"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Texas Republican Speaks Truth on Testing

This speech a Texas House Republican has been circulating on the listservs. It is too bad that when such sentiments are expressed by progressives, neocons call it bigotry:
Cheri Isett (R-Lubbock) Speech

I recognize that I am the most junior members of the House and for me to
speak in this manner, I know, is highly unusual. However, this may be
the only opportunity I have to address this body on a matter that I feel
is of utmost importance and lies deep within my heart. In fact, what
I’m about to say to you, I believe, is so important that I’m going to
read it rather than speak freely as I’m accustomed to doing.

HB1 is a good bill. I am wholeheartedly behind reducing and restraining
the growth on the egregious burden of property taxes in Texas. I was
glad to vote for it. Carl stayed up way past his bedtime to watch the
passage of HB1 and be a part of this historic legislation which you all
have worked so hard on.

But there is something in this bill which grieves my heart. Something I
believe we will pay dearly for in generations to come. That is the
education reform measures which, although well meaning, will be to the
detriment of Texas children. I am eager to see Texas children grow and
increase in knowledge and education. My goodness, I have seven of them.
I earnestly desire for the generation being raised up now to have
greater opportunities than there were for the generation before them.
But I believe we are on a misguided path with increases in standardized
testing and mandated course work.

I know, we all know, the utter frustration from parents and teachers
and students over increased regiments and standardized testing. I
believe we would all agree that studying to a test and regurgitating is
not a true education. We would all agree that the minds of Albert
Einstein, Ben Franklin, Thomas Edison, Samuel Morse, Bill Gates, Steve
Jobs, Michael Dell would never have tolerated such infliction upon
them. They would never have allowed their creativity and their courage
to step into unknown territories to be held back by the boxes that we
force our school children to conform into.

These children were created by God to be unique individuals with unique
gifts and talents. They are aching to break free from the tyranny of
standardized tests and curriculum “scope and sequence” and express those
gifts and talents. But we have legislated them out. We have told the
artist that he has to pull back and cut back on blossoming in his chosen
art because he doesn’t have time. He has to take another math and
science class. We have told the very, very bright entrepreneur that his
pursuits are worthless because he is not a good test taker and pulls our
school ratings down. We have told our teachers that they are not good
teachers and don’t deserve merits for their efforts because the artists
and entrepreneurs in their classes don’t deliver the goods in test

There is a whole world of knowledge and all of history to study. We
could never impart all of it to every child. There’s just too much of
it. So who has the right to determine what body of knowledge has
merit. Who was it anyway that said “every seventh grader needs to know
all the parts of the cell and their function.” Why is that more
important than, say, the intricacies of weather systems. And why are
either of those more important than any other body of knowledge which
delights the heart of a child. Who gives merit to one body of knowledge
over another. And yet, through our essential skills and standardized
tests, we praise one type of learner and condemn another. We tell our
classroom teachers that it doesn’t matter that you want to reach the
heart of a child . We want you to mold his mind to conform to what we
believe is a productive, college-prepped student.

I challenge you, Members, in sessions to come as you discuss these
crucially important matters, to break out of the box. We can no longer
afford to measure education success in terms of test results and
rigorous curriculum. In that arena, countries like China clearly have
us beat. They are disciplined, they are structured, they can produce
multiples of what we can produce cheaper – not better, but more of it
and cheaper.

The one thing other cultures lack which we possess and which we must
fight to hold on to is creativity, imagination, and courage. These are
the things which we must foster in education if our children and our
nation are to survive. We need minds that are nurtured in discovery,
not rote memorization. We need individuals who are able to muster the
courage to go where others have never gone. We need to quit trying to
cookie cutter every child in Texas schools and let the God given, God
led creativity and excellence flow out. We need to trust teachers to do
what they have been called to do and quit micro-managing them. When it
comes to accountability measures in exchange for state funding, we need
to hold school administrators responsible for their stewardship of those
monies, not place the onerous burden of performance on the shoulders of
those who at this point are victims in this debate, the students and
their teachers. We need to quit telling parents that their child is a
failure because he’s not raising our school’s ratings with his test

What I’m challenging you with will in itself require creativity and
courage to do. In the sessions to come, I’m challenging you to trust
that children are naturally curious and creative. Trust that if we as
adults get out of their way, they will discover and grow in their world
every bit as much between the ages of 6 and 18 as they did from birth to
age 5. We need to give the teachers in their classrooms the support and
discretionary funding to explore and discover with their students. Not
funding for more bureaucracy, but funding to buy state of the art
equipment to learn on, funding to backpack over Guadalupe Peak, funding
to build a boat from scratch and sail it across a big lake. We need to
appreciate the value of apprenticeships and accordingly, to loosen child
labor laws enough to provide for them. We need to stop burdening
children with standardized testing which we would all have to honestly
agree is not the measure of a true education.

Members, this is a big challenge. I’ve seen more intellectual firepower
in this room in the last three weeks than I’ve ever seen in one place
before. For the sake of our children, for the sake of our nation let’s
use that firepower to find a better, more creative, more productive way
to approach education reform than the road we’ve been on.

Thank you for allowing me to speak from my heart.

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