This is the relaunch of my blog...again!
I have been away for a while because of several life changing events. Those of you who know me, know that I have recently relocated to the Phoenix area while still continuing to finish my dissertation. Driving cross country (2x actually) has reawakened my broad sense of perspective allowing me to see things from an even more national perspective. Driving through those "fly over" states of Oklahoma, Iowa, Nebraska and the like and listening to the talk radio for as long as I could stand, has informed me in ways many of us who reside on the coasts or in the major cities never get to be exposed. Consequently, rather than the rant I was going to post about the good, bad and the ugly surrounding my 6+ years in the city of "brotherly love," I am showing some love and keeping my mouth shut about the ills of Philly for once. Instead I'm going to talk about two issues regarding educational reform that are close to my heart. Rather than addressing the biggest issue this summer, the budget crisis in my former city, this post is about character education, and testing.
Character education is a controversial subject for some. Many feel those of us who advocate for character education somehow do not understand that, yes, students do need to learn the basics of schooling and that yes, poverty, inequity, and violence exists in too many children's lives. What gets lost in translation is that there is a vocal few who want to prescribe an either/or approach to education reform. For example, some would advocate we either have to have character education or high stakes testing. We either have to have traditional education (reading, writing, math), or we have to spend time building children's self efficacy and esteem. This false dichotomy leads many to throw up their hands and reduce character education to an after-thought - something that because isn't "tested" is considered unnecessary. I and others who advocate for this type of pedagogy believe that it is essential, not just for the student's social self, but also their academic selves. According to an article in Education Week from earlier this year (http://tinyurl.com/mus4t7g), character education has the potential to positively change children's negative behaviors. While I am not here to advocate for one singular approach to education, I do believe that implementing character education from an early age will show positive effects on students and schools, both academic and socially, in the long run.
The other, somewhat more controversial topic is, in the words of one of my former Principals, testing, testing, testing. According to an AP-NORC poll, a majority of parents are in favor of standardized testing. If you don't believe me, here is the article (http://tinyurl.com/kqmr5s8). What this means is that those teacher advocates in Seattle and elsewhere who are directing their parents and children to boycott high-stakes test are an anomaly and there is a silent majority of parents out there who believe testing is important to their child's schooling. Overwhelmingly, 75% of parents believe standardized test are a solid measure of their children's academic abilities. What was not asked in the survey, and is perhaps more problematic, is the incessant test prep which has taken over too many aspects of schooling in poor urban, underperforming schools.
Putting these two situations into context, what seems to be the case to this educator is that there are some things which the progressive establishment, including teachers unions, many outspoken rank and file members, and allies want us to believe is that theirs is the "correct path" towards reform. While I do consider myself among the ranks of the progressive left, I do not believe that the path to education reform is linear, nor universal. Rather, I believe the best way to describe the current state is that in large part to too many cooks who don't know how to boil water, are making wrong turns and moving in the wrong direction.
Wouldn't teacher's valuable time be better spent, not test prepping students for these high-stakes exams - which let me stress, I am NOT in favor of, nor begging for parents to "boycott" them, but instead spending their professional development and other limited time creating and advocating for better testing instruments themselves? Wouldn't it be far more prudent for those teachers, advocates and administrators who dismiss character education as "soft" or non essential, to at least examine the validity of those who believe it is extremely vital and critical not just for the student's but for the betterment of the overall climate of their school?
Like I said in the tag line, I am not trying to find a singular answer to the multitude of issues and concerns facing public education, but rather, I am trying to engage the issues in a forum in which a variety of perspectives can be heard and respected. That simple premise is too rare these days. On these two issues, there seems to be only choir director and one note being heard. Here's hoping that in 2013-14, we can begin to hear other voices in the choral ensemble as well.
PS - the name "Education Provocateur came about from an "exchange" with an advocate from Philly who on twitter thought she was demeaning me by calling me this. Although she shall remain nameless, I thank her for the compliment!