Reforms Miss Real Targets


In a recent letter to the editor, I argue that current education reforms are misguided on several fronts: their high stakes, standardized testing focus is at odds with innovative, 21st century goals; they make teaching less attractive; and they do not pay enough attention to the influence of poverty.

Consider the disparities between U.S. policies and those of PISA high-achiever, Finland:

A central focus of the Finnish system is the priority on local innovation and absence of standardized testing. Actual teaching time in Finland is among the lowest in the world, and teachers spend more time planning and collaborating than in many school systems. Their school days, are shorter and students study less at home. Becoming a teacher in Finland is a privilege; in fact, less than 10 percent of applicants become teachers.

Conversely, the United States is stuck in conflict between an impetus for 21st century instruction and a spotlight on standardized testing and common curriculum. By definition, “standardization” and “common” actually inhibit innovation and creativity. In many parts of the United States, the trend is toward extended school days, increased teaching time, and significant amounts of homework. And while teacher quality is an enduring issue, with calls for improved performance and preparation, we are in the midst of layoffs and waning resources for teacher training and development. We are making teaching less attractive and more difficult to foster success.

Why do we illogically continue developing new policies not employed and often discouraged by countries whose results we seek to emulate? Although there is nothing wrong with holding professionals accountable for performance standards, I argue that what we really need is to reposition conversations and focus actions on the real targets: implementing known, proven practices and addressing issues of poverty.

Post submitted by Richard Katz, superintendent/principal of Clinton-Glen Gardner School District, Clinton, N.J., and a member of ASCD’s Emerging Leaders Class of 2010. Excerpts taken from Katz’s November 15, 2011 letter to the Hunterdon County Democrat editor, “Proposed Education Forms Misguided.”