Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Still Going in Circles

Still going in circles.

Education, like the Lionel Christmas trains, keeps going in circles.  Remember how in the days before technology, those old dependable Lionel trains just went around and around the holiday tree in a big circle.  Today’s educators and politicians must have been incredibly impressed with those trains because they have been taking education in circles ever since.  Let’s consider the latest news on the education front as schools begin to open for the new school year.
Under the federal No Child Left Behind law every student would be on grade level by 2014.  There was not a single sober person alive at the time who believed that was possible.  But that didn’t stop us from making it the law.  When that miracle didn’t happen the US Congress passed the Every Child Succeeds Act that kept the testing but allowed states to define what “success” means.  The Maryland State Board of Education has recently decreed that success will look differently for low achieving schools than it does for the higher achieving schools.   Under the new system, a school that has only 10 percent of its students passing the statewide tests in 2017 will be required to have 55 percent of its students passing by 2030.  Meanwhile, a school with 60 percent of its students passing the tests this year will be required to have 80 percent of its students passing in 2030.  The idea is that the Board didn’t want the mountain to be so high to climb that it became impossible.   Don’t be upset by the fact that the Statewide passing average was only about 30% this past year.  Seems like all concerned will have to do some mountain climbing.  You have to applaud the Board and the politicos though.  No matter how irrelevant to success the testing program is, no matter how discouraging it is to good programing,  we will stick with it.   You can’t blame the politicians.  They aren’t supposed to know anything about education and since we believe they all went to school, that should make them experts.
The teachers’ unions are HUGELY at fault.  These people are supposed to be the professionals.  By definition, a professional cares about the people it serves.  Oh, yes the unions decry the testing because they don’t want to be measured by the results.  But why don’t they talk about the damage all that testing does to the kids they are supposed to care about.  When was the last time a union went out on strike or made too much testing for the kids a contract issue?  Never in my lifetime.
Meanwhile, school systems have cut what really matters to kids in school in order to raise test scores.  Children endure hours of reading and math instruction in the vain hope of raising the test scores.  Reading and math are TOOLS to solve problems and get information.  Yet we are force feeding these skill subjects to kids as if achievement will get them into heaven.  Time in the school day is finite.  So adding reading and math instruction more time means so called “less important” subjects like art and even science must go.  Now the new Baltimore City CEO is talking blasphemy.  She wants schools to make room for things like civics (imagine kids learning how their government runs!), science and art.   Some schools are embracing the new directive by hiring a science or social studies teacher!   I mean how radical is that.  
But not to worry.  But some principals are not so happy.  As one principal said, “Where are we going to find time for to fit this all in?  Are we going to take away from reading?  Are we going to take away from math?  And how will this affect our test scores?” Interesting question.  Good thing he didn’t ask, how will this affect the quality of education we are delivering to our students.  Or, do the test scores really matter in the long term achievement of every child’s success.
It is not Christmas but the train is still going round in circles.

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