Archives for category: Education reform


Inspired by Jonathan Kozol, “King did not say he had a dream that someday in the canyons of our cities, north and south, we will have tests and anxiety-ridden schools.”

I know that there are plenty of people who question everything their doctor says. However, most people will accept the advice their doctor gives them, even if many of them will question it and do their own research. Why is it that so many people think that educators, even ones who have spent as much time learning their craft as a doctor does to learn theirs, know little about learning? What makes everyone think they are an expert on learning?

Gary Stager recently suggested that we move away from the phrase “high stakes testing” which he thinks much of the US public loves, and move toward the phrase “constant testing” which is perhaps a better descriptor of the problems the US education system faces. I agree! In fact, I’ve made this comic to highlight this issue. I am not completely opposed to students taking tests (although I’d sure like to see them improved, many of them are just awful), but I am opposed to students losing almost a year’s worth of instructional time during their k-12 experience to take these tests.

Cartoon by Jeff Branzburg

Practising math facts non-stop certainly makes students better at math facts, but one must not forget that one of our goals in math education is to help students improve their mathematical reasoning, and this ALSO requires practice. When you see students’ scores go way up on an assessment that measures their ability to remember math facts, you should also ask, “What have we lost?”

This is one of the most important questions that anyone can ask of a given instructional technique. One should expect that any answer given in response uses multiple metrics to measure the effectiveness of the technique. Imagine, for example, a college that removed end of year exams from their courses (with no other changes). One would expect their course pass rates to increase – and so from the perspective of measurement of learning by course pass rates, they’ve improved. Of course, I doubt the students actually learned more…

The problem with adding computer science to schools is that it would become institutionalized, much like modern mathematics education has. Instead of being an opportunity for exploration outside of the normalized structure of schools, it would become a dry, life-less subject taught in rigid formats.

This is not intended to decry schools, but to point out that when we view schools as part of the labour machine, we devalue the people who participate in them. It is not the purpose of schools to fill the labour quotas of businesses. One possible purpose is to give students the education necessary to be a competent collaborator in the Great Conversation that is Democracy, but this purpose requires students to be thinkers, not cogs in a machine.

People hear what they want to hear.
via Schools Matter.

My main critique of the Khan Academy is that it has only changed who is lecturing the students. That’s not a shift in pedagogy.