A long time ago, during an era known as “The Sixties,” there was a popular song called “The Times They Are a-Changin’”. Or so my Grandpa tells me. Apparently, it’s a sort of iconic piece about all the upheaval that was starting during this distant past. I have to say it’s a catchy tune, too.
Because it occurred to me as I perused this latest piece by the venerable long-time education reform Checker Finn, called “Time for a reboot” (my Dad says I should have referenced his old computer’s experience with the “blue screen of death,” but I digress). The pro-Common Core author acknowledges some of the complaints made about standardized testing and says reformers need to back away from “test-driven accountability” as a “primary tool”:
The wrong answer is to give up (or declare victory) and settle for the status quo. Far too many kids are still dropping out, far too few are entering college and the work force with the requisite skills, and far too many other countries are chowing down on our lunch.
Major-league education change is still needed, maybe now more than ever, and it’s no time for either complacency or despair.
Oh, it sure sounds like the times they are a-changin’! Finn says more emphasis needs to be placed on areas I’ve written a lot about here, including providing more quality choices, using technology to differentiate instruction, and letting the dollars follow the student. Bingo!
But wait a second? How much do reformers really need to change course? Finn opens his column with this insightful observation:
Americans are ambivalent about testing, standards, and accountability in their children’s schools. This is clear from survey results that swing wildly depending on how, exactly, the question is phrased—and on whether the practice in question might inconvenience one’s own kid, as apart from fixing those awful schools across town.
Yes, we’ve looked at those wildly swinging survey results. From PDK-Gallup finding (and the National Education Association prematurely reporting) 61% of its 1,000 respondents opposed to “using student test results in teacher evaluations,” to the Friedman Foundation identifying 44% of its 1,000 respondents who say standardized testing “takes up too much time” (versus 22% who say the opposite), to PEPG / Education Next finding 60% of its 5,000 respondents in support of measuring whether teachers help students make adequate progress on tests before they get tenure.
“Ambivalence” is a polite description, but Finn is really onto something. Then you throw into the mix the new group Education Post and its brand-new poll — interestingly, gathering the opinions of a representative national sample of 1,800 parents and grandparents of school-aged children.
Besides the typical trends of people seeing K-12 education on a wrong track nationally but doing a satisfactory job locally, Education Post reports only 3% think the system is fine as is. One-third say K-12 needs a “complete overhaul,” while 60% favor making “some changes.” Then there’s the thoughts about solutions, some of which suggest test-based accountability isn’t that unpopular and others backing up Finn’s prescription:
- 88% support, “Higher standards and a more challenging curriculum.”
- 78% support, “Expanding the number of charter schools so parents have more options.”
- 93% support, “More accountability for teachers and principals.”
- 84% support, “Teacher evaluations that use test scores, classroom observations, and surveys from parents and students to help teachers improve.”
If support for all these ideas were so strong, you’d think it might be easier to effect change. But then you realize that strong majorities of this same group of 1,800 people have favorable opinions of all the following:
- “Education reform”
- “Teacher unions”
- “Holding teachers accountable”
- “Public charter schools”
- “Standardized testing”
One of the five above is not a great big fan of the other four. So guess what has to change to help provide the kind of help that kids in the K-12 education system need? Heh. Maybe it’s too much to expect that the “times are a-changin’” after all.