Yong Zhao’s Stand-Up Speech

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Yong Zhao — Professor in the Department of Educational Methodology, Policy, and Leadership at the University of Oregon — was a featured speaker at the recent annual conference of the Network for Public Education (NPE). He spoke about “America’s Suicidal Quest for Outcomes,” as in, test-based outcomes.

I strongly recommend you take almost an hour (i.e., 55 minutes) out of your busy days and sit back and watch what is the closest thing to a stand-up speech I’ve ever seen. Zhao offers a poignant but also very entertaining and funny take on America’s public schools, surrounded by America’s public school politics and situated in America’s pop culture. The full transcription of Zhao’s speech is also available here, as made available by Mercedes Schneider, for any and all who wish to read it: Yong_Zhao NPE Transcript

Zhao speaks of democracy, and embraces his freedom of speech in America (v. China) that permits him to speak out. He explains why he pulled his son out of public school, thanks to No Child Left Behind (NCLB), yet he criticizes G. W. Bush for causing his son to (since college graduation) live in his basement. Hence, Zhao’s “readiness” to leave the basement is much more important than any other performance “readiness” measure being written into the plethora of educational policies surrounding “readiness” (e.g., career and college readiness, pre-school readiness).

Zhao uses what happened to Easter Island’s Rapa Nui civilization that led to their extinction as an analogy for what may happen to us post Race to the Top, given both sets of people are/were driven by false hopes of the gods raining down on them prosperity, should they successfully compete for success and praise. Like the Rapa Nui built monumental statues in their race to “the top” (literally), the unintended consequences that came about as a result (e.g., the exploitation of their natural resources) destroyed their civilization. Zhao argues the same thing is happening in our country with test scores being the most sought after monuments, again, despite the consequences.

Zhao calls for mandatory lists of side effects that come along with standardized testing, similar to something I wrote years ago in an article titled “Buyer, Be Aware: The Value-Added Assessment Model is One Over-the-Counter Product that May Be Detrimental to Your Health.” In this article I pushed for a Federal Drug Administration (FDA) approach to educational research, that would serve as a model to protect the intellectual health of the U.S. A simple approach that legislators and education leaders would have to follow when they passed legislation or educational policies whose benefits and risks are known, or unknown.

Otherwise, he calls all educators (and educational policymakers) to continuously ask themselves one question when test scores rise: “What did you give up to achieve this rise in scores.” When you choose something, what do you lose?

Do give it a watch!

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