Tuesday, December 14, 2010

“…die on this hill.”

I hate stealing from TnC at The Atlantic but I can’t help it. This comment arrived from a reader in response to a post on testing and standards, especially in relation to the new NYC public school administration. Not being a college professor doesn’t mean I don’t understand what he (?) is seeing. As an older student who happens to sit in class with a nice cross-section of 18-24 year-olds I’m exposed to what systems (whether public, private, or home) have spit out into the world of post-secondary education. If you want to follow along – and it’s a great discussion – here’s the post and comment section. Search for “D_e_x” to hit the first comment and you can follow from there. Here is the first comment in its entirety:

I'm up at the front of the classroom while my students take their final exam for Entrepreneurship 300. A fundamental goal in all my classes is that students learn how to critically analyze real problems applying theory and using fact-based arguments. Rightly or wrongly, I have chosen to die on this hill. They have to write executive summaries, properly formatted, using dense, precise language. Less than 5% of my students arrive in the classroom with that ability*, but ~2/3 of them leave knowing how to do so. It's teachable, but not without a lot of tough lessons and many tantrums by kids who have been failed by their families, their communities, and their schools (incidentally, I find the same thing with home- and private-school kids). Most of my colleagues have one or both of the following problems with the idea: (1) they're too lazy to bother; and (2) they think of students as sub-human and incapable of learning high-level skills. It makes me sad.

*As we are an open enrollment college, ~1/3 of our students leave after their first semester, many of them simply unequipped for college. I routinely have students who write at a fourth grade level.

Edited to add: I should point out that it's testable, too. People claim that it isn't, but it is.

In a lot of ways it summarizes what sits front-and-center when I think about education. It can be done. It is hard. We’re not ready to commit fully to the operation.

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