Monthly Archives: January 2013

Why Teaching To The Test May Not Be So Bad After All

Despite my background in tests and measures, I’ve been virulently opposed to the whole concept of standards-based education in public schools. To my way of thinking, that approach is about teaching kids how to do well on tests, rather than how to do well in life, which are two completely different things. Worse, if the US is going to compete internationally on the basis of test results, we will lose. It’s impossible for us to overcome the phenomenal discipline parents in other cultures apply to drive their children toward test success. Americans (by and large) just aren’t that way, and that’s served us to our advantage time and time again. (For a clear, if fictional, illustration of this principle, see Kirk’s answer to the Kobayashi Maru. If you need a ‘real life’ example, look to MacAruthur’s return to the Phillipines.)

Exam Sign

However, I’ve just had an insight from some recent reading. It might, possiblymay be that teaching to the test isn’t all bad, if it gives teachers a challenge; a purpose; a result on which to focus their efforts, one which is more concrete and apparent than producing ‘a well-rounded student’.

Consider for example the profile and tweets of the Sylvania Schools’ Assistant Director of Curriculum, Julie Sanford. I realized after reading her statement that “CURRICULUM IS FUN!” (capitalization is hers) that having a meaningful educational agenda to work on, even if that curriculum is oriented toward the result of producing test-compliant kids, may supply a sense of purpose for teachers in the classroom. This, in turn, may yield the well-rounded students we’re actually trying to produce. The last time we (as a country) had such clarity and urgency in teaching, especially in the areas of science, math, and engineering, was when we were in the Space Race with the Soviet Union, and look how that turned out.

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On Newtown, and Non-Lethal School Defenses

Here’s an email I sent recently to Brad Rieger, the Superintendent of Sylvania Schools (and an all around pleasant and very smart fellow.) I thought it was worth sharing:

Hello Brad,

I’ve been giving some thought to the Newtown tragedy, and to the debate about whether to allow arming of teachers or posting of armed security guards in schools. In my opinion as a parent and CCW permit holder, there may be safer and more cost-effective means of defending a school against an armed assailant than firearms. I thought I’d run this suggestion by you to get a professional educator’s opinion, and in the hopes you’d spread this idea among your colleagues to solicit their opinions as well.

In particular, I’m thinking of devices such as the Torch, the Inferno (also see Wired’s article), the Dazzler (or an open-source variant), “less lethal” weapons or paintball markers, and others. These devices can be quite inexpensive — For example, the Torch is $199 and puts out 4400 lumens. (350 lumens is enough to blind an attacker for a second or two after exposure, even in broad daylight.) They also have other notable advantages, in particular, they are easier to aim for effect than a firearm, they require little (if any) specialized training, and they pose little or no threat of permanent injury or death to the students. If devices like these were placed in strategic locations throughout a school, the entire staff and/or student body could actively participate in their own defense against an armed intruder.

Please let me know what you think about this general idea when you get the chance. I’ll be looking forward to hearing from you.


Update: The WP put up an article a few days back on Pennsylvania schools hiring armed security guards.

Update: The Toledo Blade put up a similar article about the schools in Montpelier, Ohio arming their janitors.

Newtown Memorial

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