Education, Politics

Back to Life, Back to Reality

Some random thoughts on education as we enter the final two months of the school year. . .

Spring Break is almost over. Monday begins the final push toward June 7 and all the festivities – prom, AP exams, senior release, commencement, final exams – of the next two months. It’s been a good year (they’re all good, really), but one overshadowed by factors outside the classroom. Right to Work is now Michigan law, Common Core is coming soon, and the MI GOP wants nothing more than to “reform” public education by systematically dismantling it via expanding the Educational Achievement Authority statewide.

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“Are there no prisons? Are there no workhouses? Must we keep teaching the poor of Tennessee?”

It could be worse. We could be in Tennessee, where Charles Dickens would write Harder Times if he dropped by today:

The latest cruel jackassery from Stacey Campfield—his bill to cut welfare payments to the families of children who screw up in school—jumped another hurdle in the legislature today. The House Health Committee voted 10-8 for the bill, turning aside fears from experts that it could yank food right out of the mouths of children.

It’s enough to make a veteran teacher think about leaving the profession, or making damn sure he tells education majors to think twice about getting into it. From Reddit, this letter of resignation, submitted by a teacher of 40-years:

I now find that [total immersion] to my profession is not only devalued, but denigrated and perhaps, in some quarters despised. STEM rules the day and “data driven” education seeks only conformity, standardization, testing and a zombie-like adherence to the shallow and generic Common Core, along with a lockstep of oversimplified so-called Essential Learnings. Creativity, academic freedom, teacher autonomy, experimentation and innovation are being stifled in a misguided effort to fix what is not broken in our system of public education and particularly not at [my school].

All is not lost, however. There is hope.
A few voices – including the invaluable Diane Ravitch and Network for Public Education – are fighting back against the so-called reformers. Pulitzer Prize winner Eugene Robinson added his voice to the growing number of non-educators who realize how insane it is that we place so much value on standardized tests:

Standardized achievement tests are a vital tool, but treating test scores the way a corporation might treat sales targets is wrong. Students are not widgets. I totally reject the idea that students from underprivileged neighborhoods cannot learn. Of course they can. But how does it help these students to have their performance on a one-size-fits-all standardized test determine their teachers’ compensation and job security? The clear incentive is for the teacher to focus on test scores rather than actual teaching.

This morning, your humble blogger had an opportunity to share these concerns with MI State Representative Winnie Brinks. How refreshing it was to hear a legislator agree that current trends in public education will only serve to ruin our public schools, especially in urban areas. From her speech on March 21, 2013:

Rushing to expand an untested and unproven model across the state isn’t the way to [reform education]. Keeping the EAA from being held to the same standards of accountability and transparency as every other school district isn’t the way to do it, either. I support education reform, but I want reforms that will work.

Amen. Two months to go, fellow educators. Keep your heads up. Our students are counting on us.

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