For Profit Education: Why Students and Teachers are Paying the Price

In your class do you provide tests that count for 100% of the grade? No of course not, what kind of teacher would do such a thing? Unfortunately, you and your school experience that very thing every year. Students are not learning everything there is to know with perfect retention (see how silly it sounds to read that), and the decision was made that more accountability was needed.

So tests emerged that were intended to gauge how well students learned and how qualified teachers are to teach. In an effort to save money and time on grading, the simplest method of assessment and grading was chosen (multiple choice tests with occasional written response). Students who were already doing well performed well on these tests and students who were struggling....well they struggled on the test.

A panic swept across the nation as cold hard data made it clear that there was definitely a disparity in funding, quality of facilities, community support, qualifications of faculty, etc. Something had to be done, this is the Nation of Equality! Yet the idea of equality, where all are treated equally, was conflated with the idea that all should perform equally. In case I am not making myself clear, we expect that all students should perform well in all aspects even though in our lives we specialize where our talents and gifts lie. 

The idea that all students should want, need, or be able to do Calculus is a lie. I love Calculus and while it describes many aspects of our lives, it is not necessary for all to learn it. In fact forcing all to learn a topic that I love would only make it torture for all of us. All students are expected to know almost ten years worth of math, science, literature, history, a foreign language, arts. It is not fair to graded for our ability to retain that much information.  Every year, as the amount of information increases exponentially, we have to spend more time reviewing. We talk about adding 21st century skills to our curriculum (which I support) while keeping all of the 20 previous centuries of content. This is simply too much!

More and more tests are appearing each year to test our student's retention, and similarly teachers are being asked more and more to demonstrate their ability to teach their content area, support subgroups of students, and review pedagogy that was already taught to them in their federally accredited University. I understand that there are teachers doing a poor job, but a standardized test that one can cram for is not going to prove that any more than a student's A on a test proves that they know the content.

Each year states spend hundreds of millions of dollars on standardized testing. Not to mention the costs of so called elective tests (e.g. SAT, ACT, APs, GRE which are not elective at all if you would like to go to College). There is a lot of money going to organizations to provide us these tests and they are aggressively seeking to spread their influence. I am concerned that we are shortchanging our students by putting so much value on these tests. The valuable lessons, discussions, and projects I have seen cannot be assessed on a standardized test.  What would a class look like that covered all of the information on the test?

The fact is that there is too much information to cover in one year with any hope that it will stick and be deeply understood. I know quite a few teachers who have opted for early retirement because they did not wish to pay hundreds of dollars to hassle with tests to prove that they know what they are talking about. Just this week, another company is seeking to profit from  Student Teachers.

If our money was spent in other ways (classroom supplies and experiences, educational technology, teacher pay) this would go far further towards authentic and meaningful learning. What we are currently keeping teachers/students accountable to is how well they memorize. Real authentic learning comes from application, discussion, long term experience and deep, messy, time consuming, lengthy but meaningful assessment.