The current state of educational affairs in Louisiana, as well as the country, saddens me. This rigid emphasis on testing, testing, testing, has transformed the formative years of our youth from learning life skills to parroting test-taking skills. Even worse, most states, but especially Louisiana, have implemented teacher evaluations that attempt the near impossible: how to assign a number or letter-grade to a teacher? While no evaluation system is without its flaws, the effect teachers have on students is extremely difficult to quantify. I have had students contact me years later, tell me what an incredible effect I’ve had on them, and I never thought I had affected them in any way. When planted, the seed of learning takes a long time to nourish, and those future results as shown by contacts from former students can’t ever be measured or given a letter grade.
Concerning Common Core, I am even more disheartened. Louisiana was one of the first states to develop an accountability system to determine whether students were learning their subjects in their high schools. Sadly, we kept dumping one system for another before we can truly determine if the old ones were working. First we had GEE testing, but then we spent valuable time and money developing the End of Course Tests in Algebra I, Geometry, English II, English II, Biology I, and U.S. History. We did not get it right at first—no one does—but we worked out the kinks and now have data over several years to track our improvement or decline. Each year, more subjects were going to be added, but we are now going to erase all those years of hard work by adopting the Professional Assessment of Readiness for Colleges and Careers tests. These PARCC tests—not designed, naturally, by teachers—just had their first wave of testing in New York State, where math scores plummeted from 55% passing to 31%. Who in their right minds thinks it’s a good thing to make students feel inferior, or worse, to tell them in the 3rd grade that they aren’t college material? No one knows a child’s potential for college in elementary grades! Even more reprehensible was the answer given by people who are Common Core disciples: these tests were just proof that we educators had been lying to our kids for years about how ready they were. No, the new tests are brutally difficult, and no amount of cramming more topics down a kid’s throat is going to make them learn the material faster or better.
Why is education always plagued with the pernicious belief that only non-educators have the solutions to education’s woes? No teachers served on the committees that wrote the Common Core standards, and only one math teacher served on the feedback committee. We wouldn’t ask a group of certified public accountants to write a journal detailing exploratory surgery for doctors? Why must we endure this folly?
Fellow educators keep telling me, “This too shall pass,” and while I hope they are right, it’s a shame that two important groups will suffer during this passage: the students and the teachers. Right now, the teachers are being scapegoated as the cause of all ills in society, when the lion’s share should fall on the disintegration of the nuclear family and the lack of proper upbringing that comes with it. Teachers are justifiable throwing their hands in the air and leaving, but it never helps when the State Superintendent of Education, the highly-underqualified John White, claims that all the teachers who are leaving the profession must be the ones who were ineffective. This exodus—3,000 plus teachers alone in the last year—is producing an epidemic of first-year teachers. In 1987-88, there was an estimated 65,000 first-year teachers; twenty years later, it had grown to over 200,000. Who wants to stay in a profession where your education department officials abuse you and where the rewards will come twenty years after the fact when a student thanks you for everything you did for them. The latter can make up for a lot, but when the abuse from the former is constant, it wears on the soul.
And the students will suffer most. They will be forced to learn material too quickly and then be told they are failures when they can’t master the new PARCC tests. They will miss out on truly great teachers and educators who are leaving in droves rather than cope with rampant stupidity and vacuous leaders. They will sense, quite correctly, that the educational system has lost its way, and they will have even less respect for the system as a whole than they did before. It’s a lose-lose situation all around, and we have only Common Core, John White, and Bobby Jindal to thank, with the blessings of the rubber-stamp BESE board and a docile state legislature. When I stand in front of my students, I am proud to be a teacher. When I witness my state leaders do everything in their power to sabotage this great profession, I am incensed. Who will save us from this mess? No one knows.