Monday, June 29, 2015

Education: What Fareed Zakaria Missed

Education: What Fareed Zakaria Missed

Dr. Jonathan T. Jefferson

The title of this opinion piece may lead one to believe that I am going to be critical of Fareed Zakaria.  Far from it.  I am an avid watcher of his television journalism.  I appreciate his attention to detail, use of empirical data, depth of questioning, fair and balanced reporting.  However, when it comes to my area of expertise (education), there is a finite, but critical, aspect that all journalists have missed.

There has been a mountain of reporting on the status of America’s education system.  These reports have been fueled by American students’ steady decline when compared to other developed, and developing, nations.  Measures of this decline often come from results on The International Math and Science Study (TIMSS), and the more recent report from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) that has Americans ranked 28th in the world in education.

Journalists have focused on the uproar surrounding Common Core State Standards, state testing, and parents opting their children out of state testing.  Prior to the advent of the Common Core, parents and educators had begun to complain about the number of tests being implemented, reporting of test results, and increased pressures.  There once was a time when tests were appropriately used for diagnostic purposes.  Where are students succeeding and struggling, and how can educators adjust what they do to improve students’ performance?  Now, state tests are punitive.  Principals and teachers are graded on student performance with the long term risk of losing their jobs.  Educators have pushed liberal education aside to focus on the limited scope of state exams.  The pressures educators are feeling trickles down to students and ventures home to parents.

Common Core State Standards are not a bad thing.  How Common Core has been rolled out, and testing students based on standards they have yet to be taught, is a bad thing.  In his interview with Microsoft founder Bill Gates that aired on Fareed Zakaria GPS May 17, 2015, Mr. Zakaria asked Mr. Gates what he thought of the Common Core.  Mr. Gates was correct in explaining how the standards provide a unified, focused, and step by step approach to teaching math.  On that occasion, the questioning regarding education ended there.  In fairness, Mr. Zakaria discussed a variety of topics with Mr. Gates during that interview.

To his credit, Mr. Zakaria came to the defense of liberal education in his recently released book “In Defense of a Liberal Education”.  The critical component negatively impacting students that is not being publicly discussed is the increased probability that a student will be affixed with a disability label.  If state test results are going to threaten an educator’s livelihood, then labeling a hard to teach child with a disability might absolve them from taking ownership for having to effectively teach them.  Once labeled (ADHD, ADD, AD, OCD, etc.), a child’s lifelong aspirations may be thwarted.  This is the conversation I would like to bring to the national, if not global, square.