Have you ever met a standard child? Just one in your entire life? Were you, perhaps, a standard child yourself? No? Neither have I met one nor was I one. So what is it then with the idea of, the concept of, Standardized Tests for children? I am here making a distinction between early childhood education, let’s say from nursery school thru middle school. In the news on July 16th, 2011 a story is a about a cheating scandal in Atlanta, Georgia. The cheaters were not school children but teachers fudging the standardized testing such that No Child Would Be Left Behind nor would any teacher be tossed out or penalized because one of their students had failed the standardized test. Apparently teachers colluded to, among other things, erase wrong answers and replace them with correct ones. Are you surprised? I’m not.
The Georgia state report published this past June indicated that the cheating had been going on since 2001 and named 178 teachers, 82 principals and affected tens of thousands of children. According to the report the schools, as a result of the pressures of the No Child left Behind business, operated in a culture of “fear, intimidation, and retaliation,”. It is telling that teachers were told that even children entering middle school who were reading at a first grade level had to pass the standardized test at the middle school level or else! Teachers were intimidated by administrators with humiliation and threats of dismissal. So much for professionalism, so much for comprehending the innate abilities of children as individuals. So much for education whatever that might mean to the designers of No Child Left Behind which, in my opinion, was one of the many scams perpetrated during the Bush administration.
A clarion call? Perhaps.
At the July 2011 biennial conference of the American Federation of Teachers, AFT president Randi Weinegarten exhorted teachers stand up and push back against the new self-anointed education experts who seem to be coming out of the political woodwork around the country, Ms Weinegarten raised many important and critical issues including the destructive rhetoric being deployed against teachers and the cuts to education budgets among others. She made very good points including criticizing the making of testing “targets” more important that education. More of this needs to be heard and it needs to be addressed to parents as well as the general public.
We are not talking about utopia here we are looking at the cold hard realities of the state of public education today. In a July 10, 2011 article in the Sunday NY Times, Paul Tough, offered the following prescription for school reform.
“It means supplementing classroom strategies with targeted, evidence-based interventions outside the classroom: working intensively with the most disadvantaged families to improve home environments for young children; providing high-quality early-childhood education to children from the neediest families; and, once school begins, providing low-income students with a robust system of emotional and psychological support, as well as academic support.”
This prescription falls short of my own beliefs in several ways one of which is that it is not only disadvantaged children who are disadvantaged. Middle-class children have problems of their own that interfere in their educational lives and those concerns must be addressed as well. The whole of school reform encompasses much more than what happens in school and within families. School reform must be a sustained national priority.
A dismal vision of the future.
We are becoming to a large extent a society that puts a price on everything and knows the value of nothing. With regard to education, the most dismal outcome of this dynamic would be, in my opinion, the taking over of public education by private corporations, billionaires and their politicians and lawyers – their hired hands. Why are they promoting the privatization of public education? Not because they want to improve education for the masses you can be certain of that, but because they smell a profit. What then, if they succeed? What happens to children whose families cannot or will not pay – kids from homes where parents are themselves barely educated, indifferent or discouraged? What happens to schools in impoverished neighborhoods?
The first and foremost objective of the school privatization activists will be the elimination of teacher’s unions. Their next objective will be greater social control of students and the composition of school populations by economic class distinction. Poor kids will go to poor-kids schools and well off kids will go to well-off kids schools. The net result – even greater social polarization and alienation than we now see and much less commitment to the whole of society – to a viable national social contract. The privatization of public education has more to do with greed than altruistic feeling about improving education for all. It is about social control as well; standardized children are an essential component of that venal dystopian vision.