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

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Democracy Is Not a Spectator Sport

by Joe Lucido:

In this stormy political season many topics have been touched on by the presidential candidates: the Iraq war, the economy, health care, etc. However, the one topic that has been left off the radar is education. Unfortunately, this subject is in dire need of full coverage by the press and our candidates because of the negative impact of the current law on our children in the classroom. If parents truly knew the research that has been released, but never given its just due, their initial decision to support the federal No Child Left Behind act would continue to fade.

As an educator of ten years, I can attest to the dramatic changes that I have seen in students over that period of time. Many students, were, for the most part, creative thinkers with independent minds that strove to come up with answers that made sense to them. They also showed an ability to approach a problem from various angles and come up with a solution that was correct, while still mastering standards. In this era of standardized testing "accountability", these precious elements gave begun to fade dramatically. I see students who wait for answers to be given to them, are less confident in their thinking capabilities, are less able to follow simple instructions, have much less patience, and even have shown an increase in behavior and health problems.

Discussions amongst other educators from Fresno area districts, as well as nationwide, have illuminated the same traits. Some teachers have told me about the removal of blocks from their kindergarten classrooms because it was told to them that, "Blocks won't be on the test." In other schools, playhouses have been removed citing the same reasoning, yet that reasoning defies all research and logic which states that children need socialization skills in order to be complete learners. The Center on Education Policy has shown that 44% of public schools have cut back on recess time, science and social studies in the name of testing practice. This evidence is a concerning and tangible reality.

A new study by researchers at Rice University and the University of Texas-Austin finds that "Texas' public school accountability system, the model for NCLB, to be a dismal failure. Each year Texas public high schools lose at least 135,000 youth prior to graduation -- a disproportionate number of whom are African-American, Latino and English-as-a-second-language (ESL) students." The study shows "as schools came under the accountability system, which uses student test scores to rate schools and reward or discipline principals, massive numbers of students left the school system." Here in the state of California, the drop out rate has increased 4% since the inception of high stakes accountability. Dr. Stephen Krashen from USC has pointed out that overall student performance has flatlined and even dropped in most grade levels since the law has been in place.

What can our community do about this? Many parents feel powerless in the face of lawmakers that make such drastic decisions about public education. However, not all have been silent. Parents in Chicago are planning on keeping their kids home in the face of their unjust local tests, and in Michigan the city of Pontiac's public schools have recently won a judgement against the NCLB law. Here in California, Lindsay schools have turned down funding to protect quality teaching practices that have been threatened by a myopic focus on standardized testing. There are many other situations nationally that display parent disenfranchisement with the current education focus.

It is the LAW in California that parents can choose to opt their children out of testing, if they see it fit. Schools are supposed to inform them of this during the year, but many fail to do so for fear of repercussions by the federal government. Even State Superintendent of Instruction Jack O'Connell has stated, "I want to remove the penalty against schools where parents do not want their children to participate in state testing," O'Connell said. "It concerns me that the Bush Administration apparently does not support the rights of parents in this regard, because NCLB unfairly penalizes those schools where parents exempt their children from testing." If you are interested in understanding more about the impact of the NCLB law on students and want to know more, please attend the Chavez Literacy Conference at Fresno State on March 28-29th. Parents have rights and should use them without fear. Let's strive to protect our public education system.

Joe Lucido
Educators and Parents Against Test Abuse (Fresno, CA)
Educator Roundtable

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