We are experiencing an unprecedented era of educational reform. These reforms exclusively focus on improving the existing system of education. Which really has two huge assumptions. The first, is that the system is fixable, and the second is that the system is not working and therefore needs fixing. The evidence we used to determine that the educational system was broken was A Nation at Risk published in 1983, which wrongly identified what was ailing our nation’s schools. It blamed schools for national economic stagnation which is not related to the education of kids, and it concluded student achievement was declining. Since publication in 1983, far too many researchers to name have rebuked A Nation at Risk. The main conclusion that achievement in American Public Schools was declining was actually not true — Student achievement was not declining. A Nation At Risk choose to ONLY SAT data in the report which misrepresented the actual performance of students.
What those reform movements have managed to do is seriously narrow the curriculum. Even the current controversy around Common Core misses this point. It is not about high standards or who created them. It is also not about how we have increased the rigor within Common Core. It is about how we have narrowed our curriculum.
We have focused ourselves on Reading and Math at the expense of all other subjects. Many of those subjects and in particular the Arts are what make education exciting. What happened to the well-rounded student? Why is it we no longer value a Liberal Arts Education? All this reform and testing has sharply narrowed our curriculum and it will be at our own peril.
If you ask kids what their favorite subjects are in school “Math” is rarely mentioned. They love Art, Music, and of course Gym. This meshes with my own personal experience as a teacher and school administrator. Kids dread school, but love co-curricular activities. Whenever I talked with kids, we rarely talked about particular classes. We always talked about sports, theater productions,Clubs, Band Concerts etc…it is what they get excited about. It is those activities they remember, it is those activities and subjects that shape and mold who they are as a person. Even Social Studies and Science have suffered as we place an inordinate emphasis on Reading and Math.
Why such a narrow focus? It is those areas we test and the test has become the end all be all for schools. No need to waste time on the Arts or Music…its not tested. We have tossed out even in the tested subjects material that does not show up on the test even if that material is considered foundational. That is how we have narrowed our curriculum.
What we need to do is stop testing our kids to death and start letting them learn, experience and enjoy what education has to offer. We need to simply use the test for what it is intended for and that is as a diagnostic. It should help teachers focus on the skills kids need to develop and not be used to punish, rate or evaluate schools, teachers and administrators. I have seriously wondered at times if A Nation at Risk is never published would we be so obsessed with testing and accountability? I think not….