Yong Zhao is back in receptive Seattle this week preaching his gospel of edu-innovation. The anti-standards, pro-creativity Zhao is a Chinese-born prof at Michigan State. Here’s his thesis in a nutshell:
In my new book Catching Up or Leading the Way, I mostly focus on issues facing education in the United States noting that the current education reform efforts, with their emphasis on standards, testing, and outcome-based (read test score-based) accountability, are unlikely to make Americans “globally competitive.”
Zhao and I like the same schools and probably share a similar vision for what a good education looks like and the benefits it provides students. We both agree that bad standards and tests badly applied is bad for kids.
But his anti-standards mantra strikes me as a bit irresponsible in the sense that he doesn’t grapple with accountability. We have NCLB because states were not fulfilling the good school promise—they ignored generations of chronic failure. The Department of Education is now grappling with a new accountability framework, one that is tight on goals and loose on means.
The challenge is how to promote creativity and accountability—to ensure that every American student has access to at least one good school and a rich engaging series of learning experiences that focuses on big questions not little test bubbles. This is no easy task, but a new generation of adaptive and content embedded assessment holds the potential for making testing far less intrusive and far more constructive for teachers and students.
I’m worried that most of the state consortia winning grants from the upcoming $350 million RttT pot will create some consistency around the Common Core but do little to advance the field of assessment—a big missed opportunity. A few states will propose a comprehensive assessment system that incorporates adaptive assessment (e.g., online quizzes and feedback from learning games), performance assessment (e.g., essays and science projects), as well as end of course exams.
This is also why states need a special purpose charter authorizer for innovative schools—a potential test bed for new instructional models and assessment systems. Innovative school models that combine personalized online learning with onsite application and support have the potential to promote creativity and accountability—something Dr. Zhao and I can both celebrate.