I am a freak about vocabulary. I will sit motionless at the keyboard waiting for my foggy mind to clear so that the exact word I want to use will occur to me. Sometimes I cheat and use a – a – oh yeah I remember – a thesaurus.
I am also a semi-retired teacher so here is a test: Which of these two words – ensure, insure, would you put in each blank of this sentence?
Before you ________ that for a great deal of money you should first _______ that it is valuable.
Knowing which word is correct greatly effects the meaning of the sentence.
Or is it ‘affects’?
I think we are in a similar situation in education right now. Much effort is being put into insuring that our children are being well educated. But to adequately insure something implies that it is lost or destroyed and it must be replaced, possibly at great expense. And in replacing something there is no guarantee that we will get one as good as the one we had.
There is a prevalent opinion that our whole public education system must be replaced because children keep failing the tests we give them. In an article in AlterNet, Paul Thomas says it is not that simple, in fact it may be much more insidious. 1) He believes that the “No-Excuses” focus merely serves to short change those less privileged that others and gives data driven researchers a ready response that is mis-informed and scapegoat that is undeserving the label.
While I am not necessarily a proponent of a conspiracy theory of educational reform, I do believe that we are incorrectly confusing ‘insure’ and ‘ensure’.
American public education was originally an idea from the New England colonies. It was adapted from this to include the entire nation over a slow process of aggregation. The basic principle was that in a republic, universal education is a right and a necessity that must be maintained in order to have an informed participant population.
Since the sixties we have instituted standardized testing to insure that our education system is working properly. It is like the expiration date on a milk carton. Seeing it has passed and we still drink the milk to see if it has gone bad rather than buying a new carton. The problem is if it is bad you get a nasty mouthful of sour milk. In the case of education it is a much more egregious mistake. To test and find out that a student is not prepared is to mean that our work must be done all over again through remediation. It would be much better to ensure their education.
So how do we do that?
Simply, first we establish rigorous standards that are consistent across the nation. You know kind of like a Common Core. Then we write those standards so they do not simply check for memorization and drill but actually encourage thoughtful response. You know kind of like a Common Core. Next we maintain INDIVIDUAL records on each student, recording what standards they have completed and which ones they are still working on. Not mass produced, group tests that shame and denigrate one class over another but simply portfolios of work that demonstrate proficiency. Periodically we might even go back and check previously learned skills.
Finally, and this might be the hardest one to enact, we judge growth not by years of age but objectives completed. We do not recognize failure, we celebrate success. After all these are our children we are talking about.
Oh, and one more thing, we fully fund this process, not just in materials, but for teachers and support personnel. We recognize excellence in the profession by the effort of the professional to expedite this system, by their study of their craft and by their knowledge of the relevant material. Simply, we stop short-changing our future.