Bruce Mims: On Change and Shift in Teaching and Learning
I spend a lot of my time and efforts in my dialogue in terms of education talking about change and shift in public education. In fact, the mantra I tout quite often is, “nothing in life is guaranteed but change and shift; it’ll either happen through us or to us, so we need to embrace it.” That phrase resonates for many things, but especially in education—and especially now. I’m at a point with what I keep reading in many dialogue strands, it’s no wonder education is so messed up: we keep making the same mistakes over and over again, yet we all expect something different to happen. Honestly, but respectfully, “NO”, it doesn’t work that way—ever. We’ve really got to start looking for different ways to solve our problems and move forward with public education. We are at a critical crossroads on many fronts; some would go further and argue we’re either at a tipping point or a breaking point. I think the reality is somewhere in between the two extremes
We are 13 years or so into “No Child Left Behind” and I think we can all agree it’s been a wholesale disaster of epic proportions. From the onset of the initiative, the language and rhetoric has been laced with racialized and economically based arguments designed to raise eyebrows, tug at our emotions, and generate a reaction that would ultimately lead to a wave of consensus that would be used as momentum for a wave of reform. Two wars and a pillaged economy later, the entire mandate that was NCLB has left public education a barren wasteland of rudimentary remediation and sanctions based on Mathematics and English Language Arts. What have we gained? Not much. Many have devoted a lot of time, energy, and resources resisting the forces of top-down imposition—some within reason, some have not been so reasonable. Regardless, NCLB remains an unfunded mandate that has created woeful inequities and inadequacies in terms of per pupil funding and spending, and a mindless obsession on high-stakes testing as the be all and tell all as it relates to measuring student learning—and the effectiveness of teaching for that matter.
Now that folks for the most part have come to their senses and concluded NCLB has been a wholesale failure, here comes the Common Core State Standards wave. I think we can all agree regardless of how we feel about the motives, underneath it all, Common Core State Standards IS an honest, earnest attempt to modernize the learning outcome/thinking aspect of content area standards to align with the realities of teaching and learning in the digital information age. Previous content area standards were created and delivered with the notion that teaching, learning, and the acquisition of knowledge was a one-way or “purveyor” type of dynamic, where teachers had all the information and conveyed it to students in a manner that allowed them to absorb, acquire, and apply it to the world around them. Some of us refer to this dynamic as “sage on stage”.
In some ways, Common Core State Standards does, indeed, change or shift the teaching and learning dynamic. True, there are some misaligned aspects of it all that can be revised or refined with dialogue, collaboration, planning, and doing, studying, reflecting, and revising. The thing that’s gotten completely out of hand though is the testing aspect of it all—really out of whack. We’ve taken the previous high-stakes testing mindset and morphed it into an entirely new monster that now factors in computer-based adaptive means to test kids and packaged it as “Smarter Balanced Assessment”. There’s also this sinister undercurrent of competing and conflicting interests and ulterior—perhaps profit seeking—motives that’s seeming fueling this wave of testing cycles; ultimately generating a lot of fear, confusion, anger, and, again, overall resistance. It all leaves one to wonder have we really learned anything from the folly from the last 13 years of NCLB. The way folks continue to spin the whole testing thing is quite irritating, if not insulting at times. It all leaves me to wonder whether or not we’ll ever get it right.
Okay, as it stands there are some flaws in Common Core State Standards; granted, it’s not all bad though. The whole testing thing is probably the biggest fundamental flaw, because it appears to originate from the previous NCLB mindset, and has now spiraled completely out of control with the evolution of new technologies; leaving one to wonder what’s really driving the motivation—profit or student needs? And then there’s folks who take to social media and simply say to resist it all and do nothing—really? How has that solved anything? Underneath “the fog” of it all, that’s how we ended up with the Vergara decision in California; and, now many states hope to replicate the arguments in an attempt to completely do away with tenure. My reaction to the notion of resistance is, keep that up and see where that gets us. I think we definitely need to keep talking, we need to keep writing, we need to keep engaging, we need to fortify our arguments with student learning outcomes based evidence. Otherwise, it’s nothing but diatribe. Public education as a whole is hanging in the balance.
Remember, change and shift will either happen through us or to us. It’s up to us, but I think we really need to remember it’s not our future we’re messing with—it’s that of our children…