Avoid 'Mechanistic Fixes' And 'Policy Polarization'

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To the Editor:

I was thrilled to read Kathleen M. Cashin and Bruce S. Cooper's recent Commentary about the importance of social and emotional learning, "Remaking Schools as Positive Social, Emotional Places" (Oct. 2, 2013). I was similarly thrilled to read David Rutkowski and Leslie Rutkowski's essay in the same issue, "Schools Good, Schools Bad," in which they called for academics to wade into the debates about testing as a "radical middle."

The social-emotional Commentary highlights a current trending toward technical or mechanistic fixes as the cure for the failings of our public education system. Closer study of the performance of students in affluent school districts, including those in my own district, refutes the idea that all students in the United States cannot compete on an international stage.

As usual, the devastating impact of poverty is a reliable indicator for the differences that exist between high-performing and low-performing schools. Tackling poverty and growing gaps in income disparity is a knotty social issue to resolve.

Linking student test results to the potential dismissal of principals and teachers is considered by some a solution to academic-performance problems and treated much like producing and quantifying the technical performance of an automobile. Automobiles, unlike students, do not come with a free will and complex cognitive, social, and emotional lives.

Rigid policy polarization—testing or no testing—is also not a solution. Instead, I would argue that developing the capacity of teachers has high value. Testing, not as a means of rank-ordering schools, principals, and teachers, but as a tool for diagnosing gaps in learning, and thus helping teachers develop differentiated intervention to promote student learning, should be our focusing event. It is an adaptive, not a technical, challenge.

Martin Fitzgerald
Robert E. Bell Middle School
Chappaqua, N.Y.

Vol. 33, Issue 10, Page 22

Published in Print: October 30, 2013, as Avoid 'Mechanistic Fixes' And 'Policy Polarization'
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