Friday, August 31, 2018

It's Not the Amount of Time, It's What You Do with It.

When I was a student in elementary school I hated writing. Heck, I pretty much disliked most of the activities in school that weren’t recess, lunch, and gym class.

I still have some of my old report cards. My teachers’ comments are pretty telling.

“Does not work to his ability.”

“Shows serious lack of effort on writing assignments.”

“His grades do not reflect his ability.”

It’s not that I didn’t have the talent to be a good writer. I’m now a published author and have had articles I’ve written appear in numerous publications. The problem during school was that I didn’t see any relevant reason why I should write about boring stuff I didn't care about.

The issue was certainly not that we didn’t have enough time to learn writing in schools. Forcing me to do more of it without finding different ways to motivate me would have made me hate writing even more.

Here in the United States we seem to have no limit on the number of education decisions we make that fly in the face of what we know about learning.

For over a decade now, there have been calls to extend school years and school days as a way to improve America’s international education ranking on PISA tests and to close achievement gaps.

In the past two decades No Child Left Behind (NCLB) and Race to the Top (RttT) have caused schools to adopt educational practices that contradict what we know works in the most highly performing education systems in the world.

We have evaluated teachers and allocated school funding based on junk science standardized test data.

We have pressured teachers into using pedagogical models in classrooms that reduce learning.

We have narrowed the curriculum and eliminated history, science, the arts, and humanities – especially from schools in high-poverty areas.

Extending the amount of time that students spend in schools will not solve these problems. It’s not as if our American students do not spend enough time learning.

American teachers already spend among the most time in the world teaching students. Other countries may have more school days, but American teachers are among the world leaders in instruction time.

It’s time to use what we know about learning, what we’ve learned from highly-successful school systems, and input from teachers in the classroom to drive our educational decisions.

We need more humanities, arts, and creativity in schools. This is what allows us as humans to see beauty in the world. It’s what allows us to make connections between subjects. It’s what makes us create the emotional connection with content that allows us to store learning in our long-term memories.

We need to shift accountability measures from standardized test data to measures that ensure all of our students have access to quality educational opportunity. Our relatively low ranking on international tests is driven primarily by the inequities in our system and our society

We need to focus more on intrinsic motivation and less on extrinsic rewards in schools. Our school mission statements talk about creating “life-long learners,” yet our schools are driven by grades and test scores. We know that extrinsic and intrinsic motivation can be inversely correlational. As we rely on rewards to motivate kids we destroy their ability to become the life-long learners for which we strive.

If we really want an excellent and equitable education system we need to focus more on what our students are doing in school instead of how much time they spend there.