Let’s put trust back into education system

There seems to be an increased awareness of the role of testing in schools, particularly in grades three through eight. Parents are having their children “opt out” of testing, we read daily stories of the grueling test preparation, and now the actual testing.

As a teacher educator at SUNY Buffalo State, I have the privilege of spending significant time in local elementary schools while my teachers-in-training hone their skills. What I see are brilliant teachers working incredibly hard and teaching exceptional lessons. This didn’t happen by accident. Over the past few years, standards have been raised both for students and teachers. But now I see a system under great strain. We have gone too far, and it is obvious to anyone who spends time in the schools. Because of the laser-like focus on reading and math, there is little time for much else. Recess, science and social studies are now the lowly stepsisters of reading and math.

An interesting comparison to our education system is Finland. In world rankings, Finland is consistently in the top two or three countries in literacy, math and science. Yet it doesn’t have any standardized testing until late in high school. It has fewer school days and fewer hours in each school day. There are many differences, but one stands out: Its system is based on trust and ours is based on distrust.

In Finland, teachers are trained well in a rigorous system and then trusted to know best what will work in their classroom. Music, recess and science are as important as reading and math. Principals are trusted to know what is best for their particular school and given great autonomy. This atmosphere leads to schools that are productive, professional and pleasant.

Compare that with our system based on distrust. We don’t trust our teachers, so we give them a scripted curriculum and put children through days of testing while ignoring what the teacher, who has spent hundreds of hours with the children, can tell us about their strengths and weaknesses. We don’t trust our school administrators, so we put in place a teacher evaluation system that mandates how the principals evaluate their teachers. Let’s put trust back into our education system.

David Henry