August 4, 2008

Five Things Policymakers Ought to Know

I've been tagged by kiri8 via Nancy Flanagan (who I teased back in May) with a new meme. I'm not a big meme fan, but this is meatier than most, so I'll give it a shot.

What do I wish the policymakers understood?

1. Books and media centers count. Educational research is a tough cookie to crack as we all know. There are too many variables and teacher buy-in is more important than is often taken into account. Yet some of the best and most reliable education research shows that the more books in the media center (and the more qualified the media specialist) the better the students do in reading, writing, spelling, everything. We don't need more computers or video games or smart boards or any of it--especially at the elementary level. We need more books and time to read them.

2. Grades--not so much. The Science Goddess has the goods on this, but it just makes sense. Rubrics and standards work. Grades mean next to nothing, especially at the elementary level. I went to a college without grades and I turned out ok (insert joke here). This will be hard to change but it can be done and I've seen it done. In the meantime just more sensible grading and grading reform would be a big help.

3. Accountability is good--standardized tests, not so much. I'm not saying all standardized tests are evil. I give the ACCESS test for my ESOL students and it is pretty good actually. The NAEP test has some great data. But we have a "testing window" that is eating up more time and money than you would imagine. It is affecting instructional time and the results are not always even used well. A lot of test publishing companies are getting rich off of things we don't really need. As Stephen Krashen says, just weighing the animal more often doesn't make it grow any faster.

4. Get educator input. Science Goddess already mentioned also mentioned no unfunded mandates and I'm with her on that. While you're at it, get more actual educator input on decisions. We had a county in Georgia that was trying to buy laptops for all of its students. There are some policymakers that must have just thought it would be cool or something. Like computers mean knowledge somehow. I don't know what they were thinking and it sure wasn't a teacher's idea. Teachers would have said, less portable classrooms, smaller schools, more books, less interference. Listen to what they have to say--some of them even know a thing or two.

5. More local control. In my humble opinion the feds would have nothing to say except that public schools are mandatory and the only thing they would get to decide is how much money the states got for education. Maybe some general standards. Same with the state government. They would be working on finding a more equitable way for the schools in their great states to get funding and that would be about it. The rest of the decision-making would be at the local level. Of course I'd like to see more and smaller school districts as well. I'm not sure how much bigger and smaller classroom sizes affect things. I am sure small schools and school districts are a good thing.

A pass this meme onto ms_teacher, Doug at the Blue Skunk Blog, and Library Stew because I'm pretty sure they'll have some interesting and different perspectives. Tag, you are it.