stephanie jones

Response to critic of ajc piece…

In Education Policy, high-stakes tests, institutions, NCLB, politics, Standing up for Kids, teacher education on July 6, 2010 at 3:24 am

A reader of ajc contacted me via email today after reading my opinion piece on standardized education and standardized testing.

The reader was critical of public education and teachers in particular, and believes that the poor quality of schooling is the reason the U.S. has become, what the reader calls, “a pauper nation.”

I agree with many of his concerns, especially those related to better education and economic conditions – I responded personally to his email but will paste my response here because it certainly is a nice extension of what was published in ajc today:

Dear Reader,

Thank you for taking the time to locate my email address and respond to my piece in the ajc. I empathize with your perspectives and agree that public confidence in schooling is a train wreck and there are many reasons why the public should be angry with what is happening in schools. Most of our current “problems” in schools have roots in the Standards movement that gained much steam under the Clinton administration and led to hyper testing and high-stakes “accountability” that backfired and turned many classrooms and schools into places where getting students to fill in the correct bubble on a test is more important than knowing whether a student understands or has “learned” anything.

I am not against tests. I am against using tests as the single measure in a high-stakes environment.

There is much evidence that doing so puts the adults in schools in positions where they may do unethical things (cheat, for example) they would have never done under different circumstances to keep their jobs rather than focus their energies and interests on student learning. And, unfortunately, plenty of evidence that students are suffering – and learning less – under such conditions.

Schools have always been the scapegoat for the United States’ economic woes. Economic policies, however, driven by neoliberal economic theories since the 1970s that have widened the gap between the rich and poor, driven down wages of the working-class, rewarded businesses that move operations out of the U.S. to exploit cheaper labor, etc. must be held accountable for, as you put it, “transforming us into a pauper nation.” I would add that this has transformed us into a service-oriented economy that relies too heavily on finance and too little on manufacturing and production – two pieces intimately connected to U.S. debt to China.

I wish education could fix this. Trust me, as a person in education I really do wish that what happened in schools could make a significant difference in the problem you state well. It might be a piece of the solution – educating a smart, innovative, knowledgeable, hard-working citizenry should certainly help – our legislators, however, and the leading economists advising our legislators, have some changing to do before our economic woes can begin to turn around.

I assure you this, our education students here are not being shuffled through the higher education program and we are doing everything in our power to recruit, prepare, and retain the highest quality teachers in the nation. We have professors committed to teaching undergraduate students in education (something that too often gets handed over to graduate students to do), and we are well aware of the challenges we – and future teachers – face.

One of those challenges is to get policy makers to understand the damage high-stakes testing mandates are doing to our schools and our students’ futures. Talented teachers, who can and do “turn the light on in young minds” (as you put it) are leaving by the busloads because they haven’t had the freedom to use their talents since 2001. Those who have stayed are faced with ridiculous requirements daily that have nothing to do with educating young people.

Thank you, again, for writing. You have given me a nice opportunity to think through and respond to your legitimate concerns, many of them also concerns of mine.

All my best,
Stephanie

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