The problem with the test culture dominating education

July 17, 2011 | By | 1 Reply More

In the June 24, 2011 issue of Science, Deborah Stipek, Dean of the Stanford University School of Education, spoke about against the dominant educational paradigm we impose on our children:

The film “Race to Nowhere,” which continues to receive attention since its release a year ago, documents the unhealthy consequences of the competitive “teach to the test” climate that many U.S. students experience. The film, in which I was interviewed, puts in clear relief the pressures that youth are under to amass large numbers of Advanced Placement (college-equivalent) classes, win science fairs, excel in the arts and sports, and in other ways distinguish themselves from the competition for admission into a few select universities that parents and schools believe are critical for future success. Research on motivation makes it clear that focusing attention entirely on performance, whether grades or test scores, destroys whatever intrinsic interest the subject matter might have had.

I suspect that there is no way to succinctly discuss education. “Race to Nowhere” features lots of highly motivated students, the kind of students that Stipek seem to have in mind. Here’s the trailer:

Compare “Race to Nowhere” to “Waiting for Superman,” featuring students desperate to get out of crappy schools. This is night and day, a completely different situation from that discussed by Stipek.

What’s really scary is that both of these situations are being characterized as failures by the respective documentaries.


Category: Education

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

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  1. Niklaus Pfirsig says:

    Over 30 years ago, the Japanese government implemented a similar educational strategy. They believed academic competition would improve could improve education. The implementation was slightly different.

    Focusing on math and science, the students were to be tested by middle school age and the top 10 percentile be sent to high school that focused on these subjects to prepare them for prestigious technical universities. The Japanese reasoned that this was necessary to dominate the high-tech industry, The government promoted the high math and science scores as proof that the system was working. They were deluding themselves with statistics.

    This strategy had serious side-effects that rippled through society. Suicide rates rose sharply among students entering high school saw a sharp increase. Socioeconomic stratification increase as the wealthier families turned to private schools and tutors to insure a good future for their children. Learning became a year-round, 6 and sometimes 7 day ordeal for the students.

    By far, the worst effect was that the educational reforms produced graduates who were technically skilled, but lacked the imagination needed to innovate. There is a serious need in a technological society for the liberal arts, because the dreamers and artists often drive innovation, while the technicians and engineers make it happen.

    No child left behind and the race to the top suffer from the same flawed logic as the Japanese educational reforms.

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