Thomas Sowell

Florida's school year has already started early, so that its students will have more preparation before the state-mandated tests that will be administered to them later in the school year. Meanwhile, there is much wringing of hands and gnashing of teeth because so much classroom time is spent "teaching to the test" as our "educators" put it.

Unfortunately, most of the people who call themselves educators have not been doing much educating over the past few decades, as shown by American students repeatedly coming in at or near the bottom on international tests. That is why some states are trying to force teachers to teach academic material by testing their students on such material, instead of relying on the inflated grades and high "self-esteem" that our schools have been producing, instead of knowledge and skills.

While our students spend about as much time in school as students in Europe or Asia, a higher percentage of other students' time is spent learning academic subjects, while our students' time is spent on all sorts of non-academic projects and activities.

Those who want to keep on indulging in popular educational fads that are failing to produce academic competence fight bitterly against having to "teach to the test." It will stifle "creativity," they complain. The author of a recent feature article in the New York Times Magazine declares that "genuinely great teaching -- the sort of thing that Socrates and his spiritual descendants have delivered" will be discouraged by having to "stuff our charges with information" in order to pass tests.

If there has actually been such "genuinely great teaching," then why has there been no speck of evidence of it during all these years of low test scores and employer complaints about semi-literate young people applying for jobs? Why do American students learn so much less math between the fourth and the eighth grade than do students in other countries? Could it be because so much more time has been wasted in American schools during those four years?

Evidence is the one thing that our so-called educators want no part of. They want to be able to simply declare that there is genuinely great teaching, "creative" learning, or "critical thinking," without having to prove anything to anybody.

In states where tests have been mandated by law, the first order of business of the teachers' unions has been to introduce as much mushy subjective material as possible into these tests, in order to prevent anyone from finding out how much -- or how little -- academic skills they are actually providing their students.

Thomas Sowell

Thomas Sowell is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institute and author of The Housing Boom and Bust.

Creators Syndicate