I was sitting in a meeting the other day with a bunch of engineers trying to figure out ways to improve STEM education for future workforce needs, and reflecting on my previous post concerning teacher bonuses when a thought struck me (I know that sounds painful, but it's okay, really). We need to know how well we're doing in the classroom, and we need to know how effective our teaching methods are, but using high stakes tests to tell us the answer is like condensing a novel into a movie.
Where in the world did that come from?
Well, here's my reasoning. If I'm developing a course syllabus for the first time, should I:
A ) write my tests first then design the syllabus to best prepare my students for that test, or
B ) prepare a syllabus covering everything I think is important and then write the test after presenting the material for the purpose of drawing the student's attention to crucial components?
There's really not a right or wrong answer. Different costs and benefits accrue from each strategy. It depends more on personality than pedagogical reasoning.
So why should we choose one strategy over the other?
It's a question of quality. Strategy A requires quality curricula which theoretically can be delivered by "practitioners". Strategy B requires quality teachers who can adjust to diverse situations and make do "on the fly".
So, we either focus on curricula or teacher quality. Trying to do both at the same time is somewhat counter-productive.
Ideally, I think we should focus on producing quality teachers who could then control their curricula. In reality this is often/usually unrealistic, so we impose strategy A even though it is difficult/impossible to accomplish for diverse settings and needs. We simply don't have enough quality teachers to accomplish strategy B.
Stop imposing restrictions on quality teachers just because there aren't enough of them! If one teacher can take his/her students farther than the teacher in the classroom next door, let her/him! Stop dumbing down the good teachers because we have so few!
This begs a number of questions of course, but I'll leave them hanging for now. Let me know what you think, and we'll see where this goes.