Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Let's try asking education questions

Here’s one way to get the presidential candidates, who had largely switched topics from education to issues like the economy and health care, to talk about schools again — ask them education questions!

That’s what three out of a total of nine San Francisco Chronicle readers did when the paper arranged for them to pose questions to Barack Obama.

Thank you Geoff Geiger, Cory Haynes and Anthony Cody!

Geiger started off with a question about what Obama would do to solve difficult problems that American children face. Obama talked a lot about health care for all kids in his answer, but also touted his plan for supportiing early childhood education from birth to age five with federal dollars.

Haynes said he felt our education system widened the divide between the “haves” and “have-nots” in America and asked how Obama would address those disparities. In response, Obama said No Child Left Behind had the right goals, but has been poorly executed. He talked up his plan for raising teacher quality and teacher pay to attract more good people to the profession, and said he would work with governors to create new assessment models that are more useful to educators.

In a perfect follow up, Cody asked what other sorts of tests Obama envisioned that might replace the flawed standardized tests states currently rely on for accountability. Obama described a future in which kids would not be judged just on single-day tests, but instead on a variety of factors, such as “writing samples or reading samples, mathematics assessments, assessments of science or history knowledge, or even musical performances.” Other factors used to judge kids might include attendance and even classroom behavior.

This put me in mind of the portfolio assessments that looked at a collection of student work that Kentucky and a few other states tried — with limited success — in the 1990s.

It’s nice to see Obama talking about education again and starting to explain in more detail what some of his proposals might look like in practice.

This post also appears on my education blog Get on the Bus.

(Image credit: AP)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Portfolio assessments are far too expensive to be implemented. People love to complain about multiple-choice tests, but the reality is they are the only practical way to even begin to measure achievement. If Obama thinks we can replace MC tests with portfolios or essays or something then he knows absolutely nothing about measurement. Just to cite the simplest problem, how do you verify that the work is really the child's own?

If NCLB MC tests are "cumbersome" just imagine what putting together and scoring a portfolio would entail. How many man-hours do you think it would take to read a years work from every student in California?

Education has had enough pie-in-the-sky idealistic dream solutions. I'm afraid I'm going to have to vote for McCain simply because his education policies are much more realistic and more likely to lead to real change. Once Clinton and Obama are told about the price tag of improving NCLB, they will simply scrap it and teachers will go back to just teaching the smart kids.