COMMENTARY: “Shouldn’t these early grades be a time to discover, play, and explore? … but I guess that doesn’t fit into our testing obsession.” — Teacher Ginger Rose Fox
If our leaders flew airplanes like they manage educational resources, we would shortly be a flightless society. Jeanne Fulbright wrote, “If the purpose of learning is to score well on a test, we’ve lost sight of the real reason for learning.”
Ask most politicians the purpose of education and you get, “Score well on the tests.” Sadly, that is not what our public schools should spend their time on; rather, they should develop lifelong learners. This is done by using curiosity to bolster learning behaviors.
The testing obsession is driven by money and power for the leaders of public schools, not by research or best practices. Our country has many times the number of educational administrators as is needed for effective schools because the administrators have taken over the schools.
To give themselves power and money they created a testing society in which students spend most of their time preparing for and taking tests to evaluate teachers and schools. There is no educational value of these activities for the students. It serves to disenfranchise them from real learning activities.
What if we stopped testing so much and just used that extra time for things like teaching? First thing that would happen is the educational power brokers and political leaders would lose power and money. That is what is driving our current educational testing obsession.
What is education? Ask most administrators and you get things like: to prepare students to go to college. Wrong. Education is the concentration of curiosity such that literate and numerate resources are acquired by students to satisfy that curiosity.
We have put accountants and political pushers in charge of our public schools — and they get worse and worse because the unstated goals of the schools are now to satisfy political influences. The first destruction of education was in kindergarten.
That grade was used to bring students into public schools in a way that the students found enjoyable and intellectually stimulating. So there was lots of play and fun activities. But no longer. Kindergarten has been destroyed by an out-of-control educational administration that does not want students enjoying themselves.
Want to see which administrator to fire or politician to vote out of office? Ask if students should enjoy being in public school. Get rid of everyone who says, “They should not.”
To educate means to give reason for developing literacy and numeracy. Administrators say students will do so or be punished along with their teachers. The schools now spend their time intimidating teachers. Students only gain the ability to take tests and little else.
Take a clear look at schools spending all of their time on accountability tests, which students have no interest in, and you will see the destruction of our public schools. Parents don’t know what to do. The law says the students have to go even when they say they hate school. Most parents can’t home-school so they turn a blind eye to the abuse of their children. The media does not know either. Test scores are easy to report.
Public schools shouldn’t operate on a top-down model in which teachers have little or no say in the instructional activities. Teachers in public schools are told that they must obey or lose their jobs.
When students first go to school they are curious about almost everything, but curiosity is beaten out of them by all but the few teachers who have underground instructional styles to cope with the obsession of testing.
Spiders and snakes and a thousand other things are interesting — but they are not on the test, so all but the stoutest teachers do exactly what the administrators demand. If administrators demanded they cut their students in two with a butter knife, many of today’s teachers would do so to save their job.
Our society needs curiosity based schools that develop lifelong learners, not political castles where educators get rich on the backs of students not being properly served. Teachers need to be in charge, not highly paid administrators feathering their nests. A major change is needed.
Michael Swickard is a former radio talk show host and has been a columnist for 30 years in a number of New Mexico newspapers.