From the Shameless Self-Promotion Dept. comes my TEDxNYEd Talk that I gave a few weeks ago. It was a real honor to be asked to do this talk, and I hope I did it justice.
I found it incredibly difficult to say everything that I wanted to say in 15 minutes or less, and as I reflect back on it now, I feel like a lot is missing. When I first started thinking about this talk, I wanted to speak more to parents than to educators, but I think I veered away from that a bit. And given the nature of TED Talks in general, I think at points I went too much into the moment as opposed to sticking to the bigger themes.
But overall, some rhetorical issues aside, I’ll take it. The best part? I learned a lot in the process. I definitely felt pushed by the experience, and it’s given me a great deal of valuable feedback into my own speaking and thinking. It made me consider deeply the ways in which we can now craft our messages and offer them up to the entire world for inspection. Scary on many levels, but motivating on many others.
Now, if I can just get this down to under three minutes to really appeal to the short-attention-span culture that we find ourselves in…
David Ginsburg (aka Coach G) says
I thought you pulled it off just fine, and couldnâ€™t agree more with your anti-test prep stance.
At the Education Writers Association conference on teacher quality I attended last month, ASCD Chief Program Development Officer Judy Zimny shared that, in her experience–including 14 years as a principal in Dallas–test scores automatically go up when schools provide engaging, high-quality instruction. And my experience as an urban educator the past 18 years bears this out: provide teachers rich curriculum and the support they need to effectively deliver it, and test scores go up. Unfortunately–though to some extent understandably–many school leaders continue to focus on test prep rather than teacher prep.
See my Ed Week post, http://blogs.edweek.org/teachers/coach_gs_teaching_tips/2011/01/teaching_to_the_test_vs_teaching_the_test.html
Teaching TO the Test vs. Teaching the Test, for more on this.
Students, to achieve in life beyond high school, will have to take tests to prove themselves.
Go to college? You will take tests. First to find out where you are eligible to go, and then to achieve your degree.
Want to become a lawyer, doctor, engineer, .. teacher? You will take tests.
Want to gain some kind of certification / credential, in just about any kind of career, in any vertical? You will take tests.
And these tests will largely dictate how far you get, and how fast.
So if testing is so damnably important in life after high school, then why is testing such a bad thing?
And if having “high-stakes” testing is so bad, then how about changing the post-secondary landscape, so that we don’t have to worry about testing at all?
Right now, district test scores determine if administrators keep their jobs. They determine the property values of the communities where our schools reside.
If our students don’t “perform”, we lose our jobs. Period.
Everyone should stop being so surprised that administrators are so “test crazy”, our careers depend on it, our states hold us accountable almost solely according to the numbers, and our communities demand “high achievement”.
I can’t just say, “testing is killing our creativity, this is wrong, so testing doesn’t matter”. Well I can, if I’m okay with wearing a Walmart vest.
Roderick Vesper says
I appreciate where you’re coming from on this. But I feel a need to question a couple of things. The tests you are talking about are all for existing jobs with an existing set of knowledge. Where are the opportunities for new ideas and innovation? I suppose that it could come from people who master the basics of their chosen trade and then build upon that knowledge through it’s practice.
As for changing the post-secondary landscape? I couldn’t agree more. We need to do that. But, to be honest with you, I have two undergraduate degrees and a Masters and, beyond the entry level core-studies classes, I very rarely had a test that resembled anything like the tests we put our students through via government mandates. Actually it more resembled some of the types of assessment that good teachers are submitting their students to every day in the classroom.
I understand that there are basic building blocks of knowledge that everyone should be exposed to. However when those “common” (a word that I’m not terribly excited about) standards become so cumbersome that teachers don’t have any time to extend beyond them we actually start to bring the high end of the spectrum down.
The counter to this argument is that it is designed to bring the underachieving students and schools up to higher level. But what is actually happening is that schools that were underperforming because of socio-economic factors are being punished for underperforming and a bigger wedge is being driven between them and those that were already performing well before these policies were put into place.
There isn’t really an easy way to conclude this discussion so I will simply stop here and say that I don’t think any of us (and I apologize if anyone feels that I am speaking for them inappropriately) are surprised by the way administrators, districts, teachers, parents or anyone for that matter is placing such emphasis on tests and test prep. We’re simply questioning if it is really the best solution just because it is so.
Brian Crosby says
Marcus, we better let all those countries that beat us on the NAEP know, most of whom test much less than we do, that they are doing it wrong.
Steve W. says
Wow! This original comment floors me. Succeeding on tests will keep you out of a Walmart greeter’s vest? (Not some of the Walmart greeters I’ve met recently.) I hope you rethink this.
Did Mark Zuckerberg pass a test to “get a job” at Facebook? How about Bill Gates? Steve Jobs? Michael Dell? Steven Spielberg? Zhang Imou? (Oops. He spent a few years being “banned” in his native country for failing to pass the “test.”)
These are names you might know from some of the most popular tests, but frankly they don’t tell the real story. I find real stories among the drop outs and street artists who pursue their passions and ignore the kind of programmed conformity that corporate-driven testing inspires.
Where do we go to take the test to solve world hunger, bring justice to the world’s oppressed, solve global warming, build a better nuke plant, clean up the poisons in our food, and cure the next horrible infectious disease? Seriously, give me some guidance here.
What’s your profession, by the way? Insurance adjuster?
Sorry Steve, I thought we were going for a discussion here, but your predilection for the ad hominem route has me thinking otherwise.
At any rate, any doctor whose care you’ve been under, any bridge you’ve driven over, any plane / car / bus you’ve ever travelled in; all made possible by people who had to demonstrate their mastery through a battery of regimented testing scenarios.
I find it curious that you maintain your position by using the most extreme and uncommon cases in society (Zuckerburg, Gates, et al.) as a way of defining your premise in an argument. Perhaps you would like to rethink that aspect of your mentation…?
Roderick Vesper says
I think the message was pretty solid. It actually motivated me to write up a letter that I promptly sent off to the President.
George Couros says
I enjoyed your talk Will. Your message really resonates with myself and other educator. Here is the thing that I think about all the time. If tests aren’t the measure, what are? Governments will always need to measure schools to see if they are effective in what they are doing and tests, to them, are the easy way.
It is interesting to see that in my own province, our minister would agree with everything you say, yet at the end of the day, our schools are somewhat measured by our provincial achievement exams (which are nowhere near what you have in the States, but it is still a major measure). We are lucky that funding is not tied into these exams, but to many, the tests are what makes a school exemplary or not.
What is the alternative measure? We need to align with what we say (and what many of us are doing) to some type of measure that will both satisfy politicians (unfortunately because they have the power of funding in our schools) but more importantly, our kids.
Great job on your talk.
Will Richardson says
Thanks for the thoughts, George.
Alternative to tests? Performance, artifacts, oral/written defense, art…I think there are lots of alternatives. Problem is they all take more time and expense to do well.
But why should we be satisfied with easy? That’s what I’m trying to say in this talk. We do easy at the expense of real learning. Can we really not find a different way? Shouldn’t we be advocating for doing it differently despite what politicians and parents want?
We need to be changing their minds, and unfortunately, that means we’re going to have to both help our kids pass the tests in the short term but also begin to build in our own assessments that more effectively show what WE want students to be able to do, stuff that the government or the community really aren’t asking us to do. After all, we are the learning leaders in this mix, are we not?
You’re doing some of this already, I’m sure. So are others. But the vast majority is still stuck pressing that easy button that at the end of the day minimizes the amount of real learning we can provide our kids in schools.
George Couros says
Totally agree Will. Easy rarely equals better.
What we are trying to do at my school is continuously tell our story about our kids and their learning. With books like “A Whole New Mind” and “Made to Stick”, we know these stories are powerful about what we are doing. Look at Ted Talks; the best ones always tell some type of story but have facts entwined into them. I wish that politicians would listen to these stories coming from our kids. Shouldn’t they be the first people we listen to? We just need to ensure that we give them the tools so that their voice can be heard.
Mary Worrell says
Enjoyed your talk, Will. You make a compelling case for change and I’m hoping all of these screaming voices make it to those that have the power. It’s hard not to feel defeated with all of the rhetoric flying around (and I’m not even in the states to feel the brunt of it).
Your presentation was well paced and I liked your opening stories. Keeping your talk focused on the issues you did make your whole argument persuasive. If you had gone broad towards the general issues, I do not think you would have achieved more. I really enjoyed your talk because even though I have been following your blog for years now and know your opinions on the existing education system, the talk was fresh and new.
Karen Stearns says
Will, terrific as always–you’re too hard on yourself. We’ll be watching/listening to the talk in my critical reading class on Tuesday. You are always part of the curriculum at SUNY Cortland.
Jason Kornoely says
I agree with the above kudos on your talk. Well done!
Near the end could sense that you were trying to rein in the bubbling passion within. I can tell this issue runs deep within your soul.
I’m glad you’re on our side Will!
Come back to Forest Hills Public Schools in Grand Rapids, MI. We need you more than ever.
Diane Main says
Well said, Will. I am both an educator and a parent, and I thank God every day that I work in a private school and that my son attends private school as well.
I don’t know how I would cope with his being measured by ridiculous tests that do nothing good in the great scheme of things. Knowing my boy (age 7), he would just worry about them.
We need a major change in this country, for sure.
Just found your blog yesterday, and I’m really enjoying it. Thanks! Cool TEDtalk, btw. Very cool.
Steve W. says
Will, terrific presentation!!! I’m working on an amazing project inside a Chinese public school in Wuhan. Check out a video written and produced entirely by 9th grade Chinese students: http://youtu.be/C6HNHhIgoFM.
So, here’s the thumbnail. I’ve been contracted by Central China Normal University and the Chinese Ministry of Education to run a pilot project that amounts to an “all-English US college preparatory program” inside a traditional Chinese public school. (6,000 students in grades 10-12) I’ve got a cohort of 150 students who will NOT BE PREPARING FOR THE NATIONAL CHINESE UNIVERSITY EXAM (known as the GaoKao). Instead, they will prepare for study abroad in a Western-style university.
Chinese “teaching” is far and away the leader in test “training” (). Anyone that wants to hold up this “training” system as a model for economic advancement in the 21st century had better spend some time talking with Chinese students, teachers, parents, and multi-national corporations that want to boost their hiring inside China. The system is a mess and threatens to stall Chinese economic progress made over the past 30 years. (The first stage of industrialization is always the easiest. Get workers you can “train” to do repetitive tasks at very low wages.)
Smart Chinese political leaders see the handwriting on the wall. Boost creativity or die. But change comes hard. So, we’re piloting a remarkable project. We’ve created the first 1:1 digital learning classroom, using iPads for every student, inside a Chinese public school.
I’m resisting the natural inclination to rein in what appears to many of my colleagues as “chaos.” My students no longer sit in chairs facing the teacher. They walk around, they sit on the floor, the jabber at each other constantly, and they use the Internet to have real “English-only” conversations with students and teachers around the world.
All their work is being archived in portfolios. We’re talking with some US universities about changing the admissions applications to a different format for these Chinese students. (Yes, they’ll need to take the SAT but points will be added for their work products.) And by the way, my students are outperforming their peers in the traditional English teaching classes here at the No. 1 High School Affiliated with Central China Normal University, in mock SAT and TOEFL exams. We’re a mere 6 months into the project.
As you know, I’ve been working with Heidi Jacobs. And her TEDxNYC was terrific, too But, man, yours was the best!
good talk. I agree that there needs to be a shift in education. I have had the same thoughts about standardized tests since my son was born almost four years ago, and have spent a lot of time looking at options that will allow for learning not teaching for the test, and still don’t know what to do. I see too many of my college students who don’t posses the skills, drive, or confidence to look for ways to learn on their own. They have gotten so used to being spoon-fed everything, if something dosen’t work the first time they try it they don’t try again, but give up.
I agree that moving away from testing is difficult, but believe it can be done. I am in the middle of trying to figure out ways that I can restructure my courses so that there is less of me talking, and more ways for students to be in charge of there own learning. I have already moved away from multiple choice tests in favor of practical exams, and am now evaluating ways that I can address the work that they do throughout the semester. I am thinking of making it so that instead of turning in assignments that I grade and give back, that I will require them to show the assignments to me and we can go over what they are doing correctly, and what needs work. It is just the logistics that I need to work out.
David Ginsburg (aka Coach G) says
James, I made the same shift you’re striving to make, and have helped dozens of other teachers make it too. One of the keys is to target students’ work habit deficits as much as their academic deficits–as you’ve hit on with your “spoon-fed” comment, and as I’ve been addressing a lot lately at my Ed Week Blog:http://blogs.edweek.org/teachers/coach_gs_teaching_tips/. Here are two articles you may want to start with:
When Helping Students Hurts Students http://blogs.edweek.org/teachers/coach_gs_teaching_tips/2011/03/when_helping_students_hurts_students.html
Differentiated Instruction: A Practical Approach
“didn’t always know the answers but knew how to find them”
I basically tell them this is my unofficial goal at the beginning of the semester, in almost the same exact words, but most just don’t get it.
Maria O'Hearn says
After watching your talk-I’m inspired, I’m frustrated…There is wonderful technology out there to improve delivery of instruction but there is also a huge lag time with schools. By the time we get something new, it’s not new any more. But worse than that is accessibility-it is so frustrating that most schools have lots of access issues. We as teachers are changing but the tools around us are not!
This is one of the best concise demonstrations of how tech allows people to learn what they want to learn.
I think school in a lot of ways is like waiting. You are waiting to graduate, waiting to go to college, waiting to get your first job.
Now you can engage yourself in the actual job, right now. You can learn music composition and even launch a career at 16. You could learn a year’s worth of university programming and begin creating computer games on your own. You can keep abreast of the latest developments in a field of interest and reach a level of expertise with the proper guidance much sooner than it was previously possible. The key is self motivation.
There is potential to double the amount of professionally related skills and knowledge in every child with this kind of system but it very much relies on the student’s own ability to guide and motivate themselves. Sure there are a lot of boring basic skills and things that still need to be taught. People should know history even if they hate it but there should be time in the day for personalized self directed learning, and a crossover to the core subjects as well.
You don’t have to “wait” to grow up to do these things.
Kendra Trout Hermann says
LOVED your talk Will. As a parent and educator, I have been so demoralized recently with all the junk going on in politics/economics surrounding education. You really hit the nail on the head! I felt so much better after hearing your points- it was a boost I needed. 🙂 Thank you!
Kendra (A “PLPeeper” from Forest Hills SD)
nicely done, will
Joe Montemaro says
Your talk just summed up 12 years of thoughts and feelings I have had as a school counselor, administrative intern and a parent. The frustration and stress felt by parents and especially kids in our current system is reaching a tipping point. The system needs to tranform and evolve into something new. The wave that will carry this is parent outcry.
While I believe some testing is necessary, fundamentally we should be looking at inspiring kids to want to learn. Engagement of students in the digital world is paramount in helping schools evolve. Keep up the good work, there are more of us out here that feel the same way!
Marc Bacarro says
I loved your talk and I have the same sentiments about our education system, despite me being a fairly new college student. What I found personal to me was one particular slide, basically summing a big portion of your presentation up. The slide read “school=test prep.” There has been this ongoing conflict in my mind as I watched videos similar to yours. I agree that tests are A way to assess the knowledge of a student, but I don’t believe it’s the best, yet, as the point was brought up earlier by others, tests are so vital to our system. Despite this, I also wonder HOW one would go assessing a student’s knowledge. Without testing, we probably wouldn’t know how to.
The idea for life preparation made me think of my high school. My high school was a little charter school that basically prided itself on project based learning. All our learning was assessed on the outcome of a project. Despite its inefficiency to allow quick assessment of what we learned, it definitely tested what we knew and most of these projects applied to real life. Making a guitar included understanding logarithms, use of certain woods, sound waves, etc. Wouldn’t it be so much easier to base people’s experiences off of things they’ve done, rather than a score on a sheet? Even a score on a project sounds more impressive than a score on a paper. And what did my school do to prepare us for CST testing? Almost nothing. Maybe a little here and there, but most of the material on those tests, we already knew because of what we were taught. A lot of these standardized tests, I find, just require us students to spit back material. It doesn’t really engage or apply what we know.
Excuse me for going on a bit long about this, but I just felt compelled to give an extended explanation of why, even a student like me, feels that there needs to be reform within the public education system. Oh, and the reason I came across this was I work as the student assistant at the Digital Media and Learning Research Hub at the University of California (http://dmlcentral.net), and I was supposed to scour the internet for sources that were relevant to education and learning. I just felt compelled to put in my two cents here.
Brandon Yanofsky says
Amazing talk Will. I just started following your blog and this was the first post I came across.
I’ve been getting heavily involved in a company dealing first hand with education reform. Most of this is new to me, but as a recent college graduate, I’ve experienced all of this firsthand. I’ve seen the pitfalls in our education system.
Now, as an entrepreneur, I see what needs to be fixed and how we can get there.
Thanks for all your work.
I look forward to more.