Vail Daily column: Seeing the future of education
This past weekend, state Board of Education member (and the front runner to be the next board chair) Steve Durham penned an important guest commentary for The Denver Post on the future of education in our state.
Durham’s main points are on the over-reach of top-down accountability and testing provisions that have been handed out from on high by the U.S. Department of Education and fueled by funds from the Gates Foundation.
Durham is straightforward in his assessment: “The current testing regimen designed to enforce the accountability standards is overbearing; the testing windows are too long; the amount of time spent testing is too great; and the accountability regimen has become a negative factor in the education of our children.”
Durham goes on to say that we “must give some flexibility to those who are in the trenches and delivering education” and that we must tip the scales back toward the local level, honoring Colorado’s tradition of local control.
Durham, on behalf of educators in Colorado (and across our country), amen!
Accountability is indeed important — we need ways to identify struggling schools and take appropriate action to improve outcomes for our kids. But we’ve gone “gonzo” with educational accountability in this country.
We’re far past the point of diminishing returns, where the addition of more and more measurements and punishments is unlikely to achieve better system results. I’d even argue that the complexity of our federally mandated testing and accountability system is actually counter-productive and is a barrier to genuine quality in our schools.
While Durham’s points are spot-on when it comes to the accountability over-reach and the layering on of testing, he misses the mark in one important area.
Durham critiques the 12th grade Colorado social studies test (which is actually now being shelved) for not containing a “single question about the American Civil War, the Revolutionary War or the Cold War, all seminal events in American history.”
We must concede part of Durham’s point, that some level of content knowledge is important. However, Durham is looking for the same kind of tests given when he was a student — those that measure a student’s ability to memorize facts and then to resupply these in an artificially contrived, isolated, and hyper-time-constrained setting.
In our era of access to boundless information, the acquisition, memorization and regurgitation of facts is nearly irrelevant. Any of us can instantly bring up literally thousands upon thousands of pages of information on any of the American conflicts to which Durham points.
Many global education systems which consistently outperform the United States (and Colorado) realized the need for this foundational shift from a fact-based education to a skills-based education over a decade ago.
The best performing education systems have been teaching their students how to critically evaluate information, collaborate with others, create and take risks, and communicate in different ways and in different languages.
Meanwhile, we’ve spent over a decade creating more and more cheap, machine-scored tests that we can layer on students and then blame and shame schools and teachers with the results.
Durham makes points on federal over-reach and accountability that are spot-on and welcome. His view and presence on Colorado’s state Board of Education signals a sea change in education policy from what we’ve experienced the past several years in the state.
But in our desire to push back against all the testing and accountability foisted on schools from politicians, bureaucrats and profiteers, let’s also keep our eyes on the ball when it comes to the kind of education necessary to prepare students for their futures — not our past.
Jason E. Glass is the superintendent of Eagle County Schools. He can be reached at email@example.com.