“Our Children Spread Their Dreams Beneath Our Feet”

The education of my children is very much on my mind lately, now that the Joint Finance meetings have ended and our town leaders did not step up to declare education a top priority.  I’m wondering how my children’s school day will change in the upcoming school year.  I’m also reflecting on my impressions of the way this year has progressed.  There’s an awful lot to think about.

Frankly, I’m concerned we’re heading in the wrong direction, but what really worries me is that we may not even agree on the best way to read the map.  Recently at a school committee meeting I watched and listened to a detailed presentation of our district’s performance on this year’s NECAP tests.  Our district’s scores are fine, well above the State average in nearly every area.  But, perhaps contrary to the intentions of the presenters, I was troubled by the amount of time they’ve spent poring over this data.  In fact, that was the overwhelming message of the presentation – that Data is King, and as we move forward, the district’s energies will be applied in the service of the King. 

From my perspective as a parent this is all very troubling.  Yes, adopting a data-driven strategy to pinpoint interventions may result in higher test scores and therefore might make your system look better and better each year (“annual yearly progress”), but I’m not convinced this is what’s best for the children attending classes in this system and trying to achieve a good education.  Because a good education is about so much more than standardized test scores!  

Test scores don’t excite me, or provide me with a rush of relief.  I am more concerned with how my children spend their day.  Are they actually learning anything?  I mean really learning, deeply learning, learning so that their curiosity is ignited and their imagination unleashed.  Learning so that every new discovery leads to more questions, to the opportunity to discuss things, and attempt things, and work things out with their own minds and their own two hands.  Learning that includes time to reflect.  Learning that instills a lifelong love of learning, not just learning something long enough to be able to regurgitate it for a test.  I’m not sure which scenario is playing out right now, and I’m wondering which scenario we’ll be encouraging as we move forward.  If everything must now be “data-driven”, and since the data only describe Math and English/L.A. test scores, and with the district facing precarious financial circumstances … what does this all mean for our children’s education?

Some important meetings will be taking place this May, at which school committee members and district administrators and parents and other members of the community will discuss how to make our school system work with the money that’s been allotted.  The idealist in me thinks this is an opportunity to transform education and sculpt our district into a new model for the 21st century.  The cynic in me is looking at the way we’re reading that map and thinks we’re about to get hopelessly lost. 

What we need is some inspiration! 

A few weeks ago I shared my admiration for Sir Ken Robinson, a creativity expert who writes and speaks about the urgent need to transform education and cultivate a new way of thinking about human potential.  The title of this post is a quote from his second TED talk, given in February 2010, four years after his first TED talk.  Again, he’s funny and charming and an entertaining and insightful speaker, so I hope you’ll take a moment to watch:

School Committee Budget Subcommittee meetings on May 9th & May 16th; School Committee meetings on May 9th & May 23rd; check their website for details.

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