"What did you do in school today?" "Nothing." Ah ... the generic response of children when confronted upon their parents arrival home from work. No need to press the issue. As a 15-year veteran public school teacher, I'll share the 411 from an insider's perspective - with a well-deserved angle of candidness and transparency for parents and taxpayers.
Your child is becoming highly proficient with filling in little circles on bubble sheets and is acquiring a wealth of knowledge on the questioning and structure of standardized tests.
Today's students are test-taking gurus, a direct result of being instructed via a curriculum driven by high-stakes standardized testing. A fourth-grader in New York, for instance, will spend around five weeks in which they'll be subjected to some form of standardized assessments. This figure does not account for far more time which is allocated toward test preparation - aka "teaching for the test." Live in New York and thinking about moving? Don't. Analogous situations exist in the other states. Your child is being shortchanged of basic academic skills, life skills, crucial thinking, social interaction and creativity as more time, effort, resources and money are spent on standardized testing. Currently, millions of Americans are afflicted with lifestyle-related illnesses as well as financial problems, both largely due to personal choices and lack of knowledge. Standardized tests ignore health or money-management issues essential in creating competent adults who can effectively navigate our global society. A nationwide educational curriculum is being implemented this year known as CCLS (Core Curriculum Learning Standards), which is mirrored by the standardized tests. It fails miserably in addressing students' diversity and does an equally poor job in setting developmentally appropriate material for students. The individuality of each child is neglected by the current system of excessive standardized testing. Everyone is expected to meet the same standards. This system gives no value or respect to a child's special gifts. And subject matter which poses challenges is expected to miraculously improve. It is a failed attempt at a one-size-fits-all which simply does not fit anywhere. It defies the principles of quality education.
I can assure you with the utmost of confidence that the hearts of teachers, principals, superintendents and support staff are in the right place. That said, when professionals of education, en masse, comply with and promote the process of out-of-control standardized testing, they are, albeit unintentionally, facilitating a process which compromises the education of our youth. Educators are currently entangled in a web created by those who have little interest our children's learning. It amounts to a strategic system of threats and bribes orchestrated by the state Education Department, publishing companies and politicians. Amid a slew of anti-bullying legislation, teachers and students are ironically bearing similar treatment from the same sources who are behind the anti-bullying movement. School funding is based significantly upon how students score on standardized tests. Higher scores equate to more money for the school. Results which are "too low" and/or do not show "enough" improvement result in schools being labeled "in need of improvement" status. New York state, like others, decides how to "redistribute" money to school districts. Do districts with higher test scores need or deserve more money than those with lower scores and students who possess greater overall needs? The constant distractions and subsequent time constraints imposed by state testing are taking educators away from the true meaning of education. Teachers are often forced to take time away from their students to mark the portion of the test which is not electronically scored. This results in school districts paying for large numbers of substitute teachers - and at times shortages of subs occur. Our children's education suffers, yet again. As for assigning grades to the tests, the state refuses to publicly disclose their grading procedure. That's akin to a teacher grading your child then telling you and your child that they will not explain how they arrived at that grade. Teachers are also responsible for the students' standardized test scores, to the extent of losing their jobs if students don't score "well enough" on the tests. It's a situation of those with the knowledge and commitment to educate children being strong-armed by individuals who have no experience educating young people or in some cases moved on to publishing or government jobs after failed stints as teachers.
In the midst of a weak economy, your child has become a world-class investment for the publishers of standardized tests. They are thriving - and making a fortune by exploiting our children. Pearson is a company which has garnered numerous deals across the nation to create state tests. This includes contracts to the tune of $32 million in New York and $468 million in Texas. They also "conveniently" print textbooks (i.e. the enVisions math series) which literally teach toward their own standardized tests. The major buyers of these books are school districts hoping to have an "in" on improving test scores. Pearson has spent more than $2.6 million lobbying (from 2009 to 2011) in New York, Texas, Florida and California to promote its personal interests. While parents invest in their children, Pearson and other large companies are using our children to invest in itself.
Contrary to popular belief, there is plenty of funding surrounding education. It's a case of atrocious financial management, catalyzed by the aforementioned situation of bribes and threats imposed on schools. New York state has reduced funding to school districts in recent years. Class sizes continue to increase, and extracurricular activities are cut. Our children suffer.
The intent of school taxes is to pay for the quality education of our youth, as opposed to lining the pockets of some publishing company that has never met our children and cares nothing about our children.
Never have I witnessed a time when it was more important to take back our schools.
Edward J. Komperda III lives in Greene, in south-central New York.