I came so close to skipping grad school tonight. I was feeling like hell and just didn't think I could sit through it. The class has been poor, a marked departure from the courses I took this summer. The discussions, format, and assignments suck. I just need to get my B and leave. At least the professor is nice. Nice, but not good.
Tonight, though, ended up not being so bad. The chapter we had to read mentioned national standards, and we debated whether we should have them or not. All the blonde kindergarten teachers said that, yes, we should, obviously. I was flabbergasted. Don't they see what happens when the federal government gets its hands into education? I mean, the federal government funds less than 10% of education in this country, yet it's driving all of these crazy high stakes tests.
It's all so depressing to think about. In 2004, a poll said the majority of Americans agree with high-stakes testing. The question is so politically charged that I doubt the number would be that high this year, but I still wonder how the teachers of America do such a poor job of getting word out to the general public.
Part of the issue is the public themselves, to be sure. Everyone went through school, so everyone feels like they're an expert. What worked for me will work for all, that sort of thing. There are problems with this philosophy, but I understand it. It's not like the public is ever going to go into a doctor's exam room and tell him how to do his job. But a teacher or a school is fair game.
But, for some reason, teachers are seen largely as a whiny sort. "Oh, it's those teachers, whining again." (Or, you might think, "Oh it's that Epiphany in Baltimore, whining again on his blog" ha ha) So how can teachers gain enough clout to let the public know how public policy affects a kid's education? How many years of No Child Left Behind have to pass before people realize how problematic it is? Kindergartens now have eliminated nap time and recess. Curriculums are regimented and focused almost solely upon the math/reading subjects covered on the hugely high stake tests that are tied to funding the schools. It just really sucks. How can the general public learn about this?
Education is, after all, the #1 voter issue in Maryland. Yet I teach classes of 40 in a school that lost ten teaching positions last year in a district that paid a million dollars last week to Princeton to develop and score (except the essays, or course, which I had to score... I'm still waiting for my cut) benchmark assessments for my tenth graders. That million bucks would pay for 25 teachers for a year, and maybe give me manageable classes of 24 and a load of 125 instead of 175. All because of the need to collect data to show improvement so that funding is not cut off next year because of NCLB. Not only that, I had to stop teaching for two days, give these benchmarks - which featured at least one ludicrous reading sample that was totally inappropriate for my course - and then get back to my Puritan literature.
So why doesn't the public hear about this? Why don't teachers advocate better? Why doesn't anyone listen when we do? NCLB is up again this term. The new education chief thinks it's just dandy, "like Ivory soap, 99.9% pure". As well-intentioned as it is (and I'm a liberal but I'm also an optimist, and do really believe that GWB wants what is best, it's just the way he goes about doing it... and most everything else), it is rife with problems and is hurting American school children. And I know that high stakes testing was not invented with GWB; it's only that the stakes were raised to skyscraper levels when he passed this unfunded mandate.
Oprah Winfrey, we need you. Start talking about this. Or maybe Obama. Obama, please be the Education President. We need it in the worst way.
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