Pasi Sahlberg has called it GERM – the Global Education Reform Movement. It’s an apt acronym because it is infectious and it is doing us no good at all. In fact it is doing what all infections do – weakening us and making us vulnerable to all sorts of other opportunistic infections.
A GERM infection happens when policy makers see that something is wrong with education and instead of drilling down to find out what is causing the problem and then seeking solutions, they decide to measure what is wrong and then try and use that metric as a solution. That is tantamount to taking the temperature of a child with the flu, discovering that it is too high, and putting him outdoors in the snow.
In all GERM countries we see the same scenario:
- blanket standardized multiple choice style testing of all kids – in the belief that this one test is a measure of the effectiveness of everything important that goes on the school
- shock horror reactions to the results followed by the apportioning of blame – and the imposition of sanctions against low scoring schools and teachers
- mammoth efforts to lift the scores in the next round of tests – narrowing of the curriculum, teaching to the test, teaching of test taking skills, loss of free play time, development of scripted teaching programs that de-skill teachers, devaluing of subjects that are not tested
The USA is deeply enmeshed in this epidemic with the majority of school districts GERM ridden. One of GERM’s prominent advocates Joel Klein invited Australia’s Prime Minister and Minister for Education to discover what the infection had done to his New York City schools. The inevitable happened. When you are exposed to GERMS you become infected. That infection is spreading through the Australian school population. You, dear reader, will know the severity of the epidemic in the schools around you.
There are a few school systems that remain immune to GERM – Finland is one – but without action this growing epidemic may become a pandemic.
The root of this problem lies in the belief that one standardized test, administered in the same way, to every child, in every school at the same time is capable of measuring the complex, rich, varied nature of education and, more importantly, is capable of measuring our children. It is not.
If you read this blog you already understand the important things that go on in schools. You also understand that the things that matter the most are the very things that a four point multiple choice question cannot measure.
What can you do?
Make your voice heard.
Within your professional organizations have this subject raised to the top of the list of concerns. Don’t let it languish at the bottom – too hard, too complex. It’s strikes at the root of our professional ethics if we meekly allow something so destructive to go unchallenged.
Write letters to the newspapers, contact talk back radio, contact your local politicians.
Talk to your parents, your local community groups.
Focus on what you know is important.
If you are a teacher, focus on helping the kids to learn and refuse to let your professional skills be diminished. Teach the curriculum with all the depth and richness you can muster. Don’t teach the test, teach the children! Make it clear that if you have to administer the test you will, but also make it clear that it has no significant place among the important things you are doing at school.
If you are a parent understand the pressures on teachers and let your voice speak for them. You have the right in Australia to refuse to allow your child to sit for NAPLAN tests. In the past the refusal of parents in Victoria to allow their children to sit for an earlier manifestation of NAPLAN – the LAP tests – resulted in their lack of statistical validity as a measure of achievement and they quietly faded into the background. No one can discipline parents, you can’t have your pay docked or lose your job, if you pull your child out of the test.
Above all else –
THINK about what effect these high stakes standardized tests are having on education and then consult your own professional conscience and set of ethics.
How much are you prepared to tolerate?
You can listen to Pasi Sahlberg speaking in New York about GERM on this 18 minute video:
There is a much longer talk given at the University of Melbourne available at: