Education isn’t about mastery but about learning

I have a very liberal view of education. I know many kids who have done very well being home schooled, attending private schools, charter schools, and public school. No two children learn the same way. so it’s wonderful that there are so many types of education available to find a good match for our kids. As long as a parents do their homework and keep the process child-focused, kids can do very well in non-public school settings.

Where I start to scratch my head is when people who are not educators begin schools of their own because they are skeptics or because they have money. Some celebrities fall into this category. When I read that Jada Pinkett Smith had started a school of her own for prek to 6th grade after home schooling her children, initially it wasn’t something that seemed to misguided. Many celebrities have to tutor or find alternative ways to teach their kids due to scheduling and travel issues.

I was open minded, however, until I read this on the Huffington Post:

“Pinkett Smith said the school stresses “100 percent mastery,” encouraging students to retake exams until they score 100 percent….”

100% mastery for elementary school students? Had Pinkett Smith done her homework and consulted educators in the public and private sector, she would have learned that her school’s approach is, well, so yesterday. Today’s view is that test scores don’t give a full picture of a child. Today’s view is that we don’t want a child to every define him or her self by a grade or a test score. Why? Because kids have many, many different learning styles with different strengths and weaknesses, with test taking skills being a skill mastered by some but not by all.

Recently, the Augusta Chronicle published a letter to the editor from a language arts teacher that embodies what education really should be for our kids:

“Georgia’s Governor’s Office of Student Achievement is concerned that scores from the end-of-course tests are not commensurate with students’ grades at school. For many who work with students, that finding is not surprising.

Those of us who have had experience with children as parents teachers or counselors know that students are much more than the sum of their tests. In a typical class, student assessments consist of a variety of projects, essays, speeches and discussions, as well as the traditional paper-and-pen tests. Effective teachers work with students in a multitude of ways to ensure their success in the classroom. To determine a child’s overall competence in a class based solely on test scores would be ludicrous and inaccurate.”

The author goes on to blame the “No Child Left Behind Act” for schools over emphasizing standardized testing at the expense of how the education system should really function for students and teachers. I completely agree and have seen this first hand in my kids’ school. But, I’ve also seen savvy teachers work hard to remind all of us that the standardized, State-mandated test scores are not the litmus for success in our children. Neither the schools nor the parents in our town feel those tests tell us much about our kids. Scores and grades don’t define a child. Their achievements in every other way do.

If Pinkett Smith really wants to give her kids an education worth the top dollar we all know she is paying, she’d be wise to consult a few more educators and do away with the philosophy of mastery which sets a bar so high that it is unachievable for even the most savvy and adept of students. That’s an unfair goal for grownups, let alone developing children.

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