Saturday, September 4, 2010

The Real Gap in Education

This week was the first week back for teachers in my new home district. Our Superintendent delivered the big welcome back speech in the auditorium just as happened in countless other small school districts across the country. She showed a video clip of Yong Zhao, an education professor, whose point was that there are important parts in education we are forgetting about because all of the focus is on test scores. ( ).

Her speech and this video inspired me to write on a blog I have ignored for some time. It inspired me because almost everything negative I hear about schools today is related to test scores, achievement gaps, dropout rates, and schools not meeting the needs of kids. It also inspired me because I have grown a bit weary and frustrated, feeling I listen to and speak in an echo chamber of educational technology proponents who "get it" but work in an environment where most do not.

I have begun to realize it really isn't an echo chamber. The message that the educational technology community so passionately speaks of everyday is heard. Boards of Education, school leaders, and teachers hear it and get it. Unfortunately it is our policy makers and decision makers that do not.

Herein lies the true gap in education. It is a gap of knowing and doing. Practicing educators- and many educational experts, bloggers, writers, and professors- know that education needs to focus on better teaching and learning with broader and deeper paths for our students to explore. The practitioners also know that they are only funded for the things that the government puts assessments on. They are also aware that only what is measured has any bearing on the perception of the job they and their students are doing.

We are faced with a gap between knowing what is the right thing to do in education vs. doing what the federal and state governments insist we do based on standardized tests that measure a very narrow scope of what is taught and learned in schools. Most of us do what we are forced to. We design "curriculum" and teach what is going to be measured.

Some of us realize, my Superintendent included, that we can go beyond this. We can teach art and music, be creative and passionate, use modern tools to design engaging and collaborative learning models, and think past the test scores.

The gap between most of us knowing what we need to do and change in education versus what we actually do is caused (IMHO) by a few possible problems. Maybe Arne Duncan and the rest of the "educational leadership" that make policy decisions that effect our funding and national perceptions really don't get it Maybe they simply can't back it because the testing companies, textbook writers, and even the unions are blocking it because they don't know how to measure it. Could it be possible that those in power don't back it because the media can't sell it the way they sell how our schools are failing?

I don't have a lot of answers. I do have an endless number of questions. I know that my own Superintendent encourages our teachers to be innovative, creative, passionate, and inspiring and she is not ready to judge any teacher based on standardized test scores alone. I know that when I introduced myself to the staff at our high school staff and said to them that my goal as Director of Technology was not to control the network but to leverage our technology to improve the learning environment for all and that the first thing I did was open Youtube for all teachers, our teachers actually cheered at me.

The gap is simple. Most of us know what to do. Most know what needs to change. Many of us are not doing it. Many either don't have the support, don't have the tools, or don't have enough know how to do it. Some of us are actually blocked from doing it by a system where most of us get it, but our policy makers either don't get it or refuse to back it.

Yep, what many highly regarded bloggers and speakers say can frustrate our teachers. It can discourage them because they can't do what is suggested, what they know is right for kids. (This is a must read on the subject- ). More and more of those that are blocking educational change are "getting it". Maybe soon those that control policy, funding, and assessment will get it too.

Stay passionate about what you know is right, do what you know you can do, and keep shouting it- even if some are frustrated or discouraged it. The more of us who practice what we preach there are, the more likely it is that those discouraged by it will take the stand and make their own changes as well. Close the gap between what you know and you do-please.

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