The Bill and Melinda Gates foundation last month announced it will move its education plans forward with more data collection and reporting, followed by attempts to influence political decisions on governance of secondary school and colleges.
Its next step, as reported in the education journal “Inside HigherEd,” is to “create a national data infrastructure that enables consistent collection and reporting of key performance metrics for all students in all institutions that are essential for promoting the change needed to reform the higher education system to produce more career-relevant credentials.”
I personally do not oppose testing nor am I against educating for employment. I have a bachelor’s in journalism and an MBA; you can’t get more job-oriented.
But I believe that many elements of teaching and learning are natural and intuitive, and aren’t captured in data. I cannot offer my own data sets to prove my point, only anecdotes of students succeeding. My favorite one is this:
My youngest son is the opposite of the student focused on the STEM disciplines: science, technology, engineering and math. He studies poetry, and discovered his love of the art in high school. For his high school senior project, he posted several poems on his blog each month, entered contests and hosted a poetry slam. He also organized a poetry writing contest for the first- through fifth-grades in our school district.
He visited several classes to talk directly to students and encourage them to enter the contest. The culmination was a reception and display of all the submitted poems, which he had read and critiqued with encouraging comments.
Afterward, my son heard from a fifth-grade teacher. She wrote that one of her students, a boy, had been unfocused most of the semester and was not doing well in class. More recently, though, things started to click for him and he had improved dramatically in all his subjects.
She figured out a way to ask him what was different and he said, “I really liked it when that high school senior came in to talk about poetry. I found out I like to write.”
That kind of outcome occurs when students are exposed to all sorts of information in a holistic way, and it is difficult to measure or predict. It is, though, part of good teaching and good learning.
My son is about to graduate from college, after four years, with a double degree in poetry and Spanish. He is set to work on a farm this summer and teach a poetry class for two weeks. He hasn’t figured out exactly what comes next, but as an artist, he knows that it is up to him to create the next chapter in his life, and he is ready.
Paul Steinmetz is Director of Community Relations and Public Affairs at Western Connecticut State University and principal of Writing Associates.