Dear Bill and Melinda ~
One of our readers responded to our blog where we are asking you the question: “Would you consider sending your child to a pediatrician who was required to implement tests and procedures mandated by the state and created by businessmen?“
Imagine you’re a doctor. You’re required to diagnose and treat 30 patients at a time, all in the same room, all with different ailments.
Some are rapidly losing blood from gaping wounds, while some suffer from minor scrapes or sniffles; others have chronic conditions – potentially serious, but manageable. A few are healthy but striving to become more physically fit. You want them all to thrive.
Some patients absolutely refuse to take the medicine you prescribe or simply can’t afford it, and some have no one at home to help them get around. Others are able to pay for the very best specialists to supplement the care you give them.
A number of “medical reformers” spend the bulk of their time criticizing how you do your job, despite the fact that they have no medical training themselves. And when you need to take time off, you are required to leave explicit directions for a surrogate – who most likely also has no medical training – to treat your patients for the day.
On top of all of that, there’s a series of standardized wellness exams, created by for-profit companies, which each patient must pass at the end of a fixed number of weeks. The state has approved a law connecting your pay to the percentage of your patients who pass these wellness exams.
Colleagues who practice at exclusive clinics in the posh part of town handle only 20 patients at a time (patients who must apply to be admitted to the clinic and show that they can afford the most expensive treatments). They have no trouble keeping their patients healthy; all of their patients pass the exam easily. Those who see 40 patients at a time in a run-down facility with no resources are not so fortunate.
What medical student in her right mind would ever specialize in oncology under those circumstances?
It sounds ridiculous because it is. We would never expect anything like this scenario from our medical professionals – or legal professionals, or business professionals. And yet it is precisely the demand we place on professionals in the field of education.
In an effort to quantify in the simplest terms that which is phenomenally complex – i.e., student growth – we often rely on standardized tests. Now, when I measure student growth in my class, I consider many factors in a wide variety of formats: essays, projects, class discussions, notes, quizzes…. But by all means, let’s reduce everything to a multiple-choice score. That will tell us how much each student has learned; also, it’s super-easy to score, and it results in huge profits for the testing industry!
Except. Some kids walk into our classrooms already able to excel on the first day; their passing the exam at the end of the course does not necessarily indicate growth. Others have backgrounds that make it impossible for them to have any hope of passing in the short time we have together: learning disabilities, problems at home, poor teachers in previous years.
So look at that group of 30 diverse individuals and ask yourself, what test can measure what’s going on in each of their brains? How do you plan to measure the effect of each teacher on that brain? Most importantly, will any of this help a single student to thrive? ~ Deborah Carter
We hope you will answer our questions and engage with our readers. We understand that you plan to focus more attention on real teachers and listen to their feedback.
Teachers’ Letters to Bill Gates