History? Science? Music? Art? Well, there are still some parents out there who remember these as being part of school, and so there's not full support yet for getting rid of them (kind of like some folks are sure that cursive writing has to be part of school).
This has left other disciplines in a bit of a bind.
On the one hand, it would be a kind of boost to folks who teach history and science and all that other cool stuff if they were part of the whole test-driven school set-up. If history were on the BS Test, schools wouldn't just cut history classes, or only offer history to students who don't need test prep remediation classes.
|Don't even think about it.|
So one the one hand, science standards have been greeted by sciencey folks because they will get science off the list of Unimportant Subjects. On the other hand, lots of sciencey folks are afraid that the science standards kind of suck. Said the American Society of Physics Teachers of the Next Generation Science Standards (Draft 2), "the wording of many of the NGSS performance expectations is confusing to the point that it is not clear what students are actually supposed to do," and that "the science content of the current form of NGSS contains so many errors that most science teachers and scientists will doubt the credibility of the entire enterprise."
I myself worry a lot about history. I'm an English teacher, but I will argue till your ears are blue that history is the single most important subject of all and the root of all other education. But what to do about that?
Witness Massachusetts, where history is marked for inclusion in the Big Standardized Testing Expansion Pack, a move that has been questioned by Barbara Madeloni (Massachusetts Teacher Association). As the state bureaucrats consider more testing, she stood before them to object
"I cannot believe that you are being asked to add more testing to that regime," she said. "It reflects a profoundly bureaucratic and technocratic view of what it means to learn."
She is absolutely correct. But the editorial writers of mass.live are also correct when they write that history cannot continue to be considered a second-class citizen. The problem is that we've reached the point where they see no way to do that but by testing.
Ideally, such improvement could be implemented without a standardized test. But if there is no test, there will be no incentive within school systems to improve history education, a fact Madeloni omits when decrying the MCAS model.
The problem that the editorial writers overlook is that there could not be a worse subject to examine through a BS Test than history (though there are others that are just as bad). History is the antithesis of a One Right Answer field of study. It's a field in which "answers" look a lot more like conversations, a shifting and dynamic balance between facts and human perception and background and perspectives. This is why so much school history instruction is so bad- to avoid any debate or upset or confusion or controversy, we stick to what is "settled" which is, generally, boring names and dates. There was a guy named Columbus who sailed the ocean blue in 1492, and we're going to stop right there before anyone gets bent out of shape.
History's answers are four-dimensional. Standardized test questions are one-dimensional. And so here we go, jamming a buffalo into a mason jar.
So what do we do? If I were a history or science teacher, would I accept promotion to First Class Core Subject and then try to teach my discipline properly as a sort of guerrilla activity while doing my minimum test prep. Thousands of English teachers are faking compliance with the standards-- maybe that could work for other disciplines. Still, the daily pressure of being pushed to commit educational malpractice-- I mean, is getting on the Subject That Matters list worth it?
The fact that we have to even discuss such a twisted choice is one more measure of the damage being done by the era of test-driven management of test-centered schools (and this is without even getting into the bizarrely stupid and terrible local tests being committed by schools in subjects like music and phys ed just so those subjects can haz "data" too). Subject areas are now that at-risk kid in your room who thinks the only attention he can get is negative attention, but maybe that's better than being ignored.
This is what we've done. We have not reduced the Subjects That Matter list to two-- reading and math. We have reduced it to one-- the only subject that matters is testing, a subject that has little or nothing to do with education. If you are having trouble jamming a buffalo into a mason jar, you need to spend less time considering technique and more time questioning whether you're engaged in a futile and ultimately stupid endeavor.
We can talk about lots of different threats to public education right now, and some may be noisier or flashier, but if I were to become emperor of the education world, the first thing I would do is banish the Big Standardized Test completely. There's no single act that could do more to radically improve education in this country.