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

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Write Sen. Kennedy and Rep. Miller Today

During this period of deliberation on the future of NCLB, please write these leading Congressmen today and let them know what you think.

My open letter to Senator Kennedy and Representative Miller:

Dear Senator Kennedy and Representative Miller:

As esteemed leaders in our Congress on the important issue of education, I humbly ask that you hear my concerns regarding high stakes testing under No Child Left Behind.

My commitment to help restore some common sense to the education discussion during this current outbreak of testing hysteria began seven years ago, when I learned firsthand as a researcher in an inner city Louisiana school how high stakes testing can turn communities of care into pressure cooker environments managed by grim line bosses who were just previously nurturing teachers. Here is some of what I learned, even before NCLB turned up the heat with its added pressures and unrealistic demands:

As these urban educators saw testing raise standards and expectations, they became keenly aware that high stakes testing increases pressure, stress, and failure for themselves and their students.

With increased accountability came widespread retention, public scrutiny, and pressure to immediately fill the achievement gaps that a long history of poverty has inexorably carved out.

As curriculum and assessments become clearly focused on what is tested, there is an accompanying emphasis on teaching to the test and a dependence on multiple-choice assessments to the exclusion of other methods.

Subjects that are not tested are marginalized or eliminated.

Students who are in the most desperate need of help are given less attention than those who are the most likely (the “bubble kids”) to pass the test.

Classrooms environments become highly organized to the point of militarized behaviors.

Scripted curriculums are purchased for math and reading, and the professional and imaginative roles of teachers are essentially eliminated as they become actors learning their lines, rather than professionals planning their lessons.

Just as instruction becomes more rigorous and focused, there is a loss of the spontaneity, creativity, and professional judgment.

As accountability provides a strong impetus to improve or remove ineffective teachers, the new regimentation pushes out some competent teachers, and the public pressure discourages new applicants where they are most needed.

School activities and celebrations such as Black History Month are constrained.

Recess is eliminated.

There is now both pre-test and post-test curriculums, where active learning projects are reserved for the period between the March test and the end of school. August to March is all about test preparation.

Just as teachers see academic gains among some of their students, they see more failure and a loss of joy in coming to school and learning.

As Alpha Elementary’s school performance initially showed “exemplary academic growth,” Alpha remains “academically below State average” and finds the next rung of the performance ladder even farther away as State expectations move upward, while test score gains go flat.

Since NCLB, Alpha is faced with cutting teacher positions and programs funded with critically-needed Title One money in order to pay the salaries of literacy coaches and to transport children to another school that is not on the “needs improvement” list.

More Title One money will be diverted next year to pay companies for supplemental services tutoring for which there is no measure of accountability in place.

While the school principal and assistant principal are more engaged in the instructional program in active ways, there is less time to focus on the individual growth needs of teachers that their increased involvement has helped them to identify.

Even though increased parental outreach has increasingly brought parents into the school, more parents with their own educational shortcomings are desperately grasping for ways to help their children.

While the high-stakes testing at Alpha has provided an impetus to work harder, faster, and longer, these educators and their students face increasing level of exhaustion and the signs of emotional burnout.

In the end, these educators present themselves as determined, persistent, and hopeful at the same time they exhibit signs of serious stress, anxiety, and continuing worry about their students’ future prospects.

Finally, all of the hard work that Alpha Elementary's administors, teachers, parents, and students have done since the state testing began in 1999 will not keep them from the inevitable closure and the accompanying money-saving charter school makeover faced by 2014--or before. The NCLB 100% proficiency target unequivocably mandates their eventual failure, and that is what administrators, teachers, and even children are coming to realize in this poor community that is truly being left behind by a political and economic system intent upon removing the public from the public schools through charters, and, thus, saving 30-40% of the cost on warehousing these children in school labor camps that will accept no excuses for the effects of the grinding poverty that provides them no reprieve.

Please, please, help us save our public schools, and help us improve them rather than shutting them down. Please say no to the reauthorization of this punishing law so monstrously-titled, No Child Left Behind.

Jim Horn

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