As I was passing through the airport, I made it through security before my traveling companion. I sat and watched people moving through the massive security check and I thought back to when we flew easily around the country without all that and wondered: When did we become so afraid? How have we allowed ourselves to get to this point? How did we go from walking right on the plane to x-raying our bags to the virtual strip search? I know about 9/11 of course, but in the 1970s there were many highjackings and no such invasion of our privacy was resultant. And all the expense and security systems seem to have resulted in zero to few actual arrests for attempted terrorist plots.
I believe there are parallels between airport security and the testing system in our schools. Both were implemented out of fear. (Our test scores aren't the highest! OMG, we aren't globally competitive!) Both are massively expensive and intrusive systems with little tangible return on investment of time and resources. Both seem to be influenced by the profit motive and the current crony/revolving door government in DC. Both have evolved over time, and we have been like the proverbial frog in the pot of water set to boil. Little by little, we have allowed ourselves to become accustomed to things we would never have allowed if they were introduced all at once.
If in 2001, when No Child Left Behind was passed, if we had been told that we would be implementing tests that required a high level of secrecy, that teachers would receive no usable feedback for instruction nor be able to comment on or discuss test items, that the tests would take between 8 and 20 hours for a third grader (or even an 11th grader) to complete, and that based on the results of those tests which no one could see or comment on, important decisions about children, teachers and schools would be made, I like to think that the outrage would have completely eliminated the possibility of implementing such a system.
Or maybe not. I am often surprised by the people who are willing to accept the system. But maybe I shouldn’t be. They seem to fall into the, “Whatever,” category: “Whatever, I need to get where I’m going,” “Whatever, we need to be safe from terrorists,” “Whatever, I’m not doing anything wrong,” “Whatever, I still get paid,” “Whatever, we’ve always had testing,” “Whatever, everyone already knows which kids are failing,” “Whatever, my kids will do okay”.
I wish I could be a “whatever” person but I just can’t. It still makes me mad when I have to let the machine scan me and look under my clothes. And it still makes me mad when we label kids failing as young as eight years old. My kids are out of school. I’m close to retirement. “Whatever” would be a far easier road for me to walk. But I care about the kids who are “failing”. I don’t view them as failures. Every child has talent in some area and every person has worth and I don’ t think we are doing the right thing.
I don’t believe in making kids feel bad about themselves if their area of talent isn’t reading or math. I don’t believe that the only things we should be teaching children are reading or math. I don’t believe we should be demanding that every child achieve the same things at the same time. I don’t believe in a system where every child must conform or be labeled “not meeting standards”. I don’t believe in fake “reform” that really means privatizing our public school system.
I believe in a public education system that meets the needs of every child. I believe that every child should graduate from high school with not only basic skills for life in place, but a good self-concept in place as well. I believe everyone needs basic math skills; not everyone needs to take calculus. I believe everyone needs basic reading skills; not everyone needs to be able to close read and analyze The Aeneid. I believe everyone needs to find their own talents, not fit into one of two boxes or be rejected.
I believe in choice for students and parents, and that the word “choice” should not apply only to the “choice” to remove your child from your neighborhood school and place them in a private school if you don’t like the system the neighborhood school is forced to use. I believe parents, teachers, students, and a locally elected school board should determine how our schools are run with our tax dollars, not people far away who don’t know our kids and might love for some of those dollars to be deposited into their bank accounts.
I am jumping out of the boiling pot. Join me. Join us. Jump. Don’t be afraid. We need true school reform that works for every child.
Demand an end to a test focused education system. Opt out. Write your senators and congressional representatives and tell them no annual testing in the new reauthorization of ESEA. Say no to test based accountability systems. Make a difference. Do one thing. Do it today.
Know the issues. Pay attention. Keep an eye on that pot.