“The next wave of school reform is about to break,” according to The Washington Monthly’s special report, “The Next Big Test.” Reform will emanate from the “first-ever set of national high-stakes tests — totally computerized, tougher than anything most American students have ever experienced, and coming to the nation’s classrooms in 2014.”
Environmental literacy will play a role, but in what context?
Thanks to artificial intelligence, according to Monthly’s reporters, the need for standardized testing will fade away, replaced by what proponents call “stealth assessment” — nonstop electronic monitoring of students, employing systems similar to ones grocery chain stores now use to track inventory.
Most learning will occur through cutting-edge software “often in the form of video games.” Grand Test Auto, as the Monthly’s headline writer calls it. Or at least that’s the goal.
Anyone see those red flags go up?
The reshaping of standards is overdue. No Child Left Behind’s testing regime left a lot to be desired, particularly in its implementation. But the devil is alwaysin the implementation.
The report’s most important point: This reform movement is coming in under the radar, without a vigorous national debate. We need that debate. Now.
So here’s a call to action — for parents, teachers, environmental educators and other concerned citizens to get involved in the process of determining the future direction of our schools. Let’s start with a few questions.
• Will the new Common Core Standards include opportunities for outdoor learning or are they primarily focused on video and technology learning, as suggested in the Washington Monthly articles?
• Does the newly released draft of the science standards, available now for public comment, include sufficient focus on environmental education and learning in nature — or is it mainly focused on engineering and technology?
• Will the standards allow enough flexibility and support for teachers to take students outside for authentic, experiential learning opportunities? What role will natural habitats as learning environments play? What role will play play (beyond the use of video games)?
• If the new wave is as dependent on electronic learning technology as the Monthly suggests, are we convinced it will work? Last year, the New York Times reported that schools were spending billions on technology “even as they cut budgets and lay off teachers, with little proof that this approach is improving basic learning.”
• As schools become more high-tech, will the outdoors classroom be considered a balancing agent, one that will build learning capacity but also to protect the psychological and physical health of students?
• Is enough high-quality research being done to support nature-based and experiential learning, or will high-tech have the first and final word?
• The one teaching tool we can surely agree on is the extraordinary teacher with a mind and heart that no computer can match. What role will the effective, independent-thinking teacher play? How much leeway will that teacher really have? Or choose to have?
Undoubtedly, there’s more to the next wave of school reform than the Monthly reporters could fit into a few articles, but I recommend you read the report, which seems largely favorable to the new wave, as well as other articles. A skeptic might conclude: If you liked Leave No Child Behind’s reductionist thinking, you’ll love the next wave, brought to us largely by technology companies. That could be one outcome.
Here’s another: A new set of standards, wisely implemented, will prepare young people for a whole life, not just one devoted to technology. No doubt about it, education will pursue and promote the benefits of technology, but it should also maximize the learning advantages of time spent in the real world, including the rest of nature. Is that going to happen?
Tell us what you know and what you think.
Here’s the series: The Next Big Test, a special report in the May/June issue of The Washington Monthly.
Richard Louv is the author of THE NATURE PRINCIPLE: Reconnecting with Life in a Digital Age and LAST CHILD IN THE WOODS: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder. He is Chairman Emeritus of The Children and Nature Network.
Grading the Digital School: In Classroom of the Future, Stagnant Scores, The New York Times, Sept. 3, 2011
C&NN Report: Children’s Contact with the Outdoors and Nature: A Focus On Educators and Educational Settings, adapted from C&NN Annotated Bibliographies of Research and Studies by Cheryl Charles, Ph.D., President, Children & Nature Network, and Alicia Senauer, Yale University.
Excerpt in Outside magazine from a chapter in “The Nature Principle” about the Hybrid Mind
What Your Kids to Get into Harvard? Tell ’em to Go Outside!
Everyone Ought to Have a Ditch – David Sobel
Learn more about C&NN’s Natural Teachers Network.