Yong Zhao began with an interesting question. "Why didn't China have a big party?" Considering they are leading the world in all categories of standardized testing you would think they would have a reason to do so.
Despite China's lofty position the Chinese find themselves not competing very well in the area of entrepreneurship. Their education system does not promote innovation, curiosity, and the humanities. "Asian students are test tigers and career paper tigers," Zhao said. The ability to score well on a standardized test has not necessarily equated to doing well in the real world and for certain in the area of leadership positions.
Zhao told us that as the United States is increasing the rigor and the level of its standards, those countries that are at the top of the testing results food chain are actually reducing their standards and looking at ways that their students can become more innovative and creative.
Our goal is to get where they are coming from. Perhaps our focus should be on where we want to go and not what others have or are doing. We are improving our schools for WHAT? Should the aspiration of our country be to beat China on standardized test scores? Instead of falling in line with mandates for standardization, Zhao's prescription is for educators to expand the definition of success beyond math and reading test scores, to personalize schooling so that every student has opportunity to learn, and to view schools as enterprises that embrace globalization and digital technology.
Zhao says that the current trend in education is treating our children as "mercenaries." Their test scores will determine if a school stays open, if their teachers gets extra pay or are fired. They are the new soldiers in the global test score war. They are pawns in the political game of chess. Zhao is afraid that the Common Core initiative is deciding what a valuable talent is. Test scores equate to people who can find answers. Should we instead be developing students who can ask great questions? I really like the quote Zhao shared from Albert Einstein: "It is a miracle that curiosity survives formal education."
I felt challenged by the ideas presented in this session. To what purpose are we becoming test factories? Are the current trends and mandates ones that should be our goal and aspiration? How can we balance the important skills of curiosity and creativity with the structure of the rigorous Common Core Standards?
The message from this session was a good reminder that we as educators do have minds of our own. To fall in rank and file is not always what's best for our kids. I am not naive and know that my kids will still be taking a brand new test in 2015 and that I have a responsibility to help prepare them to the best of my ability. My hope is that we can do so without forgetting about those things that we do still consider important, even if the state testing doesn't consider them to be so.
—David M. Hanson, elementary principal, Wyndmere Public Schools, North Dakota
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