The Problem With Conventional Wisdom

actConventional wisdom is the body of ideas or explanations generally accepted as true by the public or by experts in a field.  Here is some of the conventional wisdom regarding education over the past century:

  • Education is primarily about delivering information that children need to know.
  • The more homework children receive reflects the rigor of the school program, and as a result children with more homework will be better prepared.
  • IQ is fixed, and students should be grouped and taught according to their IQ.
  • ACT and SAT are the best indicators for future success in college.
  • Standardized tests are an accurate measure of a student’s overall academic achievement, and, therefore, are also a reflection of the quality of the school and the teacher.
  • Tests are the most effective way to measure a student’s performance and knowledge.

The problem with conventional wisdom is that it can be an obstacle to change when information changes facts. There is an abundance of research available that debunks much of the conventional wisdom that many parents, politicians and even some educators hold dear. The resistance to change in education is multi-layered. For high achieving, successful parents, there is comfort and security in having their children experience the same educational system that they did. The problem with this is that the world has radically changed, and the educational system of the twentieth century simply cannot prepare children for the world of today. In addition, we know much more about how children learn, and what they need, than we did even ten years ago. Brain science impacts, in meaningful ways, how we understand how children learn, and what they need to become successful learners.

Intelligence itself can change!  This is just another example of the dangers of any kind of test when we use it as a definitive marker. Today we know that IQ can grow and even shrink.  While IQ is just one marker, it is important to know that in the right educational environment a child can increase his IQ.

Standardized tests, no matter what they are or what they are used for, have limited value. This doesn’t mean they are going away or that they have no value at all. (Let’s be clear: there is great economic interest in preserving this $3 billion industry.) But we, as educators and parents, need to be aware of the facts.  It is a fact that ACT and SAT scores are not the most reliable indicators for success in college. They are efficient tools to sort students, and large universities need efficient tools, but knowing this is important, especially for students who do not test well. No child should ever be defined by an SAT or ACT result.  A student’s GPA is a much better indicator, along with the type of courses the student took in high school. Some of the leading universities in the country are either eliminating the SAT and ACT as a requirement or making it optional. I hope this trend will continue.

The government is finally beginning to listen to educators and parents. I was thrilled to learn that President Obama has acknowledged the harm the testing craze is causing children across the United States.  This past weekend he announced that he plans to limit standardized testing to no more that 2% of instructional class time. At Hillel we spend under 1% of class time on standardized tests.

Standardized tests, when used properly, do have value.  They are one of many tools to measure a student’s growth and progress, and results from these tests can be used to compare one school to another. We just have to keep in mind that a standardized test measures a very limited scope in a child’s overall learning and capacity.

At Hillel, we are challenging the conventional wisdom based on a large body of educational research on learning, and what children need for the world that they will live in.  Beyond acquiring information delivered to them, students need to learn how to think, and to think critically. They need to learn how to process information, discern good from bad information, integrate information and create new knowledge from it. They need to learn how to defend their understanding and to show proof of how they arrived at their conclusions, whether it is in math, science or the humanities.   Creativity and original thinking are pivotal skills needed today; skills that standardized tests cannot even measure.  Not a single invention or major improvement to the quality of human life has been achieved without creativity and original thought.

There are authentic assessments that engage students, and provide evidence of student learning.  In Social Studies, if a student is studying pioneers, instead of a test, a student could be asked to write a letter from the viewpoint of a pioneer settling the West to a family member back East, about the long, arduous journey.  In this one letter a teacher can assess content and understanding, spelling, grammar and punctuation, creativity, and imagination.

Another example may include a student demonstrating understanding of how the circulatory system works in the human body by designing and building a machine that demonstrates this understanding. A teacher assessing the machine will be able to evaluate creativity, critical thinking, problem solving, and the child’s understanding of the content. To build the machine the student will employ many different skills, making the learning challenging and engaging.

Finally, the way we use space at school is also changing to better meet the unique learning styles of every child. Just like there are no two finger prints that are exactly alike, no two brains are exactly alike. The Innovation Hub is a testament to our understanding that children are unique, and are inspired by many different things.  The hub provides the environment to foster curiosity in its many forms! We are challenging the conventional wisdom on curriculum, assessment, instruction, and grading based on sound research and an abundance of sound data – all to create a learning environment to best meet the needs of each unique, sacred child.

It’s scary for some parents to change their conventional wisdom about education in America today. But, our children deserve the best we have to offer.

 

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