Are We Asking the Right Questions?

Spend any time in the professional development sessions that start every school and you're bound to come to a painful realization, y’all: Schools
– and the parents, practitioners, principals, and policymakers who support them
– have a dysfunctional relationship with answers.

“What kinds of patterns can we find in the wrong answers that students gave
on the end of grade exams?” we ask at the beginning of every school year.

certain groups and/or grade levels better at answering certain types of
questions? How should we change the way that we deliver information to ensure
that more kids get more answers right on next year’s exams?”

We dissect individual test items, looking for vocabulary words that might
have tripped students up; we try to spot teachers that seem to have discovered
the best practices for helping kids to master required content; and we worry
about what standardized testing results would say to our community about our

And that bugs me. When the schooling becomes a single-minded grind to find
“the right answers,” powerful questions are pushed aside.

At the community level that means no one ever digs deep enough to figure out
just what we want our kids to learn while they’re in school.

We haven’t
collectively clarified the kinds of educational outcomes that we care about.Instead, we blindly accept the arguments of policymakers that schools are
failing and more accountability (read: public ridicule based on rankings
released after once-a-year multiple choice tests are administered) is the only

At the district level that means no one ever pushes back against practices
that few educators believe in.

“Are we REALLY convinced that standardization –
of content, of delivery, of assessments – is making our schools stronger?” is a
question that no one seems willing to ask.Instead, we accept the status quo and
do the best we can to work within a system that we KNOW is broken.

At the school level that means no one ever questions the value of the content
that we’re required to teach.

“What do we want students to know and be able to
do?” isn’t worth talking about; it’s a question that has already been answered
in daily pacing guides designed to ensure that anything that MIGHT be on the end
of grade exams is covered before June 1st.

And at the classroom level, that means no one ever dares to imagine.

like “what would happen if” and “why should we believe in” that play a regular
role in the language of innovators and entrepreneurs are replaced with phrases
like “do you know how to” and “what do you remember about” which do nothing more
than emphasize the skills required to find the right answers to someone else’s

The simple truth is that reform just isn’t possible in organizations who have
forgotten how to ask their own questions – and sadly, that’s what education has


This post originally appeared over at the Smartblogs Education site. 

2 thoughts on “Are We Asking the Right Questions?

  1. Kevin

    You absolutely nailed it. We here speeches about 21st century skills, problem solving and creativity and are then told to analyze the data from the assessments, and the scores on standardized tests. There is such a disconnect between where we should be going and the way we are going.

  2. Ginnyp

    Could not have said it better. I honestly don’t know if I want to stay in the classroom much longer, when all that matters is the percentage of students passing the end of grade tests. Another though: What happens should the impossible happen and we see “100%” next June or the June after?

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