The New York Times yesterday highlighted a story about a so-called ”change agent” in education; a school superintendent in Connecticut who is creating waves by increasing student testing, imposing a standardized curriculum, and upholding a more centralized system for teacher evaluation. Nothing new there. But what really struck me about the article was when they cited national education secretary Arne Duncan who defended this guy by saying that too many schools are afraid of innovation. Increasing test scores is innovation? I’m sorry, folks, but when I think of innovation, I think of a school system that is encouraging creativity, curiosity, imagination, and inventiveness, not one that is just piling on more test scores.
Too often, these days the word ”reform” has taken on a meaning that is opposite to the one that I was introduced to as a teacher 40 years ago. Back then, reform meant a more student-centered curriculum where kids had more control over their learning, over what they were learning, how they were learning it, and the pace at which they were learning it. Reform and innovation meant student projects, community-based learning, authentic portfolios for assessment, and other participatory experiences in the classroom. Reform meant rewarding teachers for coming up with their own creative ideas for engaging students in the learning process in the classroom. It’s just another testimony to how dismal the state of education is these days, that the #1 figure in education, Arne Duncan (Obama’s basketball buddy), equates innovation with increased test scores and a standardized curriculum. Sad.