What Could Students Learn? Conviction, Among Other Things

I recently shared this blog from New York City, but due to my limited capabilities with a cell phone, did not adequately post it to my blog. I am reposting here.

Copied from the Advocate paper (Baton Rouge)

Copied from the Advocate paper (Baton Rouge)

On April 3, the Advertiser published a cartoon concerning the Opt-out movement. Calling it insensitive and insulting doesn’t scratch the surface.

Some background is needed. The cartoon arrives from Buffalo, New York, where the Common Core battles are raging furiously. That state has given the PARCC test for three years now, with huge failure rates for its first two years (70% and 67% respectively.) These poorly-designed tests are confusingly written usually at a reading level two grades above the students. Parents have been justifiably outraged against this intrusion into their children’s lives and have reacted in the only way they have: opting their children out of the test.

And now a cartoon that implies parents are selfishly teaching their children horrible lessons. One cartoonist seems to think himself/herself the expert on parenthood and the inappropriate lessons we might teach children.

Well, here’s my alternative. Here’s what students might learn from opting out.

A. That learning is AWESOME, when it’s not driven by a test. When the test is all important, one gets eleven Atlanta educators convicted for a cheating scandal, because legislators at the federal and state level have made student scores on tests more important than the students themselves. These tests are being used for three purposes: see how a student has scored; rate the teacher on how much the students have scored; and rate the school on those same scores. The last two do not validly gauge a teacher’s or school’s effectiveness, but it’s part of the latest bandwagon of education reformers. They blindly ignore the effect of poverty on children, but choose to saddle the school and the teacher with all the blame. So much for putting the student first.

B. The power on conviction. Long before the Founding Fathers, English citizens had a healthy regard for their rights. American colonists rebelled against attempts to rule them without their input. Ever since declaring our independence, Americans have a long history of standing up against injustice: women’s movement; abolitionists; progressive movement; civil rights movements, and more. Now comes a test too difficult for the students, and the “people in charge” respond to questions with disparaging remarks like your kids are not as smart as you think and soccer moms should just shut up. No they won’t. Civil disobedience allows parents to stand up against the injustice of this testing malpractice and no one, not even a cartoonist, will diminish that right.

C. That students will have to learn how to judge bias. Newspapers are no longer the fountain of impartial information. One must research who is behind the articles or cartoons because the day of the truly independent journalist is long past. It’s disheartening that parents must infuse their children with a healthy dose of skepticism, to not just accept what is presented to them as fast incarnate. Newspaper are a business and must depend on revenue. The supporters of Common Core and PARCC have the deep pockets, from the Waltons to Bill Gates to numerous other billionaires, and we must not allow their money to drown the valid concerns of parents.

D.  Tests are limited in their ability to judge. If properly designed, a test question might ascertain if a student has learned a skill, but not completely. How can the test know if a student had no clue and simply guessed randomly? It can’t. A test provides an incomplete snapshot of one day in the life of a child. It can’t adequately judge creativity or empathy or a handful of other skills way more important to a child’s future.

E.  All of the above.

Just a follow-up note to show how connected the world has become. Facebook alerted me to this cartoon even though I am presently in New York City on vacation. The cartoon spurred me to write a response, which I will post everywhere and anywhere. I composed this in the shadow of the 9/11 Memorial, a symbol of US resolve and determination. When you believe enough in something–country, faith, family, friends, beliefs–you take action to defend it. I defend my students against what I perceive to be an unjust series of tests designed to meet an inept set of standards written by people with no experience doing so. Thanks to this country and the millions who have sacrificed their lives, I have this right to protest. As Winston Churchill once said, I will fight on the beaches, in the trenches, everywhere I can in defense of my students, in defense of liberty.

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