Previous columns covered some of the aspects of our public education system regarding politics, methods and financing. In this final piece of the series I intend to briefly address the myths surrounding the current "thinking" about learning, accountability and our children.
The counterproductive canard about school choice proves to be just another political expedient: it sounds good and gets votes. The facts are that charter and/or private schools skim the best students from applicants and leave the poorest performers in public schools thus worsening an already desperate situation. Even so, when charter school students are tested nationally (NAEP), they score no better than public school students (Wall Street Journal, 9/22). Furthermore, by moving students out of their community schools, an important thread of community cohesion goes with them. This model of school choice is specific to towns and cities where there are more than one school from which to choose, or have sufficient population to financially support a for-profit school.
Even though diversity is a watchword in public education, the testing against which teachers and principals are held accountable is written and administered as one test serves all. There are no accommodations for special needs children, English learners or poor socio-economics. No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top do not address these issues either yet both laws that punish schools for failing arbitrary tests. Testing begins in 3rd grade, but nothing is done in previous years to prepare poor kids for learning to grade level. The inevitability of failing schools in poorer neighborhoods creates a pressure toward elitism from the opposite direction of school choice. The poor kids can’t escape their failing schools while funds and jobs are cut and their schools closed for lack of performance on standardized tests.
Any educator today who says they don’t teach to the test is blowing smoke. Under the current laws in Texas and everywhere else, teachers MUST prepare their students to take the specific standardized test or face sanctions and job loss due to poor performance. There are cases where students who are taught to take a specific test on a subject and do well. When they take a different test on the same topic, they fail. In short, teaching to the test does not prepare students to learn anything; just satisfy a politically motivated requirement for test scores to save educators’ jobs.
Back in the day, teachers were respected members of the community. They made their own tests based on what they taught. Even with unfair labor practices toward teachers, terrible pay and ridiculous working conditions, the children of previous generations graduated in numbers today’s schools would be thrilled with. Why, because it was interesting at school. Teachers actually taught what they knew about pedagogy and how to learn. They were and are professionals in these things. They weren’t then and are not now test teachers. They are teachers of children, those highly variable (every child is unique) members of our society we hope will carry the torch of freedom and democracy to the world and subsequent generations. Our well being as a society, the strength of our economy and the brilliance of our innovation, all things under underachieving today, depend on the quality of our education system, not politically motivated testing regimes.
What if we finally dumped the quaint notion that "teachers aren’t in it for the money" and actually paid competitive salaries to educators equal to or better than their equally educated counterparts? Along with that, what if we put back our trust in our teachers and let them do their jobs instead of having government watchdogs looking over their shoulders? My experience allows me to predict that the quality of scholastically excellent people entering teaching would skyrocket while our children would once again become leaders in the knowledge and skills they need to compete in the global economy.
Vote to put people in office who will best serve your children by dumping this failing model of test and punish. Vote for people who want to EXPAND curriculum, not dumb it down to make test scores look good or satisfy a political agenda.
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