I just saw “Race to Nowhere,” a documentary that is being widely discussed in the United States.
This documentary was produced by a mother, Vicki Abeles, about the stress that school was causing her twelve-year-old daughter. The film is a critique of the “wave” of educational accountability sweeping the United States and which is manifested in the use—indiscriminate use, say critics—of standardized tests. This “wave” has no political affiliation, since it was adopted by both the Bush administration (No Child Left Behind) and that of President Obama (Race to the Top).
“Race to Nowhere” spearheads a movement that challenges the concept of “educational success” measured by the number of college-level courses that high school students take (advanced placement), the quantity—not quality—of content learned, and above all by a meritocracy strictly based on individual success.
Supporters of this backlash movement immediately point to potential unwanted effects of such a system: lack of teamwork, lack of innovation, and little creativity. This is exactly the opposite of what we need for education in the 21st Century. In the film, Deborah Stipek, director of Stanford University’s education program, says it is paradoxical that people in China ask how to emulate the creativity and innovation of U.S. students.
This is a fascinating discussion for Latin America. First, public opinion in our countries is paying more attention to the poor results we get on international tests (such as PISA) and regional tests (such as SERCE). Media coverage generated by the publication of PISA 2009 demonstrates the extent of the debate on accountability.
On the other hand, the debate encourages us to consider the possibility and desirability of expanding the concept of what we mean by quality to include measurement of 21st Century skills that build on our social and cultural values.
And even beyond measurement, can we consider the importance of values such as solidarity, community, and adaptability to change as ingredients for a quality education?