I recently went home to Terre Haute for my 50-year class reunion (Schulte High School Class of 1963). It was a bitter-sweet experience. We enjoyed renewing old friendships, catching up on each other’s lives and reminiscing about days long past. We missed absent classmates, both those still living and those who already have been called home.
As a retired educator, I couldn’t resist comparing us with today’s high school students.
The Class of 1963 didn’t take as many standardized tests as the Class of 2014 has, but those we did take meant something. Most Hoosier school corporations relied on the Iowa Test of Basic Skills.
Schools only used the Iowa test results for their intended purpose: to measure students’ academic progress objectively. They didn’t affect the income and performance evaluations of teachers or schools, as the ISTEP tests do. Few teachers agree with the shift of emphasis from teaching to testing. Most would say the tests have become more important than the learning they’re designed to evaluate.
Teachers complain about lost instructional time. They need more time to teach and less time in meetings about ISTEP scores, accountability and professional development. Loss of instructional time is not new. It was frustrating good teachers when I began teaching in 1968.
Many school corporations use substitute teachers to cover the regular teacher’s time out of class. I was never a substitute, but I hired many of them. A sub as effective as the regular teacher is harder to find than the winning ticket for a huge Powerball jackpot. The teachers of the Class of 1963 avoided “teaching to the test.” How can a teacher or a school do that now when the stakes are so high?
Meetings aren’t the only source of wasted time. Teachers often have non-teaching duties in the classroom. My first department head gave me an article entitled “Stop trying to learn while I’m counting the lunch money!” Although we don’t usually do that now, interruptions continue to impede the teaching-learning process. Time in class does not equal time on task!
Columnist Maureen Hayden described the lackluster performance of Americans on assessments by the International Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. One hundred sixty thousand people from industrialized nations participated in the assessments. Five thousand were Americans. If we compare our results to the other industrialized countries, we stink!
However, I don’t recommend dashing out to buy stronger air fresheners and deodorants. The participants in this study were very few compared to our global population of more than 7 billion. Even the 5,000 Americans were a tiny segment in our population of almost 317 million.
The nations with the highest ratings, Finland, Poland and South Korea, have much smaller populations and very different cultures than ours. We should study their schools to identify potential improvements. Nevertheless, what works there may not work here. Maybe we should stop worrying about other countries and develop our own reforms.
People in other countries are neither more nor less intelligent than we are. That is indisputable. Statistically, similar studies should yield similar results. Unfortunately, we could discuss those results from now until Judgment Day without agreement. Kind of like Congress, isn’t it?
We squander money on assessments, surveys, ability tests and achievement tests to discover what’s wrong with education, but they don’t tell us how to fix it. Fortunately we already know that! The fix won’t be easy, and it certainly won’t be popular. We must teach our kids to accept their responsibility to learn. Permitting children to have their own way most of the time leads to disaster at school and at home. Unfortunately, some parents and teachers tolerate misbehavior instead of changing it.
I have never visited Finland, Poland or South Korea, but I have spent considerable time in German schools. German students usually accept their share of the responsibility to learn. The size of the share depends on their age and ability. In secondary schools German kids have more freedom and less supervision than their American counterparts. There are no study halls, shorter school days and a lot more homework.
We members of the Class of 1963 were among the first baby boomers. Every generation has a duty to pass its knowledge and skills to the next one. Because we are so many, boomers have acquired more new knowledge than prior generations. Hopefully, we have shared it well with those who follow us.
Mark Heinig Jr. of Kokomo is a retired Indiana principal and teacher. Contact him at email@example.com.