This impassioned op-ed by Alfie Kohn exposes how school is very different for poor children than it is for their more affluent counterparts. Education for low-income students is rooted in and aims for compliance. Drills and worksheets, tests and recitations make up the “pedagogy of poverty,” a term first used by Martin Haberman of the University of Wisconsin to describe the kind of teaching he saw in inner city public schools.
The “pedagogy of poverty” and everything that goes with it should be no shock to anyone who has read a newspaper in the last decade. It is not shocking that mostly young, inexperienced teachers with little support or meaningful professional development opportunities are more likely to be in the toughest schools. It is not shocking that there is the highest rate of teacher turnover in these same schools. But what is shocking, and what this piece highlights very effectively, is how current “reform” efforts are reinforcing and even extending in new ways these damaging inequities. Kahn states that “[i]t is possible for the accountability movement to simultaneously narrow the test-score gap and widen the learning gap.”
We are in the learning age. Information is everywhere 24/7, and we have to prepare our students to process and recombine it. Yet our education system does not facilitate the openness and fluidity of our current reality and downright prevents it in many our nation’s poorest schools. Khan rightly urges us to think long and hard about the road to reform we’re currently barreling down.
Test results. Student achievement. These are mainstays of the conversation about what education “reform” is trying to achieve. But are they useful proxies for teaching and learning?
Testing cannot be the sole aim of education because test scores don’t tell the whole story of what is going on in classrooms around the nation. Higher test scores do not equate to deeper learning, which goes beyond “competence” to synthesis and analysis across disciplines. And deeper learning is not a luxury in the learning age; it’s a necessity and a right.
Tell us what you think.