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Posted at 5:00 PM ET, 10/28/2009

Rich: Make students accountable for more than grades, test scores

By Valerie Strauss

The education world has lost three important people in the last week--Gerald Bracey, Theodore Sizer and Dorothy Rich.

All three contributed incalculably to the broad effort to create an educated citizenry in the United States, and helped me better understand how children should and should not be educated.

Bracey was an educational psychologist who had an unparalled understanding of policy and the problems with standardized testings. He was also the most acerbic, sending emails to journalists who failed to meet his standards (and that was all of us at one time or another) that had subject lines such as "vomit inducing."

Sizer was a leading progressive educator who promoted the creation of "essential schools" to improve public education one school at a time. He wrote three seminal books about how to recreate high school.

And Rich pioneered the notion that parents should be more involved with their children's education than simply baking brownies for the PTA. She was a guest of The Sheet and following is one of her two last unpublished pieces.


By Dorothy Rich
We talk about teacher and parent accountability. But what about the accountability that students have for their own education? Adults can teach our students and teach and teach them, but it’s the children who have to do the learning.

When we ask what students are accountable for, answers include, "get the top test scores," "make all A’s," " get into a good college." And those messages begin in the elementary grades.

This is too narrow a version of education: It’s choking the learning life out of a lot of kids.

If we really cared about education, we would expand our thinking about the educational process. No matter how good our classrooms are, students have to want to learn and to take responsibility for their learning.

A first grader visiting my home recently, after an afternoon snack, left the dishes on the table. I asked him to go back to clear and clean them. “I don’t have to do that,” he answered. “You do,” and he did.

You may argue with me, but I call that education. Do we expect enough of our students in a broader educational sense beyond competing to make top grades? Our children need more and wider ways to show what they can do and learn to do. This builds the dignity and respect they need for themselves as learners.

When I visited Japan, I saw young students required to help clean their schools every day. Why should adults keep children from giving back, from participating, from being involved in their education?

Bulgarian college students visiting the United States recently were startled to see how many American children, who could walk very well, being pushed in strollers. There is an old joke about this. A devoted mother is carrying her grown son. A neighbor stops and says how terrible it is that he cannot walk. “Oh, he can walk,” answered the mother,” but why should he?”

In a sense that is what is happening in many of our schools today, from low to high income neighborhoods. Adults are doing what children need to do. I visited a kindergarten classroom the other day. I love to see children’s artwork, even the scribbles.

All I saw is the bulletin boards was teacher work. It made me sad. Classroom time is now so dominated by what teachers have to do to get kids ready for tests that what kids have to do to learn on their own gets shorter and shorter shrift.

Student accountability gets harder as kids move forward in the grades because they get so used to adults doing it all. I would like to see older students thinking through school issues, including their schedules and how subjects get covered. Students need a say and a stake and a responsibility for how to make better things happen, how to make the school work better.

All through the grades, children can and need to take a more active role in their education. Elementary graders need to go, whenever possible, to parent- teacher conferences. They need to listen to what adults say and respond to it, taking away from the conference, what they have to do to improve their own education. Just as we have learned that in medicine, patients have to be involved, when it comes to education, so do children.

We have compulsory schooling. Yet, there is no way to legislate compulsory learning. That comes from inside of us, from our experience, both in and outside the school walls. Basically, we are all still self-educated.

The greatest teachers, the greatest books, the greatest facilities—they all help. But the bottom line is that children have got to want to learn on their own. That is why we have to work towards student, as well as teacher and parent, accountability.
Dorothy Rich was founder and president of the nonprofit Home and School Institute, MegaSkills Education Center in Washington.

By Valerie Strauss  | October 28, 2009; 5:00 PM ET
Tags:  Accountability, Dorothy Rich  
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I wholeheartedly agree with Rich and am intrigued by the Japanese system, where children take responsibility for cleaning their school building, among other things.

However, the sad truth is that Japan does not have to deal with Teamsters Local 736, which would have a lot to say about custodians losing jobs here in the District.

Posted by: trace1 | October 29, 2009 8:28 AM | Report abuse

i fully agree to Ms Rich's view on how the education system has to be,in order to mould a better tommorrow for our children.Even in india,the education system demands students to compete with one another to get the top scores which eventually turns into an inevitable burden on these tender lives.The students need to have a say in this matter.The schools should have sessions and conferences which involves both parents and students to bring out better ideas which would make these children more responsible for their own lives.

Posted by: rammyleo | October 29, 2009 9:05 AM | Report abuse

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