Smells Like School Spirit
DOUBLE STOP THE PRESSES! (That's a new one, eh?) My wife will kill me if I spend an hour or two on vacation sending out a full email, but I had to send out this one…
What a nice surprise to wake up in Istanbul and read David Brooks's column, which rebuts Ravitch and mentions KIPP, Harlem Success and me in the context of defending smart testing, great schools and, overall, what we reformers are trying to accomplish:
In sum, Ravitch highlights a core tension. Teaching is humane. Testing is mechanistic.
This is true, but look at which schools are most distorted by testing. As the education blogger Whitney Tilson has pointed out, the schools that best represent the reform movement, like the KIPP academies or the Harlem Success schools, put tremendous emphasis on testing. But these schools are also the places where students are most likely to participate in chess and dance. They are the places where they are most likely to read Shakespeare and argue about philosophy and physics.
…The reform movement is most famous for tests and assessments. But the untrumpeted and undeveloped secret of the reform movement is the content — the willingness to develop character curriculum or Core Knowledge curriculum, the willingness to infuse the school with spiritual fervor.
Ravitch thinks the solution is to get rid of the tests. But that way just leads to lethargy and perpetual mediocrity. The real answer is to keep the tests and the accountability but make sure every school has a clear sense of mission, an outstanding principal and an invigorating moral culture that hits you when you walk in the door.
Ravitch's narrative is that America has humane local schools that are being threatened by testing wonks. The fact is that many schools have become spiritually enervated and even great teachers struggle in an inert culture. It's the reformers who often bring the passion, using tests as a lever.
If your school teaches to the test, it's not the test's fault. It's the leaders of your school.
PS--What a cool city this is – and vibrant: Turkey just reported 11% GDP growth in Q1, the highest in the world, exceeding China, India and Brazil.
June 30, 2011