Wednesday, April 17, 2013

The Three RRRs

At least the new 3Rs are grammatically correct in that they are all Rs. The old 3Rs, of course, were really only 1R plus 1W and 1A or, readin', 'ritin', and 'rithmetic to our forefathers in the nineteenth century when all this began. Education has always been characterized by the "pendulum swing", to make a link with my last post, whereby the dominant theories and practices tend to swing from one extreme to the other, often in harmony with the dominant political persuasions of the day. No Child Left Behind and the recent crisis of test score tampering in Atlanta suggest we are currently in a more formal, traditional and accountable interpretation of the process of Education. Standards are clearly defined and yearly growth rates have to be met if schools are not to be defined as failing. The recent Atlantic schools crisis most likely came about because the school system was doing the unthinkable, tying salary bonuses for teachers to student test scores.

One of the less well known outcomes of this more conservative, accountable approach to Education is that if something is not tested it is most likely not taught. Science, for example, is only tested at 4th, 8th and 12th grade and so is less likely to be included in the daily curriculum than the 3"R"s which are tested in all grades from 3rd grade in the New England Common Assessment (NECAP). No testing is required in social studies or engineering, or music, or PE.

The last time science education really had its day was in the last century when the "alphabet" inquiry centered  science programs were developed in response to Sputnik. Programs such as ESS and SCIS through the 70s and 80s could be found in every elementary school classroom when the pendulum was swinging the other way. It's interesting to consider how the pendulum is going to swing in the coming years as change occurs at an increasingly speedier rate. An old friend, Lee Goldsberry, recently suggested to me that spelling is to the 20th century as black-smithing was to the 19th century. As popular written communication is reduced to 140 character tweets , one wonders if he might not be onto something. Heresy, indeed!

ps I don't mean to imply that the ability to write, to communicate one's thoughts effectively,  is not important:.


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