We stand at the crossroads of one of the most important bastions of democracy–public education. There is a calculated and lucrative attack on our schools by corporations that wish to profit from their failure. There are many ways that they wish to achieve this: through media (actually owned by these very same entrepreneurs); lobbyists, politicians, pundits and biased bill writers.
The main engine for this takeover is standardized testing. Not just any standardized testing but contentious high risk ones like PARCC (Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers). To procure federal funding for education, many states were mandated to give these tests as part of Race to the Top, a nationwide initiative to improve the education of our children. Or more correctly, to improve their scores. The tests are connected to a nationwide curriculum called Common Core in an attempt to have a syllabus that standardizes all that our children learn and circumvents any local community or local school or teacher input.
These assessments, and others like them, are untested. As Jane Watson, a Washington state educator says in her article “Rotten to the Common Core”, it’s like flying in an airplane while it’s being built. People with no teaching experience developed both Common Core and the flotsam tests connected to them. After they were developed, a few teachers were involved as advisors.
To be able to take these tests, as many of you know or will soon know, computers are involved. Many districts are deficient in the number of computers necessary and staff that have to be trained to give the test. Those who do not have enough computers must make arrangements that involve losing valuable teaching time.
Speaking of accommodations, many schools have essentially jettisoned other curriculum areas like gym, art, and physical education, etc. to prepare the students. These “other areas” have been proven to not only add to the overall education of our children but also improve content area curriculum in math, language arts and science.
In addition, our most vulnerable school population, those children who live in impoverished areas, English Language Learners (ELL) and students with special needs will be negatively impacted, due to lack of school monetary funds to prep them to tackle the challenges of the tests that have already shown to be overly difficult for the whole school population.
This testing will also unfairly evaluate, compare and penalize students, teachers, supervisors and schools.
Teaching is more than a standardized test. It is an art. Teachers nurtures the growth of their students during the time they are with them. Part of that growth is assessment. Assessment comes in many forms and should be tailored to each child. It can take be a collection of their work in portfolios, performance assessments (skits, plays, interviews by the teacher), anecdotal notes and yes, a reasonable standardized test based on the community, content and school.
Teaching is a journey not a destination.
So, the testing engine is part of the machine that will roll over many students, demoralize teachers, and damage children’s egos. Many psychologists have documented the effects of this particular test stress on children. Michelle Rhee, one of the founders of Students First, a lobbying organization for so-called school reform, when commenting to The New York Times on kids who are stressed out and suffering replied, “So what? Life can be stressful: it can be challenging.” In other words, tough it out, my little friends.
But most insidious, is the “school reform” movement, including charter schools, which will swoop down on the schools, urban, rural and suburban, who do not reach the appropriate aggregate of scores and take them over. They can and are doing it by setting up charter schools with the state’s approval and financial backing (your taxes) or by co-habitating another school, often shifting children to other schools, surely not a climate conducive to learning.
The charter school movement is a complicated and contentious one. There are a few good charters, because in some cases they skim the better students from the public school or refuse to accept and sometimes reject ELL students or students with special needs. Mostly the research shows that a few charter are on par but many are below par. We don’t know, since there is no need for transparency like the traditional public schools.
I’m running out of words but not anger. Fight back. Read Diane Ravitch’s best selling book, Reign of Error and have a book club discussion. Go to her blog: http://dianeravitch.net. Get with other parents. Many have decided to opt out their children but there are other ways to protect your children and our schools. Go to United Opt Out, the movement to end corporate education reform. Ask your principal how much money is being spent to administer the tests in Verona. How much time is being used to prepare and take these tests and what programs have been either slimmed down, cut or eliminated?
And now comes the pitch. Three events that are happening, one in New Jersey, one in the metro area and one across the country:
- Attend the reading of the play A Noble Failure on May 5 (Teacher Appreciation Day) at Luna Theater in West Orange
- Go to a rally in Manhattan’s City Hall Park on May 17
- Learn how to use Teacher Appreciation Week to ask parents to take a stand if they truly appreciate their teachers, children and school
Get angry. Fight back. You won’t be alone.
Verona resident Terry Moore is the New Jersey Information Coordinator for Save Our Schools March, one of several nationwide organizations trying to reclaim public education from any high-stakes standardized testing, especially the new ones attached to the Common Core Curriculum. Verona’s public schools will administer the NJ-ASK starting April 28.