US poll says parents want children engaged and hopeful, not taking standardized tests
The annual PDK/Gallup poll on education results were released recently. The results that grab the headlines in U.S. papers mostly focus on parent attitudes towards standardized tests. For instance, the Washington Post headline reads: U.S. schools are too focused on tests, poll says. Yahoo's internet news offers similar headlines: Skip Scantron: Americans are fed up with standardized testing. This is understandable given the prominence that standardized testing has had over the past decades and also given recent movements for parents to opt out of standardized testing. About two thirds of those surveyed say that there is too much emphasis on standardized testing and a relatively similar percentage say that teachers should not be evaluated by standardized tests.
Yet, what is more interesting is that PDK/Gallop reports that: "A strong majority (about eight in 10) of Americans believe how engaged students are with their classwork and their level of hope for the future are very important for measuring the effectiveness of the public schools in their community." So, here we have a finding that is much stronger but is underplayed in much of the media reporting. Why? Maybe because it is complicated...after all, trying to quantify engagement and hope would be fairly elusive. These dimensions are affective; they capture how students feel now and how these feelings make them feel about their futures.
Another interesting finding from this poll is one that recurs often in large scale opinion polling of parents and that is that they express greater satisfaction with their neighbourhood school; just over half of them give their local schools letter grades of A or B. In contrast, only 21% of parents give the "nation's schools" grades of A or B. I wonder if what makes the difference in these rankings is once again due to the affective dimension. Parents build relationships with their neighbourhood schools; they know the teachers either directly or indirectly through their children.
So, what is the lesson here? Well, it shouldn't be surprising that making schools places that children find interesting will sustain their engagement and their attachment to learning. While no one can predict the future, if children feel good about their daily experiences in school is seems likely that such feelings would fuel the engine of their hopes for the world that is their future.