Schools should focus on teaching critical thinking skills instead of how to get an A

The Thursday before winter break I was in a great mood. I had finally finished studying for a test and I was confident I knew the material. Four snow days and a two week break later, the same material I had known like the back of my hand suddenly looked like a foreign language.
This sheds light on an important flaw in our education system. Students in high school are not really taught information. Cramming the night before for a math test and memorizing a practice essay before a timed write is not learning.
Elaine Tuttle Hansen, author of the book “How to Survive in College,” explains the problem with our current education system in an interview with NPR. Students “have not had the time to kind of sit back and think about hard questions and big questions. They have been taught to check the right boxes, to do well on standardized tests.”
Memorization skills are not important for success in college and in a career. Students need to be taught how to think critically, how to analyze a problem and how to write well. Learning how to beg for extra credit to keep a 4.0 is not a successful life skill – it is a by-product of an educational system that is too focused on testing and grades to actually teach students. This system results in students and parents who are more focused on making the grade than on learning useful skills.
This problem is not the fault of the teachers who are forced to meet common core standards and follow rules set by the state. The blame falls on our current approach to education. As stated in the book, “The Myths of Standardized Tests: What They Don’t Tell You, What You Think They Do,” the current goal of our schools is simply to increase scores on standardized tests.
The state of Michigan is currently working to develop new testing options to replace the MEAP. One of the proposals is the Smarter Balanced Assessment (SBA). While its name sounds like a step in a positive direction, the SBA is really just a relocation from the classroom to the computer lab. The test involves standardized testing using a computer program instead of using a scantron. SBA is really not any smarter for students it is just a slight alteration to the already failing system for measuring growth.
At the State of the Union Address, President Barack Obama continued to push his Race to the Top program. The program essentially grades teachers on student test scores and encourages states to turn under performing schools into private charter schools. Programs like these do not benefit students or teachers. They turn each student into a dollar sign and schools become focused on standardized test scores because of the monetary attachment to students achievement on these tests.
Schools currently function as more of a prison than an environment that encourages intellectual growth. The one size fits all model drastically hinders a students natural curiosity and breeds a dislike for learning. If public education is to continue to exist in this country, programs like Race to the Top need to be abolished and replaced.
At a relatively low cost, Finland was able to build an impressive educational system by focusing on educating teachers and allowing them to work. There is little standardized testing and minor national standards. Finnish students work with teachers to develop a curriculum so the education is completely focused on students. Despite success with this model in Europe, America continues to add more regulations and spend more money on this failing system. The SBA test or Race to the Top will not fix education, students need to be given good teachers who have freedom to teach in an effective manner.