The Zombie Apocalypse is upon us and we just don’t know it. This didn’t happen overnight like you see in so many popular shows like The Walking Dead. It has been coming for many years in the form of “State Accountability and Testing” and now on a larger scale via “Common Core Testing”. Being in Texas, we are not a part of the Common Core plague, but we are dealing with many of the same issues when it comes to AYP and high stakes assessment. The “perversion”, as former TEA commissioner Robert Scott called it, of standardized testing has created a system of unhealthy competition, inaccurate school ratings, and the idea that students are judged on their learning by one test.
The reality is, these kids learn a great many things in our system. Some learn to “play the game” that is school and have figured out how to hone the skills of test-taking, attendance, and participation that will grant them passage into the sacred top ten percent. They know that playing by the rules, meeting deadlines, doing homework, and completing projects will keep them on track to graduate with honors and go to a good college where…..they will do much of the same things all over again. Nowhere in the above scenarios are passion, curiosity, and learning really taking place. They are zombies walking through our schools systems, hoping to eat enough brains (or tests) to survive. Yet this is the system we’ve chosen. Make no mistake, it didn’t choose us, but now we are infected with it.
We’ve lost our way. Somewhere from the school house days of yesteryear to the “21st Century Classroom” we have let ourselves be led astray and become infected. I say that because I don’t think any TRUE educator would allow this to happen to the youth of America. Unfortunately, as is often the case with our country, we are driven by the almighty dollar. Who stands to gain from all this testing? What happens if public education falls apart because of twisted accountability systems? Tax payers in Texas paid Pearson $470 million dollars to provide us with our state assessment. While our state legislature paid that money with one hand, it cut $5.4 billion in educational funding with the other. I hear the groaning zombies getting closer…
We wrestle with the lobbyists and politicians seeking to kill public education like a pickax to the head. While that battle rages, we are also looking for ways to authentically evaluate schools on evidence-based learning outcomes. How do we do that? Like them or hate them, standardized tests are always touted as being an objective way of evaluating learning. Although in the same motion they turn a blind eye to the fact that the questions, delivery and even grading (of written parts) are completely subjective. How do we completely measure the whole child’s learning? Private schools would lead you to believe that because you have more say as a parent and the class size is smaller, students get a better learning experience and in turn do well on national assessments. Sandy Kress, father of No Child Left Behind, certainly believes this since his kids go to private schools where they don’t take the state assessments. Is it because of their system or because only wealthy children are able to attend those schools thus having a decided advantage over those less privileged.
Diane Ravitch has said there is a new segregation upon us in schools: the wealthy vs the impoverished. During her 26-minute interview recently with Evan Smith, Mrs. Ravitch asserted that charter schools are “skimming” from the populace and that we are heading back to a dual-school system that promotes segregation of the masses based on income. The high stakes assessments only widen that gap with their rating system based on a couple of “objective” assessments. She goes on to say there is a “great lie” being conveyed that the educational system is failing, which makes one wonder who is motivated by death of public education. This makes me think who might benefit from the rise of the undead in form of private education?
State assessments aside, how do we make sure that schools are being consistent and that students are getting authentic learning? Britain may have an idea by conducting “learning audits” through their inspectorate system, but that too has flaws. Teachers and administrators are given enough warning to put on a dog and pony show rather than gain an authentic snapshot into what learning looks like in their classrooms. (Think zombies made to look like the living)
With new technology being brought into schools everyday, I’m hopeful that the change will happen with accountability and add a layer of transparency in who is fighting both for and against public education. Access to technology will remove many of the barriers that have been put in place by testing and textbook companies and allow students to explore rich, interest-driven content and hopefully reverse the trend of education of this “zombie game” that has winners and losers. This may be idealistic or a real loose analogy of the battle we are facing. However, we must continue to fight and hope that our world will one day turn back to the world of the living. Until then, keep your pickax handy and don’t make any sudden movements…