The Desk

January 29, 2009

Testing cf. Knowledge

Filed under: Education and Training — Yvonne LaRose @ 12:34 AM
Tags: , , , ,

One of the good things about laundry day is that I’m given the opportunity to get out and be social for at least three hours that day. It gives me the chance to meet other people, share in conversation with them, learn something from them, gain new knowledge. And this past Monday was no different.

This time, my laundry buddy (I’ll call her Shelly) and I struck up a conversation because she was wearing a dress that looked like one I recently bought but haven’t had the courage to wear yet. She confirmed that we’d bought from the same store and that it was probably the same style. And then we started getting acquainted.

She has a young child and is concerned about the quality of education that she’ll receive when she needs to go from the nursery school she’s presently attending and into First Grade. The child is already writing in cursive as well as reading and writing sentences. We talked about the private school options available in the neighborhood and in the community. One thing we both observed is that the Los Angeles Unified School District in our community is not serving its constituents well. Sending the child to a public school is causing Shelly great concern.

She shared her experience with East Coast universities compared with what she experienced here in California. She admitted that the East gave her much more of a challenge. I didn’t ask if the challenge could have been attributed to her freshness to Life and inexperience but took her words at face value. She also shared that CSUN offered very little challenge. Her academic exposure has been in one of the more difficult sciences, pharmacology, and urban planning. She’s also worked at City Hall and gained insight into how things operate there. Now she works part time as a tutor.

I told her it’s as though the teachers either don’t care about their charges or else are so overwhelmed that they cannot do what they were hired to accomplish. The other explanation is that the teachers aren’t qualified to handle the work. Shelly felt the observations were entirely correct but was slightly reticent to admit as much. She just kept praising the excellence of the preschool she’s found and looks forward to finding the next school that will present as much challenge and learning as it does.

At the risk of sounding pompous in that previous paragraph, I’ll supply a little background to my words. I was a candidate for the School Board in South Pasadena in 1989. During the campaign, I interviewed several of the teachers in the district to get a feel for their needs. Likewise, I paid close attention at the School Board meeting when the exchange students from Germany provided their feedback on their experience with American schools (especially upper middle class schools such as South Pasadena, a close rival of San Marino and La Canada). Additionally, I listened carefully as I talked to students about their impression of their learning experience. I was interested in the types of young people I was meeting and what the schools were producing.

The teachers complained that they’re given so much administrative work that they can’t do what they were hired to do — teach. There’s not enough time to do it. The next complaint was insufficient supplies and equipment in order to deliver state of the art instruction on equipment that is currently part of the work world. Even with a classroom aide, the teachers were being stretched to the point of snapping. Still, the South Pasadena schools were measuring up on the Stanford 9 exams and going toe to toe with San Marino year after year.

Parents in the community complained about the fact that they were reaching into their own pockets to keep the schools on par. They spoke of the dollars spent on public education for their children and wondered whether it would be more cost effective to simply give up on South Pasadena schools and send the youth to private schools instead. Financially speaking, it was becoming the same as doing so without the assurance that the charges would succeed as well as in the other environment. But then by choosing a private school, the youth no longer had that distinction of saying they were South Pas grads.

The exchange students were quite direct in their assessment and very unreserved in expressing it. They were bewildered at the amount of homework required every night. Several said it was as though the amount of learning was measured by the volume of homework assigned. But the homework was poor in quality and taught very little. At home, they would have about 20 minutes of homework that was rich in challenge compared with one hour or more of American homework that was very easy and quite repetitious.

How interesting it was to finally have power in the house again this morning and the ability to hear the news. The story that caught my attention most was the one regarding schools and how much training the students actually receive compared with the volume of homework that is meaningless in content. Students withstood volumes of testing that didn’t seem to justify the basis for the testing. It was merely to test in order to say that the students were tested. Did Shelly share our conversation with someone in the media? That wasn’t possible. Why would a reporter want that story? What newsworthiness could there be in a laundromat conversation about education? But there was the story, complete with an expert who has conducted a study of the topic and who had come to the same conclusion.

What does this say about the education we’re providing our youth? What does this say about the workforce readiness of those who seek careers and high positions? It says we’re not properly training them. It says we’re not providing the types of meaningful challenges that will benefit them in the real world. Thus, when it comes time for them to perform at peak levels, they will crumple as they reach. They will crumple for many reason.

  • They were not prepared
  • They didn’t understand the fundamentals of the task, therefore, they overlooked many small details
  • They weren’t sure of when to ask questions
  • They weren’t sure of what questions to ask
  • They relied on the advice of friends and comrades
  • They overlooked the advice and counsel of veterans
  • They took the easiest way
  • They did not plan
  • They waited for someone else to do for them
  • They had the impression that “professional” meant stylish
  • They had the impression that “leadership” mean bullying and forcefulness

Even if they do not gain these skills and knowledge sets in school, the reinforcement (or procurement) needs to happen in the workplace. To the extent there are supervisors who also do not know (or remember) the whys of the practices nor take the time to explain the bases for doing things in a particular order, we will continue with the losses and setbacks that are part of the talent loss and corporate guerrilla warfare for qualified workers.

Whether in school or in the workplace, the lack of proper training, homework anemic in content, challenges bereft of meaningful achievement and comprehension will take a toll on the social fabric. No miracle savior of any magnitude will be able to turn the tides nor save us from our destruction.

It all starts with proper training, sound education, testing that searches for meaningful measures of learning — not testing for the sake of testing.

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