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

Thursday, September 07, 2006

High-Stakes Testing and the End of Childhood

For education reformers (from Bill Gates to Bill Bennett) who prefer to use schools to assure future competitive participation in the global marketplace, the production of workers in school cannot begin early enough. Here is a clip from a Newsweek piece that shows in spades how high-stakes testing now feeds the sadistic sorting machine that is turning childhood into an endless, and often mindless, process of worker preparedness:
In the last decade, the earliest years of schooling have become less like a trip to "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood" and more like SAT prep. Thirty years ago first grade was for learning how to read. Now, reading lessons start in kindergarten and kids who don't crack the code by the middle of the first grade get extra help. Instead of story time, finger painting, tracing letters and snack, first graders are spending hours doing math work sheets and sounding out words in reading groups. In some places, recess, music, art and even social studies are being replaced by writing exercises and spelling quizzes. Kids as young as 6 are tested, and tested again—some every 10 days or so—to ensure they're making sufficient progress.

After school, there's homework, and for some, educational videos, more workbooks and tutoring, to help give them an edge. Not every school, or every district, embraces this new work ethic, and in those that do, many kids are thriving. But some children are getting their first taste of failure before they learn to tie their shoes. Being held back a grade was once relatively rare: it makes kids feel singled out and, in some cases, humiliated. These days, the number of kids repeating a grade, especially in urban school districts, has jumped. In Buffalo, N.Y., the district sent a group of more than 600 low-performing first graders to mandatory summer school; even so, 42 percent of them have to repeat the grade.

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