The issue of primary and secondary education receives as much attention as the weather in the United States. This is based on the understanding that any slight change in the education system can lead to expounded changes in social, political, and economic scenes. This is the reason why the quality of education for children continues to attract great interest from the legislators and educationists in the country. Most schools in the United States do have regular assessments on the progress of students in learning and also determine the performance of each student in class. In some cases, student’s progress from one class to the other depends on their performance in the previous class. Through assessment, teachers and parents can determine the kind of career that a student is likely to pursue later in life. This places the importance of assessment in schools in the limelight because the criteria can damage or strengthen career prospects of a student. Different tools have been used to assess students including continuous assessment tests and others, which help highlight the path of a student in the learning process. This paper addresses three challenges related to political issues that inform changes in the K-12 assessment goals and how this relates to computer technologies introduced in schools that educators face.
Fairness in teaching Foreign Language Education in US Schools
Foreign languages have recently emerged as powerful tools in the contemporary globalization. This is witnessed by an increasing number of students who are learning one of two foreign languages in addition to what they use as their first language. In Sweden, 89 percent of students have either one or more foreign language proficiency. This is in stark contrast with the US, where only a mere 36 percent of students know a foreign language. The sharp contrast in foreign language proficiency has seen Sweden exporting more international workers when compared to the United States. The role of education is to prepare students to develop global knowledge and skills. This means that students must have a second language which they can use to communicate with other people (Zhao, 2009). According to Chen (2010), “the traditional distinction between the core and the periphery is becoming increasinglyless relevant. . . as the mature industrialeconomies and the emerging-market economies becomemore integrated and interdependent.” With this independence comes the need to reach out to other societies through communication and interaction. This is a reason why second language is important in the contemporary education system. The US government has already identified this as a challenge to its education system. Even though students are required to learn a foreign language in lower classes, this has not been the case. The plan is crippled with underfunding and a lack of goodwill from parents and teachers to support this program. The result is a staggering low number of students in the country who have understanding of a foreign language when compared to other countries in the West.
The need to develop global competence and continuation of the US superpower in economic and social matters were the leading reasons why the government under the leadership of President Bush initiated educational changes that could “encouraging our young people to participate in activities that increase their knowledge of and appreciation for global issues, languages, history, geography, literature, and the arts of other countries” (Zhao, 2009). This kind of educational change aimed to encourage more students to learn about the culture of other countries and specifically their languages is not captured in the No Child Left Behind Act even though a different initiative Strengthening Education: Meeting the Challenge of a Changing World, was launched to specifically pursue this goal. The initiative was informed by the fact that US government recognized the need to educate its citizens about cultures of other people around the world to prepare them to take leadership positions on the international community platform. The other initiative is the launch of the National Language Security Initiative, which aimed at addressing the problem of inadequate number of foreign language speakers in the country. The initiative was also aimed at “encouraging earlier and stronger coursework in critical-need foreign languages right from kindergarten through post secondary education” (Zhao, 2009). The government intended to increase not only the number of foreign speakers but also their proficiency in foreign languages by providing incentives to teachers, who teach foreign languages.
Successful Change Processes and Leadership Skills
The successful change process was government’s launch of conscious initiatives such asStrengthening Education: Meeting the Challenge of a Changing World andNational Language Security Initiative to support growth of foreign language within the education sector. Through these initiatives, the Education Department’s invested $5 million to enable 1,000 new foreign language teachers to start teaching in classrooms (U.S. Department of Education, 2006). Despite numerous challenges, like underfunding and lower priority given to foreign language, when compared to other areas such as science, math, and engineering, coupled with a lack of actual appreciation of the importance of foreign language and multicultural talents in the country, the initiatives are a first step in the right direction (Chen, 2010).
Unsuccessful Change Processes and Leadership Skills
The initiatives have failed to receive anticipated enthusiasm from teachers, parents, and students in the country partly because the government has failed to provide enough funds to support the programs. On the other hand, there has been little effort from stakeholders to emphasize the importance of foreign language in the globalization agenda and many students still believe that they can work anywhere with English as their only language. This is evident from their lack of recognition of other significant languages, such as Chinese Mandarin, which is a widely spoken language in the world. The NCLB act also does not mention the importance of foreign language as a tool of globalization. This has led to failure in the capture of urgency of foreign language proficiency in the country (U.S. Department of Education, 2006).
The other challenge facing K-12 is the question of fairness in the kind of education that students in various schools are subjected to. For instance, most schools are implementing teaching to the test. That is, students must show adequate yearly progress in the state tests, which determines whether the school will receive state funding or not. This has the implication that students in different schools will be accessing different kinds of education as teachers adapt their own strategies to ensure that their students pass forthcoming exams. In effect, teaching to the test implies that teachers will push their students to pass the state tests regardless of whether they are grasping the concept or not (National Academies Press, 2011). Furthermore, teaching to the test means that some essential subjects, such as arts and social studies, are overlooked by teachers since they are not tested by the state. In as much as students will have a better understanding of subjects like math and reading, teaching to the tests also strips students of critical thinking and problem-solving capabilities thus leading to half-baked graduates.
Additionally, teaching to the tests also strips students and teachers the ability to be creative and imaginative in their approach to life situations. This is mainly because national regulation of teaching requires teachers to align instruction, curriculum, standards, and assessment together so that they have no time to teach what is outside this alignment. Basically, teaching to the tests is confining the student and the teacher within the expected skills. In essence, teaching materials and systems that teachers and students use are all geared toward ensuring that they meet the standards set within the state achievement measures (Rosenthal, 2013).
Moreover, teaching to the test also implies that teachers and students are all worried about state standards instead of focusing on the test-prep activities. As a result, teachers neglect some important aspect of learning, such as grade-level content standards, as they concentrate on the forthcoming test (National Academies Press, 2011). Teachers thus focus on test-preparation activities with a view of ensuring that their students pass the tests in spite of their level of understanding of what is being taught. This kind of teaching compromises the quality of educational experience that students get while in school. The problems become expansive when they transit from one grade to the other and also when they graduate to high schools and colleges. In most cases, teaching to the test does not factor in the element of learning because teachers are too focused on making their students pass the tests at the expense of understanding the concept in the subject (Rosenthal, 2013). Lastly, teaching to the test puts pressure on teachers to concentrate on what is in test at the expense of other important subjects. This is contrary to what testing experts propose, which is performance-based assessment where students are equipped with the ability to think critically, solve problems, and communicate well with others. In essence, teaching to the test does not equip students with a capacity to deal with open-ended questions and demonstrate their prowess in reading and writing skills and problem-solving skills especially with math problems. One reason is that standardized tests give students multiple choice questions and this lowers their capacity to make creative decisions when answering questions (Chen, 2010).