Changing the conversation in American Education: Children need time to play NOT more tests

There is one thing that I learned from my years of political activism. Advocacy is not so much getting people to agree with you as it is changing the conversation.

That is why I think the Corporate Educational Reformers hold such a tight rein on what is discussed in the public sphere. If you read the Boston Globe you would think that lifting the charter cap is a no brainer. Extended Learning Time is a no brainer. Children need to be measured by tests. Teachers need to be held accountable to tests.

And it’s frustrating if you try and change the conversation.

Part of that is because you are working against a narrative. And it is a narrative that has dominated the conversation for the last 30 years. It goes like this:

Urban schools are in crises.

Bad Teachers are the reason why they are in crisis.

The Teachers Union protects bad teachers.

To fix schools you need to break the Teachers Union.

But what of this isn’t true. What if, in fact, BPS is one of the best urban schools in the country?

What if there was strong evidence that the achievement gap was not caused by “bad teachers” or “bad schools” but poverty?

Because if it was poverty that was causing the achievement gap then everything that US has been doing from standardized testing, charter schools and ELT are really just gimmicks.

In Finland, the children take no standardized tests. The school days are shorter. There are no private schools. And teachers are 100% unionized.

And they test better than any other kids in the world.

What do they have? Children have an hour for recess. The kids have access to free meals, health care, mental health services and individualized career counseling.

But Finland isn’t America, you say. And your right. It is evident to me there are differences. Finland has decided as a country to prioritize child welfare and we have not.

If we want to close the achievement gap we have to change our priorities. And that would mean changing the conversation.

Read a really interesting article on Finland’s amazing school system:


3 thoughts on “Changing the conversation in American Education: Children need time to play NOT more tests

  1. Excellent post, because the central idea is so strong. (Why thank you!) What is the right narrative? It’s so important to have real understanding, so we don’t find ourselves 5 years down the road without making progress, having wasted this opportunity. And having created new problems because we didn’t understand and face the real issues.

    Unfortunately, real understanding of the issues isn’t what seems to win the argument. Most people (and voters) like a simplistic view.

    And any acknowledgement of an issue on your own side is viewed as a shortcoming, and pounced on by the opposition.

    So no one wants to get real. The charter side doesn’t want to acknowledge the application and attrition factors that lead them to teach a markedly more educable population, and look honestly at what get real results and what doesn’t. Similarly, the pro-union narrative ignores important realities.

    Here are some realities:

    There are many very good schools in BPS, and many happy parents.

    There are many far-from-good-enough schools in BPS, and many parents who want more for their children.

    What if Boston is one of the best urban school districts in the country? That’s way too low to set the bar, that isn’t enough to change the lives of enough kids. IOW, what we have now absolutely isn’t good enough.

    I agree with this. But I believe that the real issue has to do with economic realities. The schools can help but only if we realize that the achievement gap is caused by poverty.

    I don’t get the idea that pretending that it is, is OK, or a good thing for teachers and the union. Much less kids and families.
    I agree.

    Pre-K is one area we need to do more. If children with challenges can arrive at kindergarten more ready to learn, it benefits every other child in that school’s kindergarten as well. The kids in a classroom and a grade really are all in the same boat.

    Working conditions for teachers are not helping to support teaching and retain good teachers. Addressing maintenance and capital needs would be a start. Improving the administrative side of BPS would help. Providing better support to students and families would as well.
    I agree with all of this.

    There are some union-related issues that need to be fixed.

    Poverty and lack of family support are clearly a large factor, even if few are willing to acknowledge that. We can do more, even without Federal support. Let’s address that. But get real, even in Mass., we’re not going to go all Finland any time soon. So while we’re working on that, let’s do a lot of other things we need to do, too.

    We need a real teacher and school evaluation system, for example. Not one that mostly measures the kids you are teaching (MCAS), but not one that papers over real problems. One that is effective in identifying and supporting professional development and school development needs.
    No snark here…any ideas about what that would be?

    You’re too smart and wise to be saying charter schools, standarized testing, and ELT are gimmicks. No. No. I stand by that statement. Because do you know what I am also to smart for? Flattery by anonymous posters.

    ELT would benefit many families and children. Just as “Day care is not theoretical liberation. It is the real deal ..” so would ELT be for many. So instead of opposing it,, figure out how to make it work for those parents who would benefit.

    Standardized testing has a place, just not the place it is being given, as the sole or primary measure. And probably not the format or content, either.
    I hate standardized tests. Hate them.

    Charter schools, and school choice, do provide an option for some children and families. Right today, would you really tell a parent stuck in a school that wasn’t working that they had to stay there because one day we might go Finland,or something, and the school might get better? We’ve been telling parents a version of that for years.
    Again, no snark here. I would never tell another parent what to do. I expect parents to make the best choice for their children based on the information and options that are available to them at the time. But what I’m talking about is policy.

    That’s the real shame, and shame on all of us. The kids who are in school now, who will never get the chance they deserve, because they only get one chance.

    Thank you for your thoughtful comments.

  2. Pingback: Mothers in the Legal Profession Roundup No. 314 | The Reluctant Grownup

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