Do You Want to Know What’s Wrong? Follow the Money!

Scantron FormCan you imagine a world where the learning focus of the district, school, teachers, and parents is centered on project-based learning? Sounds impossible right? Well, the PBS Newshour did an expose on one small school district in Kentucky that is doing just that.

Watch the video below:

According to the Brookings Institute, nationwide districts spend about $1.7 billion on testing. Many proponents for testing defend the figure by showing that it makes up a small amount of aggregate education spending.  To be exact, aggregate testing spending is equivalent to one-quarter of one percent. This fact is used to argue that testings isn’t as much of a problem as many testing opponents make it out to be. However, it seems that an aspect of education that makes up a negligible amount of aggregate education spending is dominating the way districts are run, teachers teach, and students learn. Are we prioritizing the right things in education? Are we truly preparing our students for the 21st century?

I’ve written in the past about the danger of  the Common Core State Standards becoming another fad instead of an opportunity to transform teaching and learning. While the CCSS are being heralded as more rigorous, the standards will still be assessed through a standardized test. According to the video, only one percent of school districts are committed to project-based learning over testing. This is very alarming. If the CCSS were to be implemented through a PBL approach it will take learning from a passive mode to a more active mode like that students seen in the video. As mentioned in the video, students aren’t just learning content. The students are learning teamwork, creativity, and communication. The teachers in the video seem favourable to putting in the hard work necessary to teach using the project-based learning approach. Additionally, the support of the superintendent has pushed teachers in that direction.

The most interesting aspect of the PBL approach being used in Danville is the fact that 60% of the students live in low-income households. This negates the idea this approach is “for those children.” More importantly, this approach has huge implications on low-income students. As one teacher in the video pointed out, “Being able to demonstrate mastery visually rather than A, B, C, or D on a multiple choice test really shows that depth of knowledge and pushes them to find real-world applications in mathematics.” In other words, providing students with this type of instruction will create concrete connection to their future and gives them the skills to succeed in a direction toward college and careers. Danville students will graduate having learned skills that many employers are looking for including: self-motivation, planning/organizing, and analytical/research skills. The parents of the students appreciated the change also.

If one chooses to look at $1.7 billion dollars of testing spending in comparison to the rest of the expenditures in education one may come up with the conclusion that the testing status quo is fine. I believe that viewing it this way is the wrong approach. The depth of the education that students are getting in Danville is invaluable. It has pushed the teachers to think differently about teaching and learning. Furthermore, the money that is spent on tests can be put back into classroom to provide students with materials and resources for project-based learning. Rick Hess in his new book Cage-Busting Leadership empathized the nuances of culture. “Culture is embodied in the policies and practices of a school or system; in what get’s prioritized and enforced.” Danville has decided that the state test covers breath and they are working towards depth. They have a created a model that other districts can learn from.


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