I will soon put up a guest post in response to Virginia Heffernan's recent New York Times op-ed about "archaic" learning tools and products such as research papers. Thinking about this, as well as about Robert Pondiscio and Kathleen Porter-Magee's smart responses, I woke up this morning with the question: Accountability for what? in my head.
Part of what I was trying to demonstrate in my guest post on the Core Knowledge blog, which was inspired by this post by Robert Pondiscio, is that the accountability structures (which frankly, Pondiscio says are needed--UPDATE: See Robert's clarification below--and which Porter-Magee's colleagues at Fordham advocate vigorously for) are driving what is taught and how it is taught. If accountability structures are based on high-stakes math and reading tests, then that's what's going to be taught. This is actually quite a traditional concept in education, that you look at the assessment (what you want students to know and to be able to do) and you work backwards from it. So if reading and math skills are what we want educators and schools to be accountable for on a yearly basis, that's what they're going to teach. Research papers? Not so much. Complex, whole-class novels? Not so much. Science experiments, civics debates, the arts, and foreign languages? Not so much. Supporting experienced, knowledgeable teachers (evil LIFO!) with institutional memory and knowledge of their content and content-related essential skills who are more likely to be skeptical of and to resist edu-fads such as 21st century silliness? Not. So. Much.
Some might counter: Well, that's why we need better and more tests. Okay, that's a start, in a way. That's what we have in Virginia: science and social studies standardized tests, as well as art SOLs. But let's see what the students are actually learning about science and social studies; let's see what they graduate high school with. As Chris Dovi shows us here (and as my guest blogger will show) it ain't pretty. The way to educate ourselves out of this high-stakes testing hole is not by giving more questionable high-stakes tests.
Some might counter, well, that's what the Common Core is for. Okay, that, too, is a start. But who's to say the content of the Common Core is rich and meaningful or that it makes for developmentally appropriate instruction and content? Andrew Porter disagrees on the first count and at least many elementary school teachers I've heard from disagree on the second count. (And we're not even freaking piloting the CC first!!!)
Unfortunately, the cart has been put before the horse and is getting further and further away, gaining momentum as it rolls down the hill. And guess what? It's empty. And all of those who cheered it along need to own that.