Are your equity efforts aimed at test scores or life readiness?

Physics word problem... who cares?

Jason Glass said:

I have an assignment for you. Tonight, I want you to go on the internet and download some worksheets on quadratic equations – try for at least 20 of them … on each side of the page, spend some time memorizing the periodic table, and while you’re at it memorize the major dates, battles, and generals associated with the American Civil War.

Let me break it to you ahead of time: these tasks are going to suck. They are mind-numbing and you will find yourself wondering … how is any of this relevant, important, or useful to me? Unless you teach high school math, chemistry, or history and do so using a very traditional approach – it probably isn’t relevant, important, or useful.

In order to get kids to repeat and repeat and repeat these mind numbing tasks, you are going to have to bribe them, threaten them, provide extra tutoring and support for them, medicate them, and minimize other more vibrant, interesting, and engaging parts of their lives so they can focus on mastering those repetitive … and mostly useless and obsolete … tasks.

In Jeffco, we say keep the main thing the main thing – and that is student learning. More precisely, we need – at scale and with urgency – to profoundly change the tasks and experiences our students are having so that they are authentic, engaging, provide them the opportunity to practice complex and important skills, and to really prepare them for the world they will step into. We do this through the deep infusion of project and problem-based tasks which give our kids the chance to practice Generations skills.

People have argued with me about whether or not this kind of learning is “right” for kids from underserved backgrounds. I have heard that “those” kids “need” to focus on the basics, that they aren’t ready for complex thinking or a skills-based education, that they aren’t developmentally prepared to have agency, or to act as an active participant in their own learning. That “those” kids “need” a test-prep education so they can get higher test scores and close our “achievement gap.”

“The soft bigotry of low expectations.” Perhaps no more profound words were ever put forth by President George W. Bush … or at least his speech writer.

When we relegate our underserved students (or any student, really) to a narrow, repetitive, and routines-based education that does little in the way of preparing them for their lives and futures we have lowered our expectations for them. In my book, there is no greater moral failure for us as professional educators.


I love this so much. Some kids get the opportunity to gain 21st century skills in addition to traditional content and to become ‘future ready.’ Some don’t. And we know which ones don’t. 

Equity is about much more than so-called ‘achievement gaps’ on standardized tests of low-level knowledge and procedures…

4 Responses to “Are your equity efforts aimed at test scores or life readiness?”

  1. It’s true that many of the concepts learnt for high school math, chemistry and other hard sciences are not applicable in real life. However do we still need doctors and scientists? Do we still need engineers? We do. And how else to get good doctors without putting them through a rigorous selection process called “mainstream education”? How about the current trendy or “relevant” skills now like coding? How do we know they will remain relevant when the kids grow up? I think educators are very much aware of the relevance of the subjects they are teaching. But before there is a good and dependable alternative to education, I say we better stay put with what we have at the moment.

    • Thanks for the comment, Maverick. We do indeed need doctors and engineers and coders. But most of our students don’t grow up to be doctors or engineers or coders. So what would a differentiated, hands-on curriculum look like that didn’t treat students as interchangeable widgets with identical life/career paths, a curriculum that allowed students to explore various interests, passions, and life and career possibilities without forcing every single one of them to learn quadratic equations or memorize a bunch of dates at the expense of them hating math or civics?

      • Yes Scott what you’ve mentioned I do agree is the current problem with education. Every student going through the same subjects with so few variations. Students hate schools where they learn “useless” stuff and they have to pick up other skills and passion elsewhere. If there were really such a system that can let each student pursue their interest, I’ll gladly put my own kids through it!

        • Any school that allows for some elements of project- or inquiry-based learning, or perhaps hands-on STEM, or other focuses on student agency (e.g., internships, genius hour, passion projects) will do this for you. Not sure how many schools like this are near you but there are thousands around the world!

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