Alfie Kohn has been described by Time magazine as “perhaps the country’s most outspoken critic of education’s fixation on grades [and] test scores.” He is an independent scholar who has written 14 books, and scores of articles, about education, human behavior, and social theory. Among those books: Punished by Rewards (1993), Beyond Discipline (1996), The Schools Our Children Deserve (1999), and, most recently, Schooling Beyond Measure (2015). Kohn’s essays, meanwhile, have appeared in publications ranging from the Review of Educational Research to the Chronicle of Higher Education, and from The Nation to the Harvard Business Review.
In this interview, which is part of the Lead the Change Series of the American Educational Research Association Educational Change Special Interest Group, Kohn shares his thoughts on the direction of educational change:
With respect to academic outcomes…discussions about “promising results” from various policies and practices are admirably precise about what produced them but swiftly pass over the fact that those results consist of nothing more than scores on standardized tests, often norm-referenced and multiple-choice versions. Thus, the putatively successful teaching strategy—and all the impressive sounding data that support it—are worthless because there’s no evidence that it improves learning. Just test scores. So my argument has been that if we’re going to dedicate ourselves to meaningful change, we need to shift our focus from details of implementation to underlying premises, and from how to why.
This Lead the Change interview appears as part of a series that features experts from around the globe, highlights promising research and practice, and offers expert insight on small- and large-scale educational change. Recently Lead the Change has also published interviews with Diane Ravitch, and the contributors to Leading Educational Change: Global Issues, Challenges, and Lessons on Whole-System Reform (Teachers College Press, 2013) edited by Helen Janc Malone, have participated in a series of blogs from Education Week.