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Teach to the test — or how to think?

Students rally support Chicago Teachers Unistrike Wells High School Sept. 12.  |  Brian Jackson~Sun-Times

Students rally in support of the Chicago Teachers Union strike at Wells High School on Sept. 12. | Brian Jackson~Sun-Times

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Updated: October 12, 2012 8:35PM

Winners and losers. That’s how the settlement of the recent Chicago teachers union strike was scored.

Americans love that sort of thing.

It’s why we’re sports fanatics.

The average person knows more about the NFL than he does about public education. He’ll expound on why Matt Forte deserves a new contract, while unable to discern if teachers deserve more money.

Billions of dollars are spent on sports wagering each year by many of the same people who complain they can’t afford skyrocketing property tax bills.

I may believe that a win or loss by the Chicago Bears has little impact on the future of the country compared to the success or failure of public school students, but chances are few people would agree.

The fact is many people don’t even understand how public schools are financed in Illinois,

Huge numbers still believe the Illinois state lottery provides most of the money, judging from the questions I get asked.

Did you know that there’s a foundation level set for public school funding in this state, a bottom line number Illinois is expected to provide for each student.

The state has never come close to hitting that number.

There are fantasy football leagues across this country based on real statistics, hard facts, player evaluations.

Public education, by comparison, is more often based on fantasy than fact.

There’s this belief, for example, that tests can measure student achievement.

People are convinced that having teachers teach kids how to take tests will make for better students.

When’s the last time you heard a public official discuss the need to teach children how to think?

There’s a life skill that might have some value.

Ask children to pick the best answer to the following question:

I’m more likely to succeed in life if . . .

a) I get pregnant at 15.

b) Join a local street gang to keep from getting killed.

c) Score well on a standardized test.

d) Make sure to stay out of Dad’s way when he comes home drunk.

My guess is that many Chicago public school students exhibit life skills each day that would astound adults.

They don’t get extra credit for after-hours study.

Winners and losers, that’s what we want to define.

One teacher’s students excel in academic work and will go on to college.

Another teacher’s students don’t score well on tests and will never attend a university. But they come to class each day.

But suppose I were to tell you that the second group of students would have quit school without that teacher.

Is he a winner? How would anybody know? How can that sort of student progress be measured?

I sure can’t label that teacher a “loser.”

And I’m sure not going to tell those kids they’re failing to meet some fantasy standard of achievement.

So many claim to know so much about education. There are experts everywhere you look.

Winning is all important to them. Learning, not so much.

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