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A Nation Still at Risk: Real Education Reform Needed Now

A Nation Still at Risk: Real Education Reform Needed Now

"A Nation at Risk cited some very mind-numbing statistics, including 23 million functionally illiterate adults."

Victor Lana

Teachers want to keep their jobs, so they understand the game, but there is much more at stake than districts being able to gush about their high test scores. High test scores are nothing more than window dressing. You can very likely dig under them and find nothing of substance beneath. This is because in teaching to the test teachers are training students to take that instrument and succeed. This has nothing to do with higher order thinking, with true understanding of concepts, or a lifelong affinity for the learning process. When a teacher is done grinding the students into standardized test robots for one year, they are not going to retain much of anything for next year, which means the rote process of teaching to the specific test has to start all over again. In that type of scenario, when does the real teaching ever get accomplished?

If so many adults are functionally illiterate, there must be a way to stop things and say, “This is criminal and this system is corrupt.” Of course, I am not expecting that to happen today or tomorrow, or maybe even when all the agreements with standardized testing companies expire for these districts. But someone has got to stop the express train to disaster that we are all riding on right now. We will never stop being a nation at risk until people like the president and many others shake the education system to its core. The best thing we can do is try to find time to teach instead of trying to find time to test.

We need to stop beating teachers into becoming slaves to the test scores, and we need students to be opened up to a wide range of possibilities beyond assessments. As a teacher I always loved teaching the subject; I never enjoyed sitting there and watching students take tests. We need to move away from that testing obsession and move toward multiple types of assessment that extend over weeks, months, or even whole semesters. We need to get back to grammar, punctuation, and spelling. We need to teach phonics and math and art and music and science, and then after all that the kids need to get on their gym clothes and run and play and compete on the field.

I have so much hope for American education because I know at the heart of this whole thing are the good teachers, the ones who want to make a difference. That’s why any of us went into teaching in the first place. It was because we cared and we thought that the way to help the bigger picture was to smart small, in the classroom, one child at a time. In fact, that should be the name of Mr. Obama’s new education initiative: One Child at a Time. In that way no one is left behind, everyone will be taught based on individual needs, differentiated instruction will be dynamic and meaningful, and we can move away from worrying about test scores.

Maybe we can one day say, “We are no longer a nation a nation at risk,” but until that time we must do something meaningful about education and it has to be done now, not tomorrow or next month or next year. Now is the time, and the proverbial clock is ticking.

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