Teaching to the Test, Science Standards, and 4H

Found a 2 nice reviews of the book “Tested” at Kos. They pretty much outline all the things that make me crazy about No Child Left Behind:

“Students are continuously reminded of the importance of the tests, drilled and drilled and drilled in regurgitation skills with little true comprehension—and then led through relaxation exercises to take the stress off. Science, social studies, the arts, field trips and recess are scuttled, and schools—not unsurprisingly given the current administration’s worship of corporatism—are going through a reform upheaval to make sure they turn out “products” that are useful for big business.”

I am involved in trying to develop useful entomology exercises to help teach hands-on science for K-12 teachers. The first question that teachers always ask me is “is this approved for my state standards?

They won’t touch it unless they can prove to their principal that it’s approved. This is because a new provision of NCLB (just came online in ’07) forces each state to set its own standards. So, you now have a completely insane matrix of 50 standards that have little cross-linking.

Guess what? Now we have to make science teaching LESS interesting, with even more rote memorization. Bonus: in the article I linked above, having too much “discovery learning” in your science standards actually lowered your rating score.

This is also, of course, a great time for legislators writing these science standards to introduce some butt-headed BS about evolution.

Speaking as someone interested in offering curriculum to K-12 teachers: How can we possibly develop something that will fit 50 different sets of criteria? Gah!
So, our project seems doomed to failure. I’m not sure what will happen.

I was thinking about all this yesterday, as I was doing my annual 4H judging at the county fair. In a lot of ways, 4H is the only thing left of what our educational system used to be. It emphasizes hard work, self-teaching, experiential learning, teamwork, and friendship. Mastery. Generosity. Independence.

The kids (I had middle schoolers) whose entomology projects I judged didn’t all have perfect spelling, and certainly the majority of the collections were disasters :)
But each and every one of those kids knew what the insects were, had a great story about catching them, and the process of trying to pin and identify them. They taught themselves much of it, and grew closer to their friends in their club and parents in the process. There was an essay about praying mantids–with an extensive bibliograpy!–that could have shamed some of my freshmen.

Mostly, I had 10 kids who were utterly geeked about bugs. And they were next to even more kids geeked about woodworking, and goats, and bunnies, and weaving, and a whole bunch of other topics. We had 3 groups from the inner city that had done all sorts of service and crafts projects. It was just..awesome.

I also judge the state-level 4H competition in entomology, and we get amazing high schoolers. Kids who have started their own small businesses with honey and bees, or rearing showy butterflies they sell for weddings or crafts. Kids who have sought out people in state government to lobby for preservation of habitat.

I’m beginning to believe that 4H is our last best hope for truly educated kids who like to read, write, be curious, be creative, experiment, and understand the value of service.

Additional Info:

EDITED 7/30/07 to add new report that suggests more progress was made in improving test scores before NCLB.

One thought on “Teaching to the Test, Science Standards, and 4H

  1. Oh yeah, that conversation on, “Please don’t pin your bugs in the butt. Insect pins go through the thorax, here, not through the abdomen.”

    Shortly after that there’s the inevitable, “No, you can’t wait two or three days to pin your insects, after they’re dead. Heads will roll — literally! They turn into crispy critters.”

    Ah, I miss those days … even the one on identifying turf pests by raster patterns, “Okay folks, this is the Hairy Grub Butt lab…”

    I was a um, irreverent GTA. But I figure that when the students are laughing, they’re at least paying attention, and that’s half the battle.

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