To the Editor:
In previous letters on the current educational environment, both locally and nationally, I have emphasized that children go through school only once, that the detrimental effects of data-driven curriculum and the emphasis on standardized tests over inspiration and creativity are clear. Today’s letter seeks to remind readers of the need to consider the value of true learning over performance-based standardized testing, teaching-to-the test practices and the redesigning of curriculum to narrow it to the standards of the tests. “What is tested is what is taught,” is a familiar mantra in today’s curriculum building. Today’s letter also seeks to educate our communities on the many resources available to parents and citizens who seek to understand more about the need to return to the education of the complete child, to creativity, to inspiration and to true joy in learning.
During this month that included our nation’s celebration of the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and in the spirit of rededication to his ideals, it is indeed time for a little Civil Disobedience in this cause; time for Civil Disobedience that inspires and draws individuals to action. The ORR school district is currently misguided in its dedication to standardization, conformity and uniformity, with little regard for the intelligence, creativity and inspiration of teachers. The current educational environment in curriculum revision is more and more focused on teaching-to-the-test and conformity. The current administrator who is in charge of curriculum and instruction is a proponent of the teaching-to-the test approach, conformity in lesson planning, common assessments, data-driven decision-making and textbook-driven teaching. My purpose in my series of letters has been to inspire parents, teachers, students and community members to ask questions and to find ways to resist these trends in education.
Today I also want to emphasize that while the Old Rochester District is becoming more and more entrenched in this so-called educational reform, many other communities are beginning to question, teachers are beginning to speak out on the damage being done to children through this narrow approach, and some parents are opting out of the testing for their children.
It is inspiring that some teachers are taking action. The news is spreading; I hope many other school districts and teachers will take notice. Now is the time to preserve public education and return to learning that inspires thinking and creativity.
One source of information and inspiration is the action of the Seattle teachers, who are attempting to boycott an additional series of standardized tests being imposed upon them and their students. I offer a quote from one of the teachers in Seattle who is leading the boycott of standardized testing: “These tests are going somewhere: into the dustbin of history, thanks to teachers who are rising up to sweep them away.” I love the way this is expressed. I am excited that teachers are beginning to act on the data-driven damage to education that has been allowed to take over our schools.
Unfortunately, many teachers have been forced to go along with what they know are poor decisions that negatively affect their classrooms and students — out of fear — fear that their jobs are on the line because they are being judged by data and not by authentic teaching performance, which takes time and expertise for administrative observations and feedback.
Today I ask whether ORR will be at the forefront of the change that has to come. Some school districts are waking up and realizing the damage being done to today’s school children and the insidious corporate desire for profit fueling the current data craze. Will ORR, as a district, be proud to be in the forefront of good education and explore ways to return to real teaching and learning?
I will remind readers of a quote from MLK in my first letter, “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”
What inspires students to learn are teachers deeply educated, involved and inspired by their subject matter — be that language, science, music, history, or math. Today teachers and students are being trained. Training is not inspiring. Trained for what? For scoring higher numbers on tests? For data that is not a true measure of learning? That is not education. Students need to be encouraged in creativity, imagination, individuality and inspiration in order to have a vision for the future.
Again, from Dr. King and a previous letter, “Cowardice asks the question, ‘Is it safe?’ Expediency asks the question, ‘Is it politic?’ But conscience asks the question, ‘Is it right?’ And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular but because conscience tells one it is right.”
In addition to researching the Seattle teachers’ position and the groups supporting them, I ask readers to follow the work of the Save Our Schools organization, which has become active throughout the country in advocating a rejection of the current data-driven environment in schools. I include here several excerpts from their current newsletter, which can be found online.
“The three most trumpeted and simultaneously most destructive aspects of the united ‘school reform’ agenda are these: turning over public assets and spaces to private management; dismantling and opposing any independent, collective voice of teachers; and reducing education to a single narrow metric that claims to recognize an educated person through a test score.”
“The three pillars of this agenda are nested in a seductive but wholly inaccurate metaphor: Education is a commodity like any other — a car or a refrigerator, a box of bolts or a screwdriver — that is bought and sold in the marketplace.”
“Within this controlling metaphor the schoolhouse is assumed to be a business run by a CEO, with teachers as workers and students as the raw material bumping along the assembly line while information is incrementally stuffed into their little upturned heads.”
“Real education is not regurgitating standards and shading bubbles. Real learning is reading books — the whole book; writing on topics that reflect individual interests, experiences and ideas; answering problems that connect to actual things like solving and saving, budgeting and building; and experimenting with scientific principles where the answers differ and the results are dynamic. Quality education engenders a responsibility for one’s own learning. It is not standardized but personalized and meaningful.”
“Most importantly good education recognizes the unique differences in how children learn and honors their very brief childhood. As human beings we learn innately, joyfully and for our own purpose. To impose outcomes and control performance is to hinder human development, cultivate dependency and kill the natural curiosity that lives in each of us.”
Again, my hope is that these statements will peak my readers’ interest and will result in some questioning and greater awareness. Other places to look for information on the resistance to the over-use of standardized testing and data-driven curriculum are Race to Nowhere and End the Race, both available online.
One of my friends who taught in Texas for many years recently sent me a message in which she detailed her experiences teaching high school English. We should remember that Texas is where this over-emphasis on testing and teaching to the test all began. (Texas, where so many of the biggest test-making and textbook-publishing companies reside.) She sadly described her weeks beginning with a stack of practice tests being delivered to her classroom. These practice tests were her required lesson planning for the week. Her job became administering the tests, grading the tests and creating grades from the test results for reporting on her students. All creativity and joy was gone from her classroom, and she began to wonder why she had become a teacher, if that is what her experience would be.
Then with No Child Left Behind, AYP and the Common Core, other states followed Texas; and here we are in the Old Rochester District, which once celebrated a stellar educational system in the forefront of innovative and creative learning, now working toward greater conformity and standardization in order to celebrate meaningless test score gains.
I ask that we all do some research and all ask some questions and work toward preserving the authenticity and joy in our classrooms. If you would like to contact me for further information or to comment, my email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you for reading. More is to come.