“If I were education secretary I would…”

I would face the facts. Since the advent of high-stakes testing, many schools have become depressing places for students and teachers alike. How exciting can it be to spend the year preparing for a test?

In my country, the United States, boys are falling further and further behind in school and I believe the high-stakes tests are why. They are not so good at doing what they do not like or value. Young children are developing school phobia in epic numbers and are dropping out in favour of home schooling. Plus, we are losing many of our most promising young teachers.

These tests were put in place for a very important reason. Certain schools were not providing quality education and the government wanted to hold them accountable. However, the remedy has been killing the patient and, most importantly, killing the zest for learning and growth.

Kids need a thirst for learning and a taste for using their learning

Let us change that focus. Let us focus on growth. Research shows that students focussed on growth not only seek to learn, but they also learn more content, they learn more deeply, and they transfer their learning to new areas. This is what our kids need to succeed in life: not an endless series of top grades or perfect test scores, — but a thirst for learning and a taste for using their learning to solve new, hard problems.

In my country and yours, some schools have taken on this credo in earnest and have seen startling results, often becoming a top school in their region. Most amazingly, some of these schools are serving students from under-resourced communities. These students, whom people never believed in before, are now outperforming their far wealthier counterparts.

We have developed programmes that teach this message — that students can grow their brains — and these programmes, administered on a large scale, are raising achievement as well as sending more students to university and keeping them there. We are developing and testing teaching materials that reward perseverance and growth and not just the right answers. We are creating learners.

If I were the Secretary of State for Education, I would make schools places of growth. I would support the development of research and practice that give back to students and teachers that zest for learning — the desire for challenges, passion for hard work, embracing of mistakes, and joy in improvement. If some schools can do it, all schools can do it.

Carol Dweck is author of Mindset: The New Psychology of Success (Random House, 2006)

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