Monday, January 05, 2009

Alfie Kohn on too much reform

Opposing view: Too much 'reform'
USA Today December 18, 2008
By Alfie Kohn

Accountability movement turns schools into test-prep factories.
Our children can't take much more education "reform." Oddly, that word has come to signify a continuation, or intensification, of the current disastrous approach exemplified by the No Child Left Behind act. Our schools — and particularly those in the inner city — are being turned into test-prep factories. The last thing we need is more of the same.
"Reformers"— many with the sensibility of corporate managers rather than educators — apparently think the way to make change is to bribe or threaten teachers and students. They assume that anything harder (more "rigorous") must be better. And they talk about "achievement" and "world-class standards" when all they mean are higher scores on fill-in-the-bubble exams.
NCLB has provided no new information about which schools need help, nor has it provided that help. Instead — in the name of "accountability" — it has created pressure to ratchet up the least valuable forms of instruction. Alarmingly, proponents would apply similarly simplistic and heavy-handed tactics to preschools and universities, too.
Consider some alternative principles that might guide the Obamaadministration:
• Supporting schools doesn't mean pretending they can solve deeper social problems such as racism and poverty.
• Equitable resources and opportunities must precede demands for equal results.
• All children, regardless of race or class, should have the chance to think deeply about questions that matter, fall in love with books, understand ideas from the inside out, and learn through projects of their own design — rather than just practicing skills and memorizing facts on cue.
• Teaching and learning ought to be assessed based on students' success with real classroom tasks, not with one-shot, one-size-fits-all multiple-choice tests.
• Children (and learning) have intrinsic value; they're not just means to economic ends, such as boosting the "competitiveness" of U.S. corporations.
• Every student should be encouraged to think critically (not just obey authority) and to collaborate (not succeed at the expense of others).
Now that would be school reform worth celebrating.

Alfie Kohn's 11 books include The Schools Our Children Deserve, The Case Against Standardized Testing and The Homework Myth.


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