Educators are currently living in two worlds, and they’re living in both of them at the same time. It’s no small wonder that nothing’s getting done and that little is changing when it comes to test scores and achievement in the United States. This war of the worlds has been going on for about fifteen years now, and I’m hoping that it’s showing some signs of slowing down in the near future.
In one corner, we have the mastery learning paradigm, the one that consists of rote instruction, repeated and modified time and time again, in an effort to give students multiple opportunities to achieve success and achieve the score we so desire for them. More informally, this is referred to as “teaching to the test,” where students are repetitively given questions that mimic a standardized summative assessment. This idea of test and retest has proven to be successful in many schools, if we are using standardized tests scores as the measuring stick for increased achievement and “success.”
In the other corner, we have a newer way of thinking, one that is supported by the Common Core and initiatives such as the Gates Foundation or STEM, one that nurtures innovative thinking, creativity, and problem-solving. This modern paradigm supports the idea that all learners should be inquisitive, learning should be personalized, and that students should have a firm hand in the trajectory of their education, all with the vision that students will become lifelong learners and resilient thinkers.
Naturally, the second one sounds way better than the first, and I would venture to guess that a vast majority of teacher, if not all of them, want the second outcome for their students. In fact, the second outcome makes for a much more engaging and purposeful job for the teachers, too! Most administrations will preach the second vision for learning, as well. When you look on district websites at their vision and mission statements, this is precisely what administrators claim they want for their students. However, systemic constraints and a culture of public education ridden with fear of failure has kept us trapped in between this war between the mastery and modern paradigms.
This makes educators’ jobs next to impossible. It makes visions unachievable and only created in vain. What’s worse, though, is that it creates a false sense of what we’re really in education for.