This guest column is by Raymond J. Golarz, former superintendent of Hobart and Richmond Schools and co-author of “The Problem Isn’t Teachers.”
Every year, preseason college football magazines are published. Contained within them is a list of teams expected to finish in the top 25 in the nation.
In the 2017 Athlon Football Preview, this list includes the virtually perennially highly successful teams: Alabama, Ohio State, Florida State, Washington, USC, Penn State, Clemson, Oklahoma, Auburn, Michigan and LSU. A second list ranks the top recruiting classes including — not surprisingly — Alabama, Ohio State, Washington, USC, Penn State, Clemson, Oklahoma, Auburn, Michigan and LSU.
It appears obvious that those teams who are most successful at recruiting are also the most successful at winning. Some might say, “Wait, isn’t the quality of coaching the major factor in winning?” Not really. While good coaching is important, it is a fact that most of the men who coach the 130 Division 1 teams are very competent, very hard working and tend to excel at what they do. But it is recruiting that is the most reliable. Sorry, Michigan.
Recently, K-12 standardized test scores were published. Here in Bloomington, Childs, University and Unionville elementary schools scored at the top. Fairview scored at the bottom. Good teaching or bad teaching? Not really. With few exceptions, the teachers in all of these schools are, like those coaches, very competent, very hard working and tend to excel at what they do. So, do certain schools recruit better? No, no. That’s football. For these schools, the variable that makes the difference is the wealth of the community. Invariably, greater wealth results in significantly higher test scores.
So why do the print media devote columns and columns to reporting these results, which only perpetuate the myth? Why do they not more forcefully examine what would be truly productive? Why do they not challenge the validity of these tests and the excessive use of financial resources to fund this testing? Conservatively, including the loss of teacher instruction time, our nation is spending well over $5 billion dollars a year on this shell game. What if we used that money to finally adequately fund special education, or to focus on the real issues teacher face, or to simply pay teachers a better salary?
Some might say if we abandon standardized testing, how will we know the things we need to know about children? How will we know how well they are achieving? How will we know their deficiencies? How will universities and the communities at large know that they are prepared to join adult society or go on to higher education?
The answer is simple. We should do as we had done for so long — we should ask their teachers. The knowledge that teachers have regarding their students goes far, far beyond what standardized tests report or are capable of reporting. There was a time when we accepted this. We asked teachers for their guidance and wisdom, and they agreed. This valid mechanism of assessment was then institutionalized into the very heart of the teaching/learning endeavor of schools everywhere.
If you have forgotten or were never aware of this, pull from your saved family treasures the graduation diploma of your parents, grandparents or great-grandparents. Read the ancient text on those diplomas, which affirmed this professional judgment: “At the recommendation of the faculty.” Notice that no standardized score is cited. It was a time when we trusted and honored teacher judgment. It was a saner time, a more civil time, when a complete education was not limited to cognitive competencies.