NPR New Orleans
posted on May 28, 2017 by Tony Monfiletto
I am a former school principal and I currently lead an incubator for new schools in my home town, Albuquerque New Mexico. The schools are focused on Project-Based Learning as a way to provide a thrilling and relevant education to young people who are off track to graduation or who have dropped out of school and returning to earn a diploma. Yesterday I was listening to NPR while making my daughter breakfast. Cooking a meal from scratch for her is a highlight of my day, and most times we listen to one of her or my favorite Pandora stations while we eat. But yesterday, we happened to be tuned into NPR and a report entitled “A New Orleans Charter School Marches To Its Own Tune” came on.
It’s a story that hit close to home and adds a new dimension to the school reform movement. New Orleans is a city that has been dominated by schools that specialize in preparing students to score well on high-stakes standardized tests. The currency for these high-stakes tests is math and reading scores. These scores are the blunt instruments that our policy makers use to determine whether schools are effective, and these metrics drive the “No Excuses” type attitudes that dominate in New Orleans. The charter school movement was intended to be inspire education innovation and it’s remarkable that a school focused on learning project based learning through art would be considered such an aberration.
While New Orleans has staked its future on schools that have focused on improving basic skills, the real world is focused on finding people who can think, solve problems and adapt to new circumstances. Many thought leaders bemoan the lack of creativity in our schools, but unfortunately they have been boxed out by the technocrats who are bent on quantitative analysis of student learning. Visionaries like Daniel Pink and Sir Ken Robinson speak directly to the fact that a narrow curriculum rooted in basic skills misses the mark. The Harvard Business Review, Washington Post, and Fast Company magazine have all challenged the same notion when they ask if the “MFA is the new MBA.”
I have seen educators lose their way under the current accountability system. They start schools that are intended to be innovative but then find themselves at odds with the dominant frame; the real-life, creative thinking, problem solving skills innovative educators are teaching aren’t measured by the prevailing system. NPR took that frame for granted when they commented that, “It’s too early to say whether this school’s approach is working. It just started its second year. Kids haven’t yet taken any standardized tests.” I wonder if we wouldn’t be better served by asking if standardized tests alone are even capable of measuring how well a school works?