What kind of learners do we want them to be?

When I set out to see how school budget cuts are going to affect Banford elementary school at Canton Central, I didn’t realize how much change is under way this year for New York schools.  In addition to losing a teacher at every grade level, they’re starting a variety of new things.

Common Core curricula are at the heart of the standardized testing approach in New York.

New York schools are moving toward what’s called the Common Core curriculum, which is similar to a set of national academic standards.   More students will be taking standardized tests – even kids as young as the second grade.  Schools are also adopting a new teacher evaluation system.

Janice Poole just retired after 33 years of teaching.  She told me part of the problem of doing all these things at once is that schools aren’t getting clear message from Albany, “New York state is not sure, and I think until that gets squared, then I think we can look and say, ‘Okay, we know what we’re all doing.  And we’re all on the same page.”

Long-time Canton Central librarian Nancy Palmateer told me it was too much change for her – that’s why she decided to retire at the end of the 2012 academic year.

Palmateer worries that a teacher’s evaluation now will be tied to student test scores.  She fears it will encourage teachers to teach to the test, instead of giving students time and space to explore the things that interest them.

“What kind of people do we want them to be?  What kind of learners do we want them to be?”, she asks.

Palmateer worries that the new system is more likely to encourage young people to memorize facts, and repeat them for a test.

And we should mention, school officials around the state are voicing similar concerns, as  Karen DeWitt reports here.

What’s your experience with schools and testing?  Have you seen a manager’s evaluation based on the performance of those he or she is responsible for?  Are schools similar to the workforce in this way?  How do schools budget limitations play into the issue?

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11 Comments on “What kind of learners do we want them to be?”

  1. Kathy says:

    I have been homeschooling 25 years and counting with a HS senior and a 6th grader this year.

    I have an RIT graduate with a Civil Engineering Degree, an SLU graduate with a Math Degree, and a son employed with the Border Patrol. In elementary through middle school, they were not always good test takers. In other words, the tests were not the final say on how well they were learning.

    Collectively, their college GPA averaged 3.8.

    I don’t know what the answer is for such a large entity, but I do know that there is more to kids learning then input-output so they will pass a test.

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  2. Peter Hahn says:

    Learning test-taking skills is useful, but its not the same as an education.

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  3. Pete Klein says:

    Tinker, tinker, tinker is what the “experts” in education are all about. Throw in the politicians and you have a real mess.
    The experts keep looking for ways to justify their overpaid existence. Same goes for the politicians. Nothing is ever their fault. It is always someone else’s fault.
    Two things they absolutely refuse to understand is there are lousy students and many lousy students are the result of lousy parents.
    These experts would have us believe that every student is a potential genius – an empty glass just waiting for “education” to be poured into them.
    I am not suggesting the effort should not be made. I am suggesting 66% of the problem rests with the students and/or their parents.
    Maybe we should charge the parents of low performing students with child abuse.

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  4. Paul says:

    Pete, that is a bunch of hooey. My kids are great students and it has very little to do with me.

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  5. zeke says:

    Paul, not sure if you are just trying to be funny. But I’ll will bet you and your spouse are pretty good role models if nothing else and that is a great start.

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  6. jeff says:

    I see the subtitle of Written by teachers for teachers. That may be the resource-the map as it says. Is the content what the customer, the parents, desire?

    My children are not in public school and we home-schooled the younger of the two this year using the same curriculum as their school. It was interesting to see the blatant bias in the “instructional materials” of what would be called social studies which we had not read in as much detail when the older child passed through the grade. However when questioned, the older child affirmed being aware of the bias and that the students discuss it among themselves. Somewhere the older child learned critical thinking… maybe it was it from arguing with parents.

    My response to the school’s question which is very similar to the title question is that they learn how to learn because there really is no graduation, just a hurdle, then another. Some hurdles imposed, others self-installed.

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  7. oa says:

    Good schools where I am. Aint broke don’t fix it. But people at high levels of government seem hellbent on giving tax money to testing firms and public money to private/charter schools, including madrassas. Good work if you have a charter-schools scam or give standardized tests that measure, what exactly?
    Oh, well…

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  8. mervel says:

    Oa is right though, there is a huge market that is hidden, in selling educational tests and services, it really is big and those lobbyists are pushing for a lot of this sort of craziness around testing.

    Testing is needed you have to have examinations to know how you are doing, grades are needed etc.

    But massive outside forced standardized testing is about trust. By forcing schools to take a particular test in a particular way not of the school’s choosing, you are saying we don’t trust you school to measure your own results. It is another unfunded mandate.

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  9. Dave says:

    I teach in NYC, in a well-regarded public middle school. While it is clear that many schools are failing in terms of providing our students with the quality education they need (and we need) to succeed in the modern world, The increasing emphasis on standardized tests seems to be having a “lowest common denominator” effect in that schools that were offering a rich educational experience are now forced to focus on tests prep and test scores.

    There is a real cacophony coming from the so-called “ed reform” movement – many who are self-declared education experts (Michelle Rhee, Joel Klein, etc…) with no track record (or worse, suspect track records) to really back up their proposed solutions.

    And as has been already mentioned, there is a lot of money to be made if you are a charter school administrator, or test prep publisher. We are seeing a lot of interesting conflicts of interest in NYC regarding the contracts the city has with different education consultants.

    There is constant mention about the success of other countries, such as Finland, in educating their citizenry. maybe it’s time we take a look at what they are doing…

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  10. Paul says:

    It seems like the philosophy of how to educate kids is so far behind what we know about education and the technology that we have to help us educate kids (anyone really). It is really sad. Having been educated in NYS many years ago and now having kids going through the same system it seems like almost nothing has changed.

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  11. mervel says:

    I think we should take a look at other countries as Dave suggests. It is like we are always in this perpetual cycle of the next new thing that might work, the constant churning. Churning however is good for some businesses who produce the next new product.

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