Yong Zhao told Superintendents that the theme of their conference-“Bringing Reason to Reform”-was wishful thinking. Reform is driven by emotion, observed Zhao, as he kicked off the annual conference of the Virginia Association of School Superintendents (#VASSConf12).
“Why didn’t China celebrate PISA results?” asked Zhao. Given the success of Chinese students, given China’s obsession with its ranking globally, why was there no celebration? China didn’t celebrate because it is afraid that it will not produce the next Steve Jobs, the next innovative, creative entrepreneur, observed Zhao.
Zhao’s concern regarding the focus on standardized testing is clear. Showing his cheekiness, Zhao quipped that on AYP testing day he keeps his daughter home just to “mess them up”. He also noted we often ignore the side effects-the unintended consequences-of education reform. You can implement a canned reading program that raises standardized test scores, but, asked Zhao, if it kills a students’ love of reading, what have you achieved? As Zhao put it, “If the Common Core is the cure for college readiness, what are the side effects?”
Some people ask why test scores have declined, states Zhao, but US test scores have been horrible for fifty years. He asks more questions. How is the United States still around? How has its economy been so strong historically, even with the challenges of recent years?
Zhao believes that American education has accidentally produced creativity and entrepreneurship among its students. He credits this to the broad definition of talent and a history of local control and professional autonomy. For details, see his recent blog post.
In the follow-up Q & A session, Zhao advocates a vision for teaching and learning with an emphasis on "product-oriented learning," in which students complete meaningful projects and create work that matters. He believes that a decentralized system is more likely to serve as an environment that features instructional innovation, personalization, and product-oriented learning.
If you agree with Zhao regarding the unintended consequence of an excessive focus on standardized tests, how can you help politicians understand? Returning to Zhao’s comments that education reform is driven by emotion, we have to articulate our vision in ways that appeal to the hopes and dreams of politicians and community members. Personalization. Creativity. Entrepreneurship. Results-oriented. These are themes that can and should be incorporated into a shared vision of how to produce the next Steve Jobs.