Everybody talks about it. Everybody’s got an opinion.
So, lest I miss out on all the fun of opinion-giving, here are a couple thoughts that were stirred up in my head after talking to a friend of mine who’s an English teacher in Southern New Jersey. She teaches primarily “special needs” students who come from a mixture of backgrouns (inner-city kids, immigrant kids, blue collar workers’ kids).
Many of her students are functionally illiterate and/or perform very poorly on standardized tests or any “school”ish tasks. They don’t write well; they don’t read well; they fail at math. Unfortunately, by the time she gets them as high scholers, they believe that they’re idiots, incapable of ever measuring up to the standards set by society and the school system.
Bush’s “No Child Left Behind” Act is a travesty. It requires 100% of public education students, including special ed students, to pass their states’ exit exams by 2014. (Why have “special ed” then?) Districts must attain unreachable statistical goals in order to remain on the “good” list. Teachers are terrified into spending every classroom moment on the skills necessary to pass the exam. Money for the arts, vo-tech, or other vital parts of education (if you believe that humans are more than reading, writing, and ‘rithmetic) has evaporated now that high-stakes testing is all anyone has time for. Music … theater … art … carpentry — the exit exams don’t care about those.
Instead of recognizing a child’s unique gifts and crafting an educational experience that allows each person to both enter society as a functioning member (basic life skills) as well as a contributing member (by helping them unwrap those gifts and talents), public education is forced to shove each child through a particular mold (determined by the test).
As a result, states will end up lowering the bar to “pass” students who otherwise would fail (since federal money rides on these scores). And states are moving toward frighteningly draconian measures to tie teachers’ salaries, jobs, and advancement to the kids’ test scores. Is that *really* a good idea? … Would YOU put your salary, retirement, or job security on the line to teach the classroom of “struggling learners,” knowing that you will be blamed if they cannot pass the test? (Never mind the fact that you have no control over the kids’ home lives, parental involvement, or even whether they had anything in the house to eat for breakfast…..)
I’m not here to argue the morality of the current system (as in “should Christians send their kids to public schools?”). But I *do* know that there is a biblically normative way to structure education–ways that take into account the image of God stamped upon all humans–and those norms apply to the public school system (whether the system acknowledges them or not).
This is a good example of how a well-meaning reform movement (“teachers don’t have enough accountability!”) was based on faulty information and blanket statements (“The schools are all failing!!”) and chose a flawed solution (high-stakes testing) without considering the consequences.