Hot Topic Tuesday: Education and the Race to Nowhere

Have you seen the film "Race to Nowhere?" I haven't, but the trailer makes me want to see it. It's coming to a theater near me in January. Hopefully I can see it then.

The film is about the effect standardized tests have on kids these days - the pressure to perform and a culture obsessed with the illusion of achievement.

If you haven't seen the trailer, check it out:

There are some who say we are doing our kids and society a disservice by not demanding enough in school. And then, there are others who say we are demanding too much.

In a Letter from the Director on the film's web site (, Vicki Abeles says, "Childhood has become indentured to test scores, performance and competition. We face an epidemic of unhealthy, disengaged, unprepared kids trying to manage as best they can."

What gets me is that with all of the focus on tests, test scores and grades, it seems as if we have become a society where we expect kids to perform, but not necessarily learn and retain valuable information. And what about critical thinking skills? Or the ability to solve problems that come up in real life and aren't black and white?

So what do you think? Do you agree or disagree with the director, that we are facing "an epidemic of unhealthy, disengaged, unprepared kids?"


Lindsey Leavitt said...

I can't wait to see this film--I feel so strongly that tests tests tests are sucking the joy out of our children.
I just did a school visit last week for my fifth grade teacher's class. My old principal came as well, and in the presentation I discussed how fifth grade was the year I decided I wanted to be come a writer.
Because of the novels we read (they don't read novels in class anymore. Only textbook excerpts)
Because of the mini-publishing center in the PTA room (cut funding)
Because of our Willy Wonka play, that turned me onto Roald Dahl (doesn't address enough curriculum standards)
I understand that assessment is important. But maybe we're assessing the wrong things.

Micol Ostow said...

I hadn't heard of this movie - the one I've been wanting to see is WAITING FOR SUPERMAN - but I'm afraid that the two together would be depressing!

I'm too disconnected from the school system at this point to really criticize - I went to a small private school where standardized testing was important, but the classes were very challenging too. I'd say the system worked for me. But that was ages ago. It'll be interesting to survey the scene someday as a mother.

bibliophile brouhaha said...

I think we are making it about numbers and not about education. There has always been standardized testing, but never with this much emphasis. I can see why administrators and faculty freak out, with funding and jobs being directly connected. However, how do we expect our children to be well-rounded when we are cutting music, arts and sports to get the numbers where they are supposed to be?

Also, it's very hard in areas where there are a multitude of social issues (poverty, home situations, little discipline, poor diet), to get children to focus in order to learn. Because of federal regulations, it places the sole responsibility on the educators. People forget that without home support, teachers can do very little to teach children. Have you seen the paperwork that public school teachers have to deal with? It a corporation had a manager that had to be that responsible for that amount of people, the salary would be insane. No wonder so many new teachers are burning out after two years.

-Linds, bibliophile brouhaha

Samantha Rowan said...

I believe that the educational pendulum has swung too far in favor of standardized testing. But there is one thing I envy about today's tests. When I took the SATs there was no essay on it. I'm sure that my score would have been significantly higher if I had a chance to write on mine.

Sommer Leigh said...

My husband is a high school English teacher at a public school in a low/middle income neighborhood. While we both strongly agree that standardized testing is ruining both the way teachers are forced to teach and students ability to really learn, the whole idea that kids are being pressured to do too much is not the problem.

The problem we've seen has been more with the system altering the culture of learning- schools have to show high graduation rates to get funding, kids have to take standardized tests that don't demonstrate any real learning, the kids who aren't leaning on those scores to get them into college have no motivation to do well, the school districts lean on teachers to teach to the tests, students only learn what they need to pass a multiple choice test, and the responsibility of learning has been removed from the student and placed on the teacher. In this system, if students don't do well, it is the fault of the teachers.

There have to be both consequences for students not doing well in school and positive reinforcement for those who do. And that isn't happening.

All kids are not the same. All kids cannot and should not be standardized. Teachers should be given all the room in the world to teach to their students' levels and needs.

All kids should learn grammar and algebra, sure, but how they are taught, at what speed, how they demonstrate their understanding and how they are tested should be up to the teachers who know them, not up to a single, universal multiple choice test. That isn't fair to our amazing and talented teachers and it isn't fair to students who aren't given the chance to shine in their own amazing and talented ways.

Yeah, sorry about that rambling! This is a subject I am really invested in.

Lisa Schroeder said...

Sommer - yes, this: "Teachers should be given all the room in the world to teach to their students' levels and needs."

It just seems like things have taken a wrong turn, and it's sad for everyone involved!

Sarah Darer Littman said...

AMEN to Sommer! I live in a town where the PARENTS are obsessed with the test scores, because they see them as the key to their kids getting into the top colleges and thereafter the top jobs. I've written several columns recently after unpleasant incidents at such top colleges asking if we're really teaching our kids the right things. Like sure, they've managed to get into Yale, but they can't think as an individual and exhibit leadership when confronted with a difficult moral decision.

Susan Adrian said...

YES, I do feel like this is a significant problem--which is why my daughter is going to a Montessori elementary school. She can focus on what she's most interested in while being CHALLENGED. They also put a huge emphasis on the big-picture view, and practical learning.

I'm only sad that the school just goes up to 6th grade...and I wish all schools could have these kinds of opportunities.

Sara said...

Susan, my daughter is in a Montessori grade school, and even they are obsessed with the testing. My first-grader's teacher told me they had to benchmark kids on basic skills EVERY WEEK! My first reaction was, "Isn't that stressful on the kids?" Don't get me wrong, I don't mind my child being challenged, but I want her to actually learn, not just sit under a microscope, regurgitating stuff she was told to memorize for a test.

Melissa Walker said...

Great points, all. I worry about empathy. With everyone learning to score well on tests, where is the understanding and nuance? I worry about this in educational systems that are "better" than ours (like in China, where test scores are high, but I'm not sure about the "full education" view happening there... or here!).

Susan Adrian said...

Sara: Really? Eeek. We haven't seen that here at all. They do the Iowa standardized tests once a year and that's it! It must depend on the state...

Claire Dawn said...

Different strokes for different folks.

I teach in Japan. The pressure on kids here is legendary. And some kids thrive. They are on top of their JHS and High School, and they go on to rule the world. Others falter early on, and never recover.

Some people need the ridiculous competition. Some don't.

Sandra Stiles said...

I want to see this movie. I'm a sixth grade English Teacher. We not only have the state test but we have a
separate reading, math and science test 3 times a year and practice writing test 3 times a year before the official ones. Our district has adopted a curriculum that has our pacing guide set, the novels and stories are set and differentiated instruction means I may have Johnny write a paragraph instead of 3 paragraphs. I can't take away anything but if I can squeeze it into the 20-25 day per unit then I can add too it. Since this is in each core subject their (End of Unit project falls at about the same time.) We are told to give the students no more that 15 minutes homework per core subject in 6th grade and 20 in 7th/8th grade. They talk about moving our schools to become "A" schools yet do not allow us the time or freedom to do what we know needs to be done. For that child that needs extra time to get a concept or has difficulty reading it's "too bad, you need to bring them up to speed in that 20 days". Yes we are definitely doing a disservice to our students. We are expecting them all to learn the same exact way at the same exact time by doing the same exact thing. We value after school sports more than getting the student help. When told a student couldn't do homework because they had a game or practice we are told to give them extra time. No wonder America is # 12 in the world in Education now.

Adeeva Afsheen said...

Banned complain !! Complaining only causes life and mind become more severe. Enjoy the rhythm of the problems faced. No matter ga life, not a problem not learn, so enjoy it :)

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