I wrote an article for the Gainesville Sun (FL) which I share here.
Questions and conflicting views about standardized testing abound, and it would seem that Education Secretary Betsy DeVos would have some ideas and answers. In vague and uninformed remarks delivered to the U.S Conference of Mayors on January 24th, 2019, she said: “In my current job, I naturally think a lot about all things education.” I would hope. Unfortunately her thinking is taking the American Public School system in a direction that stifles academic growth.
Her thinking and reality seem to conflict. She informs the mayors that the last 100 years have brought significant changes in work, home and in areas such as technology. She asserts that despite these changes “approaches to education have largely remained the same.” Yet, there have been dramatic changes and many have led the educational system into a downward spiral. DeVos says that in solutions for the “ecosystems” of schools, parents “seem to be the least empowered.” Apparently she doesn’t grasp the fundamental reasons why parents, teachers, and local school systems are not empowered.
No, parents are not empowered. Their voices are lost amidst false claims that testing is the only way to measure student progress and provide accountability to those charged with the education of our youth. Testing is the name of the game. Local school systems, administrators, teachers, parents and students all must comply with the testing requirements enforced by government legislation.
DeVos’ remarks are often contradictory. Students, she believes, are treated like commodities. Yet almost in the same breath she states: “education is the least disrupted ‘industry’ in America. And, let’s not kid ourselves, it is an industry.” Hmm? Students are not commodities but come out of the industry of education? She points to unemployment figures and mentions that “Despite a booming economy with record-low unemployment,” employers cannot find enough qualified people to hire. “There is a disconnect between education and the economy.”
The essence of her remarks, if one is to be had, is the need for education and industry to come together. She encourages the mayors to pose questions to their communities. Contrary to her statement that education has not changed over the last 100 years, education has changed. She may not realize that the answers to her questions don’t support her thinking.
Her first question is “Why limit educators?” Until standardized testing was forced into the curriculum there were actually fewer limits on educators. Teachers had a certain amount of autonomy in their classrooms and could develop plans and create tests that were applicable to the subject and to their students. Today lessons are being taught to the test. Every teacher’s manual is formulated around an FSA statute number and every student assignment must comply. Teachers are required to tie their planning of lessons and class time to the expectations that are spelled out.
Her second question: “Why assign kids to schools based on their addresses?” applies to her agenda to divert public school funds away from public schools and seems irrelevant to her other remarks.
Thirdly, she asks “Why group kids by age?” This has been the standard policy for many years but even into the mid-1900’s, schools often had classes that combined multiple age groups. Increasingly, the trend is to keep age groups apart. More often than not, school buildings are designed to have separate areas for different grade levels, and even lunch times are staggered by age group.
Her last question is “Why force all students to learn at the same speed?” There are now required standards for each course at each specific class level and even a student capable of moving at a faster pace is, more often than not, held back by the timelines set for standardized tests throughout each school year.
As an educator who taught college English for 20 years and as a substitute teacher, I have seen the scholarship of students fall dramatically as a result of standardized testing. My book Stupid Schools, Stupid Students: Get Smart provides a sadly humorous look at what passes as academic work. The focus of my book is to show the impact standardized testing has on American Education. Verbatim examples from work submitted by students in my classes are interspersed with some background of teaching practices in American public schools as well as some ideas for positive change. Yes, we do need to rethink education. Eliminating standardized testing is a start. Stupid Schools, Stupid students: Get Smart provides a glimpse of the stupid and offers a glimmer of how to get smart.