What the Future Might Hold
Barack Obama: State of the Union 2013: On Education
In our EduTeach blog this week, we talked a bit about high school graduation rates, and some of the reasons why we think graduation rates have continued to sink since 1965. We also talked a bit about Barack Obama’s talking points on education, shown in the video above. Though Obama skirted the Bush Era “No Child Left Behind,” language of raising the minimum performance of America’s students across the board, his speech notably focused on expanding pre-school access for lower income families, increasing high school graduation rates, and diversifying curricula to mirror a more European, less “one size fits all,” model of secondary education. Student performance is undeniably vital to the strength of a nation and a bright future, but what of teachers? Obama makes little mention of them, nor of the swirling controversies over unions, and performance pay, nor any of the myriad concerns of American teachers. And no surprise: this is a hot-button issue on which seemingly everyone has a fiery opinion.
Instead, Obama talked about diversifying outcomes which is something known at Glogster EDU as teaching to the individual. Instead of worrying too much about a certain very broad standard being met, says the President, we should focus on building the tools and a system in which teachers and students can address the needs of individuals in the way that works best for every teacher, and every student.
We see it as a generally positive sign that Obama’s mention of education didn’t include more talk of standardized testing, adding bureaucracy, and cruelly punishing creative teachers and students with cumbersome new standards. Instead, it focused on what our society needs, not in terms of statistics and competitive outcomes, but in terms of real people: the students who will be the citizens of tomorrow.
Why This Matters
The public policy era of the 2000′s focused mainly on one thing in the field of education: raising minimum standards; and it applied a carrot-and-stick approach to achieving these standards, by withholding federal funds from state programs that failed to meet the new standards. The goal was a 100% compliance with one high standard of reading and math skills to be achieved by 2014. This approach had many critics, such as Charles Murray of the American Enterprise Institute, who dubbed it “The Age of Educational Romanticism”, and Sir Ken Robinson, who wrote in HuffPo in 2009: “[NCLB is based] on the fatal idea that to face the future schools just have to do better what they did in the past.” Robinson charged that the system had a “catastrophically” flawed notion of intelligence; that it promoted homogenization and was anti-creative, and that it discouraged professionalism and creativity among teachers.
Microsoft Co-Founder and Chairman of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Bill Gates, seemed to agree with that assessment in the same year, when he answered the central question of his TED talk: “How do we make a teacher great?” with the reply: “we don’t.”
Gates points out that little in the current educational system is focused on allowing the creativity and ingenuity of great teachers to thrive on its own. Instead, the more creative and higher performing teachers leave the profession at a higher rate than lower performers. Under NCLB, there was a national fall-off of spending in programs in which teachers invest great degrees of energy: special needs, as well as gifted learner programs were eliminated in many districts and schools because they did nothing to help achieve the NCLB standards, and were thus seen as financial drains. The same can be said for music, physical education, fine arts, and soft sciences, which are seen as being of low value in the bid to pass tests. So the system as defined for some years by NCLB was one of a collection of perverse incentives, in which schools spent money to achieve dubious goals, and cut funding on programs that were known to be successful.
There is Hope
Here’s Sir Ken Robinson, back talking about the “Crisis of Human Resources,” and the way that our talents as teachers and students are being wasted.
Robinson points out policies like NCLB, along with decades of common practice in the education system, are products of a world that is now forever changed. That today, we have only the faintest notion of what the technologies and practices of learning will look like in only 10 years, while for centuries, society was quite sure that 10 years would see little change in the way children were taught. He reasons that given this fact, it may be foolish to assume that we can’t improve our outcomes in the near future, and even more foolish to try and keep things working they way they currently do.
So in light of Robinson’s comments at TED last year, we see it as a positive sign that Obama left out any mention of standardized testing, and national standards being raised. It seems to us, through our experiences with creative and energetic teachers and students, that the national standards and testing are simply an outdated approach to a goal that we are all seeking; which is for the students of today to have the skills and knowledge to make a difference in the world of tomorrow.
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What say you?
How does the future look for America’s Teachers? Is it a brighter future, or not? We welcome your comments here, on Twitter, or on Facebook.