We need to talk. Four years ago, you promised us Hope and Change, and as a veteran teacher, I hoped that would mean ending the destructive education atrocity known as No Child Left Behind (NCLB). But, alas, your changes in education have wrought even more damage to the psyche and well-being of American students, teachers, and communities. Race to the Top and NCLB waivers aren’t about holding us accountable; they’re about holding us hostage.
Race to the Top was supposed to “provide competitive grants to encourage and reward States that are creating conditions for education innovation”, instead it is about States competing for limited funding by promising things that are unrealistic when looking at where our students really are. In addition, Race to the Top funding is never enough to cover set-up and implementation of the program, let alone sustain it over the long-haul.
NCLB goals are admirable but unrealistic, especially when proficiency is a moving target. And NCLB Waivers? I can’t help but think of my grandmother warning me about jumping out of the frying pan and into the fire. In order to qualify for these waivers, States have to kowtow to the whims of your Department of Education, mandating and implementing education reforms that are not supported by sound research.
I want to believe you when you say, “…we have piled on a lot of standardized tests on our kids. Now, there’s nothing wrong with a standardized test being given just to give a baseline of where kids are at,” (Univision Town Hall Meeting). But, Mr. President, there is something terribly wrong when our elementary students take tests that are longer than the ACT, SAT, or GRE. There is something terribly wrong when a special education student who has an Individual Learning Plan (IEP) under the Federal Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA) that states they are reading well below grade level is expected to take the on grade level standardized test. There is something terribly wrong when schools are buying “curriculum” that mandates the day and time a standard is taught with no regard for the individual needs of students. There is something terribly wrong with labeling students, teachers, and schools good or bad based on a standardized test. There is something terribly wrong when a data point trumps the individual lives and stories of our students.
I teach children not standards or benchmarks. I get to know them and their stories, and I find out where they are, and I take them as far as I can. I have spent the last twenty-five years trying not to let any of my kids fall through the cracks and get left behind. I have spent sleepless nights worrying about where they are, where they need to be, and what I can do to get them there. And I know I have failed some of them. Not because I didn’t try, but some things (poverty, domestic violence, hunger, abuse) are outside my circle of control.
I want to believe you, but I am reminded of Ralph Waldo Emerson who said, “Your actions speak so loudly that I cannot hear what you say.” When you try to determine my worth by some arbitrary value added model based on subpar standardized tests, you de-professionalize what I do, and you de-value who I am.