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Thursday, October 6, 2011

Damn the Man; Save the Empire [Of Public Schools]

Privatization is ruining education in this country. Forget the notion that uninvolved parents, lazy teachers, and increasing numbers of non-English speaking students are weighing down our public schools; these things might require a little extra work on our part, but we could manage if we weren't spending most of our time helping Pearson make their next $1 billion. The mega-corporation pretty much runs the educational industry and is responsible for 99% of the crap that makes teachers hate their jobs. To mention Pearson in front of a room full of teachers is akin to flashing a photograph of Obama at a Tea Party convention, but in the eyes of those outside education, it's just another business.

For those not in the know, Pearson holds a $500 million contract to administer Texas' standardized tests for the next five years (formerly TAKS, now STAAR). But that's not all; they're also responsible for most of our textbooks, all remedial reading products used in our district, and even professional development tools and training for teachers (who ironically spend so much time dealing with Pearson materials and practices that they're not really teaching anymore, simply following a carefully-written script that any moron could impart to their students).  In short, teachers have become cogs in a machine run almost exclusively by a single corporation who oddly believes that a pig gets heavier the more often you weigh it. Well, my students' skills and scores suggest otherwise.

Take a look at the testing calendar for just ONE semester in my class (mind you, these are not teacher-created tests. Rather, these are district- or state-mandated assessments made by Pearson):

9/12: Short-cycle Assessment
9/28: Reading Fluency Test
10/3: Short-cycle Assessment
10/24: Short-cycle Assessment
11/?: Reading Middle-of-the-Year Benchmark
11/14: Short-cycle Assessment
12/5: Short-cycle Assessment
12/22: Short-cycle Assessment

That's EIGHT tests in the period of 4 months, and that's only my class. The other 3 core areas (Math, Science, and History) look the same. So in the span of 4 months, that means students are taking 32 tests…and the Spring semester is significantly worse because of the STAAR exam, as well as another Middle-of-the-Year Benchmark, and End-of-the-Year Benchmark, and two more Reading Fluency Tests. Our students are so bogged down with assessments and measurements, that there's little time left for actual instruction. Moreover, teachers are often required to run off the copies, grade the tests, and enter the data. As an English teacher, I should be spending my planning time grading essays and papers that give the students meaningful feedback. I should be creating insightful, relevant lessons that engage kids to do more than fill out a scantron or respond to a formulaic writing prompt. I should be TEACHING.

The most infuriating aspect is that the district claims they must lay off good teachers due to budgetary concerns, yet they hold a multi-million dollar contract with a company that keeps coming up with new tests to (in my opinion) continue to justify their necessity. I understand the need for assessment, but I don't understand the need for over-testing, especially when it costs teachers their jobs, thus increasing class sizes and the amount of extra work placed on the desks of those who should be spending their time helping their students, not big business.

As is the theme with all my postings about education, I'm jaded and cynical. The system needs a major overhaul, the last of which was over 50 years ago. Can you imagine? Think of all that's changed in the country in 50 years! Hell, think of the past 10. We're a 21st century civilization stuck in the recently-desegregated 60's, selling our future to private industry and thereby relinquishing our power and respect on the world stage.

But hey, at least the man gets paid.

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