Recently the Burlington Public Schools along with the Wilmington Public Schools had a showing of the movie Race to Nowhere (http://www.racetonowhere.com). The film presents interviews with parents, students, educators and doctors from the medical as well academic community. It depicts students burning out and suffering from depression. The movie casts blame on an accountability system utilized from elementary through high school that assess the memorization of large amounts of curriculum via high stakes tests that which assess limited criteria from that curriculum. A highly completive process of acceptance to college is another suspected culprit in the film. The film shows a culture where students are terrified of failure and as a result cheat and don’t take risks.
I recently had the opportunity to hear Richard Rothstein speak at a lecture titled “Challenging Current Assumptions” on Wednesday May 4. The topics he addressed were similar to those addressed in the film. Rothstein(http://www.epi.org/authors/bio/rothstein_richard) is a research associate at the Economic Policy Institute. He asserted the ineffectiveness of simplistic accountability systems that measure limited criteria. Rothstein showed various examples how when specific-criteria are just being assessed it dominates the accountability system and other criteria is excluded. Rothstein pointed out if police officer’s entire pay or large portion of salary was based on giving out speeding tickets there would not be a problem with speeding but, crime in general would go up. Likewise, if doctor’s pay was based was on diagnosing just cardiac disease, the diagnosis and treatment of cardiac disease would be tremendous but other health concerns would go be the wayside. Another example could be the media ranking colleges largely by the limited criteria of admission competiveness. In other words, the more students that apply and are not accepted the higher the ranking. It is possible several colleges and universities could provide free applications to students increasing the number of applicants and in doing so improve their ranking.
Race to Nowhere and Rothstein’s comments made me think back to an interview I watched on the Oprah Winfrey Show. I typically don’t watch the Oprah Winfrey Show but felt I had to on December 31, 2010, because Oprah was interviewing JK Rowling (http://www.jkrowling.com), author of the Harry Potter series. During the interview Oprah stated, “The greatest gift the Harry Potter series has given the world is the freedom to use our imaginations.” JK Rowling responded to this stating, “I really hope so. I am very, very frustrated by fear of imagination. I don’t think that is healthy.” Rowling went on to say that “The ability to use failure often leads to the greatest success.”
Race to Nowhere and Richard Rothstein along with others have paved the way for an exciting and ongoing discussion about education policy. Part of that discussion will likely be, “Who is doing it right?” Several scholars and researchers point to Finland. Finland is largely regarded as having the best school system in the world. Another upcoming film, The Finland Phenomenon: Inside the World’s Most Surprising School System, will likely show some of the characters that make Finland’s educational system so respected. The trailer (http://www.2mminutes.com/films/finland-phenomenon.asp) is quite intriguing.
As a viewer what will stick with me the most is not Race to Nowhere or the Finland Phenomenon but the Oprah interview with JK Rowling. JK Rowling stated on Oprah “Love is the most beautiful powerful thing of all.” At Pine Glen school we strive to develop life long learners by encouraging risk taking by students and staff. We encourage and allow students and staff to be creative. In addition, we care deeply about the whole child. We don’t view childhood as a race but a voyage into future.