Home > Uncategorized > If Adverse DNA Test Results Do Not Change Personal Habits Why Do WE Think that Standardized Test Results Would Change Schools?

If Adverse DNA Test Results Do Not Change Personal Habits Why Do WE Think that Standardized Test Results Would Change Schools?

August 28, 2017

I read an article earlier this month by AP science writer Malcolm Ritter titled “Science Says DNA Test Results May Not Change Health Habits”. To those of a scientific bent, this flies in the face of logic and reason. If one was told that their DNA pre-disposed them to a disease, why wouldn’t they eat healthier foods, exercise more regularly, and do everything possible to avoid exacerbating the likelihood of illness? It seems that NOT changing ones habits is in keeping with the findings of several researchers:

Last year, researchers published an analysis that combined 18 studies of people who got doctor-ordered DNA test results about disease risks. None involved direct-to-consumer tests; participants were drawn mostly from medical clinics or elsewhere. Eight of the 18 studies were done in the United States.

The result? Getting the DNA information produced no significant effect on diet, physical activity, drinking alcohol, quitting smoking, sun protection or attendance at disease-screening programs.

That fits with other results showing that, on balance, getting the information “has little if any impact on changing routine or habitual behaviors,” said psychologist Theresa Marteau of Britain’s Cambridge University, a study author.

I read this finding and immediately saw a link to public education policy, where “reformers” and politicians seem to believe that presenting adverse test results will naturally compel schools to change their “bad habits”. But the “reformers” and politicians’ diagnosis of “bad habits” focuses on “overpaid union teachers”, over-regulation, and the requirement that children attend the schools in their zip code and they offer their remedies accordingly. As anyone who’s worked in multiple districts knows, however, it is the students whose “habits” need to change. And as anyone who understands the impact of poverty on the life of a child realizes, it is exceedingly difficult to change habits of mind with an empty stomach and without a roof over ones head. In the end, the “habits” we need to change if we want to change the habits of teachers and students is the “habit of mind” that compels us to believe that there is a cheap, fast, and easy solution to the problems brought on by poverty.

And to stretch this metaphor a little further, unlike human DNA it is possible to change policy DNA and  the operational DNA of public schools. For example, we could:

  • Abandon grade levels based on age
  • Replace summative assessments with formative assessments
  • Emphasize mastery of material over attaining a “passing” grade
  • Offer educational programming year-round and all day
  • Emphasize collaboration and compassion over competition and comparing
  • Divert the money used to provide incentives for businesses to help parents earn a living wage
  • Acknowledge that poverty is the underlying problem of most societal ills, and that poverty could be eliminated through the redistribution of wealth

The abandonment of the factory model for schools and the establishment of a fair, progressive system of taxation are probably both beyond the capacity of our policy makers today. But if we can conceive of such a change it seems to me we could make it happen.

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