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Thompson: Science, Technology, Engineering, Math, Rumi, and Raising Test Scores Holistically

Who was the American president at the start of the Korean War?
A. John Kennedy
B. Franklin Roosevelt
C. Dwight Eisenhower
D. Harry Truman

As American high school students bubble in these rote answers, Canadians are asked,
A feature common to the Korean War and the Vietnam War was that in both conflicts:
a) Soviet soldiers and equipment were tested against American soldiers and equipment
b) the United States became militarily involved because of a foreign policy of containment
c) the final result was a stalemate; neither side gained or lost significant territory
d) communist forces successfully unified a divided nation.

Rumi While American high school students name the two main gases of the atmosphere, Australians "design a drug that will be effective against a virus" and "outline how your drug would prevent continuation of the cycle of reproduction ..."

Tom Vander Ark recognizes ½ of the problem, "in addition to devaluing science, we’ve made it boring. ... And rather than expanding multiple choice testing about science, we need to get more kids doing science ... Every student in grades 6-12 should be involved in a science-related project and demonstration every year. ... This is a culture problem first and foremost. ... The most important long term issue for the US is education for innovation. We need a STEM culture."

Before quoting Rumi, Vander Ark asserts "‘it doesn’t really matter what the teacher talks about

… what we remember were a few presences…what we were really learning about was coming through the teacher.’ ... It’s usually a teacher that brings to life an area of learning and it’s those special moments with special people that are implanted in our memory." Then he borrows from the Persian poet:

We take long trips

We puzzle over the meaning of a painting or a book,

When what we’re wanting to see and understand

in this world, we are that.

And yet Vander Ark still supports an accountability regime that narrowed the curriculum, replaced laboratory science with worksheet science, and placed poetry on hold until a standardized rubric for assessing mysticism is developed. Maybe, innovation and creativity are supposed to be limited to the clients of VAR Partners

Dean Garfield, of the Information Technology Industry Council in a post submitted by Eliza Krigman, agrees about the "pressing need to inspire our nation’s youth to develop the important science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) skills they must have to become tomorrow’s scientific problem solvers. ... to tackle the challenges facing America including energy efficiency, cybersecurity, and global competitiveness."

But somehow, she wants to do so while implementing "a host of accountability measures."

"Reformers" have learned to use words like "inspired" and "re-imagination" in terms of teacher quality, but they have yet to explain how "metrics for school outcomes" would create incentives for teaching "holistically." How does Vander Ark, (or anyone) hope to recruit creative talent by linking teachers’ evaluations to growth in the multiple choice test scores that he derides? How could raising the stakes for standardized test-taking be seen as an incentive for a culture of innovation and inquiry?

It is great that the National Journal experts were exposed to the wisdom of Steve Peha who quoted Chester Finn, "The education reform debate as we have known it for a generation is creaking to a halt. No new way of thinking has emerged to displace those that have preoccupied reformers for a quarter-century – but the defining ideas of our current wave of reform (standards, testing, and choice), and the conceptual framework built around them, are clearly outliving their usefulness."

Clearly, "reformers" recognize that the language of rote learning has outlived its usefulness.  They have yet to explain how to leap from a culture of accountability, based on standardized metrics, to a STEM culture, much less the "puzzle" of the "long trip" that "we are."

Update.  It has been brought to my attention that outside voices can be brought into the discussion at the National Journal by posting through Eliza Krigman.  I often wrestle with the desire to be as explicit as an academic or as brief as a blogger.  Had I know of that process, I would not have assumed that Ms. Krigman agrreed with the ideas that she posted for Mr. Garfield.   

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