Monday, October 20, 2014

When Do The Children Spend Time Learning?

In Friday's post on a City of Seattle ballot measure that would inflict high-stakes standardized tests on 4-year-olds, I linked to a Christian Science Monitor article entitled, As Overtesting Outcry Grows, Education Leaders Pull Back On Standardized Tests, that quoted President Obama as saying:

I have directed [Education Secretary Arne] Duncan to support states and school districts in the effort to improve assessment of student learning so that parents and teachers have the information they need, that classroom time is used wisely, and assessments are one part of fair evaluation of teachers and accountability for schools.

He was apparently responding to an effort by the Council of Chief State School Officers, the people who literally own the Common Core State Standards brand (something the reporter does not reveal) and exist solely for the purpose of ramming this untested, faith-based, anti-democratic public school curriculum down our throats, to distance themselves from the onerous testing regime they've created. Apparently, these drill-and-kill salesmen have finally figured out that high-stakes tests are widely despised by teachers, parents, students, and just about anyone else who cares about public education. Instead of admitting that there is a fatal flaw in their product, however, instead of taking it back into the shop for a fix, these education hucksters are now engaged in a marketing campaign to convince us that they're listening while still peddling the same old snake oil.

Now, I don't really see any sort of concession in Obama's words, but apparently the CSM reporter does, and it wouldn't be the first time in recent months that the high-powered politicians and businesspeople who are flogging Common Core and high-stakes standardized testing have pretended to be backing off, just a little. I'm confident that these are merely marketing words, because these high-stakes tests are too firmly embedded in the Common Core/No Child Left Behind product to ever be removed. This is another sign, however, that corporate "reformers" are concerned that the grass roots "opt out" movement is seriously damaging their brand and could potentially kill it. In other words, little by little, we are succeeding.

As it now stands, the average American public school student is being tested once a month (a number that I've had recently confirmed by a local Garfield High School teacher), with many being subjected to these tests twice a month. Good lord, between test preparation and actual testing, when do the children spend time learning?

Of course, the goal is no longer learning, if it ever was: the goal is winning. If it was genuinely about improving pubic education, these guys would be giving more than lip-service to the mountains of evidence that these tests measure very little of importance, are unreliable, are unfair and discriminatory, are incapable of measuring most of what a well-rounded education is all about, eat up valuable classroom time with drill-and-kill rote learning, narrow the curriculum, are unhealthily stressful for young children, and have only managed to cause American students to perform worse on the standardized measures they seem to care most about, such as the international PISA tests

That's right, since the passage of No Child Left Behind (NCLB) in 2002, which was the beginning of this high-stakes federal government intrusion into our schools, US student scores in math have fallen dramatically, from 18th in the world to 36th in the most recent tests. There has been a similar drop in science scores and no change in reading. I personally put no stock in these tests (nor, coincidentally, does the Chinese government which is withdrawing from PISA testing in the name of providing better education), but the corporatists do. So by their own "accountability measures" corporate reformers have failed in dramatic fashion. If they were a school they would have long ago been shut down, the teachers fired, and the kids sent off to for-profit charter schools where their test scores would be no better than before, but, you know, they're private sector so they needn't be held to the same standards as public schools.

When Arne Duncan's office was recently asked by Washington Post education reporter Valerie Strauss if they were aware of a pair of recent studies that slam the use of high-stakes tests to evaluate teachers, one of his pet projects, they said they were aware while in the same breath doubling down on their commitment to using these tests to evaluate teachers. Until now, this is pretty much how they've responded to all the research about the crap-fest that is high-stakes standardized testing. This tells me they have no interest in improving their product, but rather are committed to foisting it upon us consumers "as is."

Of course, if the folks who brought us the Common Core and the attendant testing fetishism had been interested in honest input from teachers, parents, and students they would have, at a minimum, built feedback mechanisms into the system. They did not. This is a finished, copyrighted product, owned by a cabal of what CSM calls "education leaders," being forced upon teachers, parents, and students. What I'm doing right now -- complaining loudly in public -- is the only avenue for change.

When I write these posts, there are always a few readers who, with good intentions, suggest that we would be better served to put our heads down and strive to make "change from within." I appreciate the sentiment, and god bless those of you who are subversively giving your students an opportunity for a real education "between the cracks," but this is not a legitimate alternative to engaging in the political fight before us. You don't have to be the sort of hair-on-fire radical that I've become, but democracy only works if people engage in it. These guys like Bill Gates and Arne Duncan are individually more powerful than us, but we have the numbers and they know it. Their lip-service tells us this.

This is not about education. The curtain has been pulled back and we can see it for what it is. This is quite simply about making it possible for corporations like Pearson Education and Microsoft to make money off the labor of children, breaking their spirits in the test score coal mines in the process.

This is what I think needs to happen:

  • We must continue reading, writing, and talking about the dangers of Common Core and high-stakes standardized testing, yelling louder and louder, including spreading the word about the movement to "opt out" of these tests. This is clearly having a positive impact. 

I'm doing my best on the first one. You can too by opting out and telling people why. Please share this video via email and social media and take the time to engage in discussions with people who do not agree:

As for the second, I've been regularly writing and calling my senators and congressman. They may not respond to you personally, but if they get enough messages like this, they will have to pay attention:

Dear Senator Murray,
As a teacher and parent, it has become increasingly clear that the Common Core national curriculum being promoted by the Department of Education was developed in an anti-democratic and possibly un-Consitutional manner, and it is beginning to look as if it was devised simply as a way to line the pockets of education business people. There is very little research or data to support this approach to education and mountains of research and data against it. Children, parents, and teachers are being hurt. The only ones who seem to be benefiting are for-profit corporations. I'm joining those who are calling upon you to advocate for Senate hearings into the development of Common Core and the constitutionality of how it is being implemented. Please pay attention. Our children are being damaged. 
Tom Hobson

As for transforming public education: that has become part of my life's work. So far, I've proposed a large table with room for everyone who wants a seat. For the rest I need you. What's next? Please help.

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Anonymous said...

Common Core is based on which faith? Faith in tests? I was confused by your post. I totally agree this high stakes testing is wrong and it is wrong for Common Core to make money off of it, as it is wrong for the Gates foundation to ignore how Bill learned computers and push testing. Is Common Core based in the faith of communism?

Teacher Tom said...

@Anonymous . . . I'm speaking about faith as opposed to research/data. I suppose if there is something these guys have "faith" in, it's neoliberal ideology (e.g., trickle down, laissez fair, Friedmanism, Chicago School, Reaganomics, supply side, etc.). It looks pretty on paper, but has failed for most of us wherever it's been applied.