Hello, I'm back! I apologize to my meager number of readers for my three-month silence. I'm fighting the anger and frustration that causes writer's block. So much to say, I'm all backed up!
Recently, I have made a wonderful, inspiring discovery. Tons and tons of concerned citizens like myself are starting to fight--engage in battle, an all-out-war-- the ruthless attack on the Public Schools of America. It is so relieving to know I am not alone in this battle, as a teacher and a parent. It also helps me to feel more secure about publishing my opinions about the subject on the Internet...so may of us Ed Advocates are now using blogging as our outlet to exposing the very ugly truths about corporate-driven education policies. Some even have called it Education "Deform". How creative!
To me, the most monumental part of this battle is the fight against high-stakes Stanzardized Testing. Many parents and students in many states, particularly Pennsylvania, are "opting out" of standardized testing. Parents have had enough! We feel that we are losing autonomy over our own childrens' education. We feel it is a form of neglect. Some of us will even go as far as to say we feel it violates child labor laws in states where merit pay is involved.
Wow I wish the parents of MY inner-city students would consider that...but the sad fact is they are in the process of being brainwashed by this system. They are made to believe these tests are GOOD for their children. Also, they are so busy trying to survive (you know, keep a roof over their kids' heads, put food on the table, and protecting their kids from gangs and stray bullets) that fighting this good fight is a mere intellectual morsel in the backs of their minds. After all, it is so easy to brainwash people who are distracted by the fact that they need to work 50 hours a week at a minimum wage job in order to feed and shelter their familes. It is even easier to distract those who (understandably) want their children to have a better life than they do...and college is the goal. And how do we get into college? WE SCORE WELL ON TESSSSTS! Wahooo.
What many parents fail to realize is that exposing their beloved offspring to high-stakes, developmentally INAPPROPRIATE mindless testing that focuses on strategy rather than content and rich literature is not the ticket to this "better life". It's a one-way ticket to their child becoming another oppressed member of this society, forever bound to serving a corporate rich man (ok...or woman...must be PC here...) who does not question authority, has no real-life skills such as project-buliding, problem-solving, conflict resolution, teamwork, compassion, or creativity. And yes, I believe compassion is a SKILL.
So, in this post, I will explore these pressing questions:
Is this an accident? A big ooopsie on the blip of modern education? Are today's educational leaders aware of the grave mistakes they are making, numbing the minds of the lower and middle-class children of America? Is high-stakes testing just an easy way to measure schools and teachers?
NO, it is no accident. Think of it this way, it is so much easier to keep the wealthy rich and the poor SERVING and impovershed if the kids who go to underfunded public schools are forced to "learn" this way, and teachers are forced to teach to a test, rather than to the intellectual, mental, emotional, and individual needs of her students.
Private schools do not emphasize high-stakes testing. Private schools implement cooperative lessons, interactive units and project-based learning. And although public schools in wealthy areas of the counry are still required to test, they have more resources (money) to make the experience much more well-rounded for their students. Meaning, students can achieve high test scores through innovative education, regardless of wether they are taught "to" the test, through accountable talk, skill-building, and the implementation of Bloom's Taxonomy.
Upon graduating, wealthy students have these important skills that are needed in the business world. Their parents either can afford to send them to private school or live an area (predominantly white, like Bronxville or Scarsdale) where schools are properly funded because of the rediculously high taxes in those towns.
The kids that go to underfunded urban and rural public schools (hopefully) graduate High School armed with reading strategies like finding the "main idea" and "relevant details" within a text, or discovering the "authors purpose". Great, wonderful reading strategies, but there are only four answers to choose from. In many questions, two of these answers are so close to "right", or it seems none of the answers are right, and it becomes more about multiple choice strategy than the actual text itself. Because there is such an emphasis on this "testing strategy", and we spend 90% of our instructional time teaching this way, students will not graduate armed with the REAL strategies they need to survive in the work force, in college, or in adult life, where one needs to learn how to be creative, problem-solving, compassionate and build strong relationships.
That's only for the children of wealthy people.
(Funny, though, compassionate wealthy people barely exist, anyway--how ironic)
See, it's no accident that I have no time to teach important life-skills. I have a test-prep course to teach my 11-year-olds. Fill in those bubbles all the way with your #2 pencil, do not form opinions when you write,and regurgitate text details. The only reason why I need these skills now as an adult is becuase I have to teach them to my students.
Just to clear it up, there is a writing portion on the NYS English Language Arts test--it is very unfairly timed and does not involve any sort of persuasion, problem-solving, creative, or opinion-based writing. It's still all based on texts the students read, and they are rushed through it. I KNOW for a FACT that if my students were given more time on these portions of the test, they would be more successful.
Sure, it's important be armed with reading strategies. I'm not knocking the NYS standards, although I think some key educational components are missing (such as compassion). I'm knocking the way I am forced to teach them. I run a test-prep course. The skills and strategies outlined in the NYS learning standards CAN be taught differently. Hey! I have an idea! How about reading a REALLY GOOD book with my students ---
(For example....hmmm...Milkweed by Jerry Spinelli--a fantastic historical fiction on the 6th grade level book that eloquently tells the story of a little boy living in the Warsaw Ghetto.)
---and actually DISCUSSING the book? Having debates on the deep issues of hatred and prejudice the book stirs up? But no. I have been repeatedly told by admin that a whole-class book is out of the question. But, IF, I aquired the all-coveted PERMISSION of my supervisor, and was "allowed" to read a whole-class book, If I REALLY want to be an effective test-teacher, I would make up tricky multiple-choice questions about the book and have my students explain why they chose their answer. In other words, I'd suck the joy right out of the experience of reading (and teaching) great literature.
So, no, it is no accident. Educational leaders ARE aware of the grave mistakes they are making, and do not care. Are these "educational leaders" listening to the advice offered by other countries who are on top of the Education World, such as Finland or Thailand? No. Are they cutting funding to public education while demading unrealistic test scores in the most poverty-ravaged areas of this country? Yes. Are they making it impossible for ELL students and Special Ed students to go to (uuuuugh) Charter Schools (ie test prep factories)? Yes. Is that blatant discrimination? Yes. Is any of this an accident? NO.
OK...on to the second portion of the question : Is high-stakes testing just an easy way to "measure" schools and teachers? OF COURSE IT IS!!! Measure me, please! Measure away! Why not? It's just one test that my students take on one day of the school year, regardless of the fact that they may be sick that day, or may have had a fight with their mom, or their dad may have walked out that month and they are sad, or that they didn't eat breakfast or dinner the night before, or they may have been distrated by the random rucous noises in my Middle School or that they simply cannot sit still for the amount of time it takes to fill in the little bubbles, or, the most likely option, they've been under so much pressure all year long to perform on this test that the day came and now they are ----literally----frozen with fear. I have no conrol over ANY of these factors. So, please, why don't you JUDGE my teaching abilities, based on this test.
After all, my family's livelihood and the carrer I worked so hard for (and still am paying student loans back for) depends on it. And while you're at it, judge my school, my collegues, my supervisors, my district, and my city. Send that bubble sheet right through the computer, and measure my worth as a public servant. Sure, you can judge me, but you will NEVER keep me quiet about the manner in which you choose to do so. Remember, folks...that's the beauty of America, we have Freedom of Speech, Freedom of the Press, and Freedom of Assembly.
Moving on, much of education funding depends on the test results of your specific school or district. That's why underperforming schools are underfunded--it's a viscious cycle. Remember that corporations are now in full control of much of the country. The CEOs at McGraw-Hill Corporation are making a killing selling their mindless tests to public school disticts. So, high-stakes testing is a simple and very economic way to measure "teacher effectiveness" .
Hey, corporate leaders of America...I'm sure your teachers taught YOU this when you were in school: the simplest way is NOT always the most efficient. It's just the quickest way to put more hard-earned taxpayer money into your already overflowing pockets.
The saddest part is, somehow in this fight, we have lost sight of who we are fighting for, not for ourselves, or our money, or our benefits, or our unions or political parties. We are fighting for our students, who have been brainwashed to the pathetic point that they think they are represented by a number. "Yay, I'm a 4." "Oh, I suck, I'm a 1." "Do you think I will be a 2 again this year?" It's very sad. I have actually taken the risk of telling my class that they are not definable by a score, and that a number cannot truly represent who they are as students, as people, as children. I was met with gaping mouths. Do their parents not tell them this? Do their parents not see that this is how society is measuring their childrens' intellectual "worth"? Well, I'll tell you what, not MY kid. There are many parents who are aware and educated who have their eyes open to these injustices. However, as I stated prior, may are not, becuase they are too brainwashed, or too busy trying to survive in these impossible economic times.
Final mental picure for you, dear readers:
Me: OK, everyone, the test is soon, be sure to review the notes and strategies I gave you during your spring break. Don't forget to do the 15 pages I assigned you in your test prep book!
Aisha: Miss, what do we do in May, after the test? Does school still count? Is school over then? Do we get to come here and do nuthin'?
Me: No, school still counts after the test. We're going to have Book Clubs and write poetry. We have a WHOLE MONTH to do that!
Class: (Reallllly noisy, rucous joy) YEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEAHHHHHHHH!!!
They are just dying for a REAL education. True Story.