Guest post by Ed J. Komperda, III | Originally posted and shared with hundreds on Facebook
"What did you do in school today?" "Nothing."
Ah….the generic response of children when confronted upon their parents arrival home from work. No need to press the issue. As a 15-year veteran public school teacher, I'll share the 411 from an insider's perspective -- with a well-deserved angle of candidness and transparency for parents and tax payers.
Your child is becoming highly proficient with filling in little circles on bubble sheets and is acquiring a wealth of knowledge on the questioning and structure of standardized tests.
Gym class now requires sitting. Due to new federal and state educational mandates, students are required to trade their gym clothes for pencils and paper while attending physical education class on a number of days during the school year.
Today's students are test-taking gurus, a direct result of being instructed via a curriculum driven by high-stakes standardized testing. A 4th grader in New York, for instance, will spend around five weeks in which they'll be subjected to some form of standardized assessments. This figure does not account for far more time which is allocated towards test preparation -- aka "teaching for the test". Live in NY and thinking about moving? Don't. Analogous situations exist in the other states.
Your child is being shortchanged of basic academic skills, life skills, crucial thinking, social interaction, and creativity as more time, effort, resources, and money are spent on standardized testing.
Currently, millions of Americans are afflicted with lifestyle related illnesses as well as financial problems, both largely due to personal choices and lack of knowledge. Standardized tests ignore health or money management issues essential in creating competent adults who can effectively navigate our global society. A nation-wide educational curriculum is being implemented this year known as CCLS (Core Curriculum Learning Standards) which is mirrored by the standardized tests. It fails miserably in addressing students' diversity and does an equally poor job in setting developmentally appropriate material for students. The individuality of each child is neglected by the current system of excessive standardized testing. Everyone is expected to meet the same standards. This system gives no value or respect to a child's special gifts. And subject matter which poses challenges is expected to miraculously improve. It is a failed attempt at a one-size-fits-all which simply does not fit…anywhere. It defies the principles of quality education.
I can assure you with the utmost of confidence that the hearts of teachers, principals, superintendents, and support staff are in the right place. That said, when professionals of education -- en masse, comply with and promote the process of out-of-control standardized testing, they are, albeit unintentionally, facilitating a process which compromises the education of our youth.
Educators are currently entangled in a web created by those who have little interest in our children's learning. It amounts to a strategic system of threats and bribes orchestrated by the state education department, publishing companies, and politicians. Amidst a slew of anti-bullying legislation, teachers and students are ironically bearing similar treatment from the same sources who are behind the anti-bullying movement. School funding is based significantly upon how students score on standardized tests. Higher scores equate to more money for the school. Results which are "too low" and/or do not show "enough" improvement result in schools being labeled "in need of improvement" status. New York State, like others, decides how to 'redistribute' money to school districts.
Do districts with higher test scores need or deserve more money than those with lower scores and students who possess greater overall needs? The constant distractions and subsequent time constraints imposed by state testing are taking educators away from the true meaning of education. Teachers are often forced to take time away from their students to mark the portion of the test which is not electronically scored. This results in school districts paying for large numbers of substitute teachers] -- and at times shortages of subs occur. Our children's education suffers, yet again.
As for assigning grades to the tests, the state refuses to publicly disclose their grading procedure. That's akin to a teacher grading your child then telling you and your child that they will not explain how they arrived at that grade. Teachers are also responsible for the students' standardized test scores, to the extent of losing their jobs if students don't score ''well enough" on the tests. It's a situation of those with the knowledge and commitment to educate children being strong-armed by individuals who have no experience educating young people or in some cases moved on to publishing or government jobs after failed stints as teachers.
In the midst of a weak economy, your child has become a world-class investment for the publishers of standardized tests. They are thriving -- and making a fortune by exploiting our children. Pearson is a company which has garnered numerous deals across the nation to create state tests. This includes contracts to the tune of $32 Million in NY and $468 Million in TX. They also 'conveniently' print textbooks (i.e. the enVisions math series) which literally teach towards their own standardized tests. The major buyers of these books are school districts hoping to have an "in" on improving test scores. Pearson has spent over $2.6 million lobbying (from 2009-2011) in NY, TX, FL, and CA to promote their personal interests.
While parents invest in their children, Pearson and other large companies are using our children to invest in themselves. Collectively, it is estimated that states spend $1.7 billion annually on standardized assessments (Brown Center on Education Policy, 2012). Yet, the public is continually told that there is "not enough money for education" as academic and athletic programs are cut and reductions in the number of teachers, administrators, and support staff continually occur.
Contrary to popular belief, there is plenty of funding surrounding education. It's a case of atrocious financial management, catalyzed by the aforementioned situation of bribes and threats imposed on schools. New York State has reduced funding to school districts in recent years. Class sizes continue to increase, and extracurricular activities are cut. Our children suffer.
The intent of school taxes is to pay for the quality education of our youth, as opposed to lining the pockets of some publishing company who has never met our children and cares nothing about our children.
Never have I witnessed a time when it was more important to take back our schools.
Ed Komperda has taught public school for 7 years on Long Island and 8 years in rural Central New York State district. He's married with two children. Ed enjoys spending time with family, exercise, investing, and entomology.