What's Killing Education*Disclaimer* This is kind of a rant that began to form in my head after this week's #edchat
We have a major problem in our society and our country and I think it is killing education. No, it is not standardized testing. I am not a fan of standardized test, and they certainly do more harm than good. However, standardized test are simply a tool. With any tool, we must ask ourselves what is the purpose of the tool? The purpose of the tool is to determine the "success" of the school and to rank schools and individual teachers.
This is what is killing education: our obsession with rankings. It's true, we are obsessed with rankings. They are everywhere! Everything and everyone is constantly being ranked! It's in our advertisements. "Choose the number 1 toothpaste in America". It's in our sports (BCS, AP/Coach's poll). It is everywhere.
And I must admit, I get pulled into this obsession with rankings all the time! I'm a huge Indiana basketball fan. All we can talk about right now is how IU is ranked #1 in the nation next year and they are 5+ months away from playing their next game! I love movies and if I'm on a website and I see some kind of "Best 10 (fill in the blank) movies ever" I have to read it! I can't help myself. It could be "The Top 25 Best Alien Cat Movies" and I would read it!! I've never even seen a movie about alien cats. I'm the worse at the end of the year and everyone has their "best of 2012" post. Just lock me up and take away my Macbook.
I can think of very little good that comes out of ever ranking anything. However, I can think of several reasons why we should be against rankings, especially in education.
1. It Starts Arguments
I don't care what you are ranking, you will never find a perfect way to rank things. Just play along with me. Name the top 10 Worse Kevin Constner Movies of All Time. I know what you're thinking, "Only 10, I can name 20." However, that's my point (It's The Postman by the way). All of you reading this would have your own separate opinion based on your likes and background. I remember when Rolling Stones came out with the best 100 guitar players ever and hearing people debate it. Even on ESPN radio, they debated it because that is the purpose of rankings!
Rankings are designed to start arguments and divide people!
Do we really want this in education? Do we want "The Top 25 Middle Schools in America"? All it will lead to is arguments and divisiveness among people who felt like their school should have been on the list.
I know I've heard multiple times when a school or a teacher is being advertised as "one of the best in America" is, "yeah, but let them try that with my kids". Instead of wanting to learn from them, teachers resent them because of their rankings. Now, that is obviously the wrong attitude to have, but those are the facts.
2. It incites a sense of competition over collaboration.
I worked this year with a team of technology integration coaches. There were fifteen of us at the beginning of the year but towards the end of the year there was the sense that budget cuts were going to have to force us to cut our team down. My boss was given the terrible task of making us go through this little "re-interview" process and rank us. All year long we had worked together as a team. All year long we had each other's backs and helped each other. However, I'll be honest with you, as I was with the people I work with, as soon as we were told we were going to be ranked 1-15, I immediately started looking around the room to size up my competition.
This is what rankings do to people. They encourage competitiveness over collaboration. Again, is this what we want in our schools?
If we continue to try to find ways to rank teachers, and go a step further and pay teachers based on their rankings, then we will push education in a direction that, I'm afraid, will ultimately be its undoing.
The test isn't the problem.
At the close of this post I want to reiterate that standardized test are not the problem any more than a cell phone is the problem in the classroom. Both our tools are the problems come from how they are being used. If standardized test were just a tool to use as one data point for our students, and they were not tied to our school performance or pay, then I wouldn't have nowhere near as a big of problem with them as I do now.
I speak as both a parent and an educator when I say that we have got to stop all of this use of standardized test (or any tool) for the purpose of deciding the success of a school or the effectiveness of a teacher. I am all for being accountable and being evaluated but there will never be a one-size-fits-all solution to education.
Rankings build up the few and defeat the multitude.
I'm interested in seeing our schools become a community of learners, a place of collaboration, and personal/professional growth. In education lets focus on building each other up, and leave the rankings to the sports, music, and entertainment industries.