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Leadership and Activism, Philosophical Meanderings

Hi, Teaching Ambassador Fellows. It’s me, Chad.

David (@dloitz)suggested that Coöp write towards this post and call from the USDOE’s Teaching Ambassador Fellows (TAF). The Fellows have asked teachers, “What is the biggest challenge in education today?”

The biggest challenge in education today is its myopia and disregard for real-world problem-solving as concretized in our collective and sometimes willful lack of imagination in reforming education outside the tautological feedback loop of standardized testing.

We are endlessly arguing the merits of standardized tests and how best to evaluate teachers in response to them while insisting that the tests represent standards that represent minimum competencies on the delivery of which teachers should be judged. Where to begin? All the excellent, innovative, global rhetoric in the world won’t move teachers past teaching to the test if the test is the job. See KIPP, TFA.

Our leaders, duly enjoined by our pundits, can’t seem to achieve escape velocity from this debate or the standardized testing mindset. It’ as if “the best and brightest” a)can’t imagine other solutions to the Achievement Gap and the social justice issues it stands for, b)can’t imagine schools being any different than they are today, or c)have some kind of stake in preserving the status quo. Regardless, it doesn’t stop reformers from demanding that teachers change to teach better to tests while the system remains stagnant. Look at the stalled ESEA reauthorization, all the i3 commentary, and the passage of the Edujobs bill. There is nothing in any of those federal initiatives that actually reforms our system of public education to be more like the systems of the countries we’re chasing on the charts. What if we stopped chasing the charts? What if we assessed like the Irish? What if we taught like the Australians? What if we considered the societal cost and impact on innovation of our stubborn pursuit of test prep? Do we want to have similar cultures and governance as the countries beating us in math (see page 7), for example, just to be the country best at math scores, or can we come up with an educational program that posits some kind of authentic, innovative end for math scores augmented by American ingenuity, which is largely absent in American schools?

I share a lot of common beliefs about community-based education and relevant curriculum with test apologists.

However, it’s the height of defeatism to say we can’t school our children differently or provide justice through differentiated, student-centered education while all around us the world continues creating new cures, products, and travesties. Standardized testing isn’t the end of American ingenuity unless we stick with it until it becomes the end of American ingenuity.

Here are five questions we should be exploring in pursuit of authentic #edreform outside of testing:

  1. Why aren’t most public schools democratic and student-centered in curriculum, assessment, instruction, schedule, and structure, and why aren’t we scaling and researching models that are?
  2. Why are we measuring students, teachers, and schools on work done at desks and inside classrooms?
  3. What is excellent learning, how does it relate to community stewardship, and how do we help students achieve the former in pursuit of the latter?
  4. How does what we’re doing compare to what we know about child development, learning, and human motivation?
  5. In the near future, what is an ethically responsible balance of free and proprietary blended learning, embedded assessment, community-based project-based learning, school funding, and teacher to student ratio?

If we can’t find the time and political will to engage in conversations based on questions like those, then it will be cold comfort when we sit back and chortle ruefully at the curriculum and test vendors bearing the blame for the Achievement Gap when there are no teachers left (at least not as we understand them) and vendors are caught in the bind of being tasked with eliminating the Achievement Gap while trying to make a buck off tests that perpetuate the Achievement Gap as a means to perpetuate the tests as a means to perpetuate revenue. I mean, you know, with apologies, how can they be expected to make a valid test if someone doesn’t fail? Can I be a valid teacher if someone doesn’t fail? Riddle me that, Stat-man.

We don’t really expect to have all our schools succeeding anyway, right?

Teachers: we own that collective and willful lack of imagination, too. As a professional body, what do we have to offer that any better than test scores? What have we organized to do? Are we accomplishing our mission? Is that the same thing as doing/protecting our job?

How would you answer any of those questions? What are you doing differently this year?


About Chad Sansing

I teach for the users. Opinions are mine; content is ours.


5 thoughts on “Hi, Teaching Ambassador Fellows. It’s me, Chad.

  1. We’ve been trapped in a test-centered paradigm for the last decade, and we can’t seem to imagine our way out. Is that what you’re saying Chad? And teachers aren’t coming up with something better?

    Posted by Kirsten Olson | August 17, 2010, 10:35 pm
    • Pretty much – that there are more important conversations to be having than the ones we cycle through, that we teachers share ownership of both the test-centered paradigm and the opportunity to move away from it, and that alternatives can and do exist despite the system’s intransigence.

      Last week’s AYP press and a couple of standardized-testing debates on Twitter must have gotten to me –

      Posted by Chad Sansing | August 18, 2010, 5:16 am
  2. I also answered the call to respond to the question “What is the biggest challenge in education today. Here’s what I wrote:

    “I believe the biggest challenge in education today is that our current purpose for schooling is inadequate. We are not yet teaching for the future our children are inheriting. We have largely defined the goals of schooling as verbal, mathematical and scientific literacy in order to graduate students who are employable and able to compete in the global economy. But given the global challenges we face, such as climate change, war, poverty, escalating worldwide slavery, habitat destruction and extinction of species, energy, access to clean water, overpopulation, genocide, institutionalized and massive animal cruelty, genocide, and so on, it’s imperative that we educate a generation that has the knowledge, tools, and motivation to be problem-solvers and system-changers in order to create a sustainable, peaceful, and humane world for all. If we were to succeed at achieving our current educational goals, we would simply produce a generation that perpetuates many destructive, inhumane, and unsustainable systems. The “basics” must be seen as foundational tools for achieving healthy societies. They are critical, but not enough. But if we expand our goals for schooling, making our children’s education truly relevant to their future, their personal investment and interest in their schooling would grow in proportion to the meaning and importance we would offer them through their studies.”

    Zoe Weil
    President, Institute for Humane Education
    Author of The Power and Promise of Humane Education and Most Good, Least Harm

    Posted by zoeweil | August 29, 2010, 4:33 pm
  3. Thank you, Zoe – I’m struck especially by our need for systems-changers.

    Certainly we need to re-marry purpose and meaning in education.

    All the best,

    Posted by Chad Sansing | August 29, 2010, 10:00 pm


  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention Hi, Teaching Ambassador Fellows. It’s me, Chad. « Cooperative Catalyst -- - August 17, 2010

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