The large bold font of the headline of what may have been an advertorial passing as a news story in the “Religious Schools Section” of at least one prominent community newspaper in Queens not long ago caught my attention and wouldn’t let go. Can you read it and break free of its implications?
The headline reads “Why Do Private Schools Not Have To Teach To (the) Test?” The last paragraph is most revelatory.
“Private schools don’t teach to the test. They teach to prepare their students for serious academic work in college. They also balance academics with athletic and extra-curricular activities thereby teaching the whole child.”
That statement is loaded with implicit criticism. But what is their target? It is not public school teachers; it is what public school teachers are reduced to doing in the name of education. It raises the truth that is obvious to most people but obscure and elusive to some purveyors of so-called reformism: that when test-prep supersedes and becomes a substitute for curriculum, a gaping hole in subject knowledge and skills will result.
The article also highlights the relationship between school systems’ acceptance of public funds and their compulsory adherence to the “standards-based education” laid down in the No Child Left Behind Act. Most private schools do not accept those funds, so they are free to be ruled by their conscience and the dictates of rational research and tradition.
Some would argue that the observance of a core curriculum is in its way as suffocating as is the total reliance on test preparation as a measure of teaching and learning. Hardly. The “core curriculum” is a living organism, always growing and adaptable. In the private schools, it is often supplemented by religious training or some other specialized focus. Teaching to the test is supplemented by nothing other than teaching to the test. It doesn’t yield anything more any more than a stone grows hair.
The article also touches on the issue of academic achievement as it bears on school reputation. It asks and answers the question: “How can you measure the academic success of a particular private school? Start by asking where last year’s class got accepted. How competitive is the admissions process? While the academic achievement and competitive admissions are not necessarily linked, they do give you an idea of what other parents think about the school.”
That’s a bit simplistic and only a small part of the picture, to be sure. Education is about more than acing high school or college admission standards, just as it is about more than scoring a score of proficiency on a state test, even one that is not fatally flawed.
Education is a long road leading to a state of grace. It is filled with complexities and intangibles and rebirths and undying truths. It is also about the acquired memory of experience and knowledge accrued over a hundred generations. And there’s no escape from the reality that it includes plenty of facts, figures, dates, events and voluminous specificities.
Whatever education is, we know enough to realize that it’s not about “teaching to the test.”
What are your views?