The line invoked in me the most irritating response, I both agreed wholeheartedly to it and wholeheartedly was aggravated by it in the same moment.
I am a principal of an elementary school in a high pressure, high stakes environment. 70% of our students qualify for free/reduced lunch. We are the most ethnically/racially diverse school in our school division and in the entire region. If you just look at AYP during my tenure at the school, the results are mixed. One year, we did not make it, one year we did, one year we just barely missed it, the the jury is still out on this past year. We are in our second year of formal school improvement with the state. We are a public school choice school and have mandated outside tutoring as part of the NCLB law. I attend monthly meetings with the state department of ed and turn in data reports to them on a regular basis. Everything in this world tells me as a leader to lead a school that teaches to the test. Every meeting, every statement, every webinar, every powerpoint. The words teach to the test are never used, but it is always implied.
The past two years, however, we have embarked on a different journey. Along with a focus on data and results, we have implemented different strategies through our intensive work with Responsive Classroom and Expeditionary Learning:
- Intensive community building through classroom and school-wide morning meetings
- Student led parent conferences for every single student, Prek-5
- Learning expeditions (you can see them here) at every single grade level
- Instructional rounds for all teachers (learn about them here)
- Extensive use of formative assessment strategies
Our school is going in the right direction with both our school culture and yes, student achievement, slowly but surely. The school has a vastly more positive and learner supported feel than it did four years ago. But David Brooks, and most other policy wonks, would look at our data and label us as failing. We are not failing, and I would argue we are improving in a more authentic way than most other schools.
What David Brooks fails to realize is that for a school leader to swim up the fast flowing stream of "not teaching to the test", it takes an incredible amount of support, collective courage, and belief in children to accomplish doing things the right way. Most people in education right now, because they are in schools that don't face these issues or they simply refuse to face the issues themselves, don't really have an idea of how tough it is.
David Brooks certainly does not. He is pretty darn clueless.