his higher ups the progress his students have made he wasn’t allowed to factor in their actual acting performance. It’s ridiculous.

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This entry was posted on February 15, 2013 by in education, politics, school, society, teaching and tagged , , , , , , .


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