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posted: 5/30/2014 5:01 AM

Educational success is impossible to quantify

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  • Scott Meyers

    Scott Meyers

  • Matt Janecek

    Matt Janecek

By Matt Janecek and Scott Meyers

Mandates, dictates and data, data, data have overwhelmed day-to-day education. What used to be just the ACT and ISAT has snowballed with CCSS and PARCC into a testing and reform avalanche of initiatives and acronyms.

Educators will be buried, dig our way out, or be dismissed.

The sad reality is these initiatives do not transform the essence of teaching. It often pulls teachers out of class to learn the latest educational buzz. After brief overviews, teachers might find a worthwhile nugget to try out, but mostly we just "manage" the fad. We do our real work, teaching, while trying to pass the straight-face test.

And despite our urge to stick with what we know has worked for years, our students still find success on standardized tests but, more importantly, send us letters of gratitude for making them think in ways that don't show up on those tests.

Unfortunately, most education "reforms" will succeed in making schools, students and teachers more "common." So there's a common experience, a common set of expectations -- and no common sense. Teachers are "inserviced," then mandated to slash instructional time in favor of more testing -- all in the name of data. This is a corporate model. One that has been sold to us, at great cost, by the educational-industrial complex.

Teachers are not against change. Sure, the one-size-fits-all approach may seem the easiest to implement, measure and comprehend, but life is hard. Life is complex. Learning and the human brain are complex, as are the factors essential for success.

Dare we say in a data-driven environment that success is impossible to quantify? Please try to quantify your own childhood. Please try to put into a spreadsheet your core experiences. We may just realize and be humbled by the fact that our education -- formal and informal -- can't be displayed in a spreadsheet.

We should ensure essential skills, encourage critical thinking and emphasize common sense. But, this sort of common sense can and should be tackled on the community level.

What we might find, despite regional differences, is that honest conversations could still lead to the values of hard work, accountability to ourselves and the greater good, and individual dignity.

Instead, our common values have been undermined by the causes and effects of poverty, the disintegration of the family, the promotion of a mass media that glorifies consumerism, the abuse of technology to access that culture 24/7, an absence of parenting, and a growing dependence on institutional "solutions" for poor individual choices.

Of course these one-size-fits-all reforms would work if students didn't face these challenges. But, these are the complex conversations the reformers avoid.

Thankfully, many educators still engage in this debate in their classrooms and with one another. And this is why we love our jobs. Step outside the classroom and these conversations become taboo -- fear rules.

Educators' careers are on the line in our testing, data-driven culture: Subgroups. Pie charts and graphs. Value-added. Education has turned into a business, and production targets must be measured. This tunnel vision feeds our appetites for easy solutions to complex problems, but our formulas are becoming robotic and are eroding our humanity. Children are not widgets.

Educators and parents have solutions: The system of public education must be returned to the communities they serve, as the U.S. Constitution suggests. Parents and teachers want their students taught more and tested less. We want our sons and daughters to build human bonds with compassionate, thoughtful and creative educators. We want our children's education to be more than data-driven. We want it people-driven.

This may be difficult to measure, but human beings know it when they see it and feel it when they don't.

• Matt Janecek is a history teacher and football coach Glenbard North High School in Carol Stream. Scott Meyers teaches English at Glenbard North and is a sponsor for Amnesty International.

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