Fresh Ideas by Lorie Schaefer: Spending less on schools, but more on tests
Teachers lose their jobs, class-sizes soar and school years shrink, but there still is plenty of money for tests.
By Lorie Schaefer
Here in Nevada and around the country, school budgets are being cut to the bone. Believe me, teachers know how to wring the value out of every nickel and dime they are paid, every classroom dollar they are allowed to spend. They also understand shared sacrifice. Nonetheless, while we ask teachers to do more with less, some big education businesses are getting rich. Very rich.
Pearson Publishing — one of the top publishers of education tests — had a 28 percent rise in profits in 2010. Furthermore, between 2002 and 2009 — when many Americans lost jobs and homes — Pearson's revenues grew from $293 million $1.64 billion.
Not good with big numbers?
That's an increase of more than five and one half times.
Likewise, Pearson CEO Marjorie Scardino says she expects continued growth to "more than offset pressure on U.S. states' school budgets." In other words, teachers lose their jobs, class-sizes soar and school years shrink, but there still is plenty of money for tests.
Nevertheless, it is public school teachers whose professionalism and motives are besmirched by lawmakers, the media and the public. Not only are teachers told how and when to teach specific skills, but also how to assess them. Those same teachers are held responsible for student progress. It's like blaming soldiers for losing a war.
Yet, in spite of the fact that U.S. children spend weeks every year bubbling answers on very expensive tests, they continue to lag behind students in the top-scoring nations. Funny thing is that top-scoring nations like Finland and Korea eliminated much of their standardized testing decades ago in favor of one formal test in 12th grade. Other high-scoring countries (Hong Kong, Singapore, the UK) include essay exams, science investigations and research papers, evaluated by (gasp!) their teachers. Some data suggests that fewer standardized tests track with improved scores on international measures. Other research shows that teacher-determined grades are more accurate, because they are based on multiple measures over time.
But, you say, teachers can't be trusted to be objective. I submit that standardized tests aren't all that objective either. Someone designed and wrote the test. Someone else decided which items to include and what score would indicate proficiency. Every person in the process is allowed to exercise his subjective, professional judgment. Everyone, that is, except the teacher, the only one held accountable for the results.
In our pursuit of excellence, we have put our faith in the test, not in the teacher. In the interest of data-driven, research-based decisions, perhaps we should look at the tests themselves. If tests aren't giving us the results we want, maybe they should be the ones defending their value, rather than teachers.
Lorie Schaefer is a retired teacher. She recommends http://www.susanohanian.org for more information on the dark side of so-called education reform.