The Death of a Good Education – Part 1

First, I’ll start by updating the count: 3 acceptances, 2 denials. I’ll save the breakdown and reaction for another post, as I’d like to address something that’s been getting to me lately (brought on by a heated discussion with a coworker šŸ™‚ ).

My mother was an elementary school teacher, and growing up, I hated it on many levels. Those who had teachers as parents can probably appreciate that feeling :). Looking back, I’ve learned that having an educator as a parent has shaped how I see the profession today, and how I’ve applied that to decisions we’ve made for my daughter. One of my mom’s biggest pet-peeves was the growth of testing standards. It’s not that she opposed testing what a child had learned, it’s that she was more opposed to how standardized testing was spun up, and how she expected it would evolve as administrators started to use it as a way to measure effectiveness of teachers. It’s amazing how accurate her predictions of the end result were.

When my daughter was ready for kindergarten in 2001, we had a choice to make. Do we enroll her in the local public school, or do we look private? We talked to neighbors, and looked at the options in the area. After quite a bit of soul searching (and feedback from those around us about the over-sized school district), we decided to at least start off with her in private school and see how it went. One of the other big reasons I pushed for it was that NCLB was arriving, and after years of hearing my mother warn about something like this coming, it was easy to see what this would probably mean for the public school system: testing standards that forced teachers to teach to the tests, as opposed to coming up with a valid curriculum that educated our kids. I honestly didn’t see how anything good could come of it.

As she progressed in school, we kept her where she was. In large part, that was due to what we were seeing and hearing about how the school system in our area was evolving. As NCLB took hold, you could see a shift in the way teaching happened. We’d talk to friends who were teachers, and could see they simply weren’t happy with what was being forced on them. Over the past few years, several of their stories mirror what’s written here:

We’ve seen evidence of his claims first-hand from friends of my daughter. Her best friend made the switch to public school after 8th grade, while we kept our daughter in private school. Their freshman year, both had geometry. One night her friend was sleeping over, and they were talking about what they were doing in school. My daughter, who hated geometry, started complaining about proofs. Her friend said they didn’t have to do them in her class, and it wasn’t even something they’d learned. My wife, who loved all flavors of math she ever took, about fell out of her chair. They were in the second half of the school year at that point, and she couldn’t believe what she’d heard. She asked the girl about it, and the girl said her teacher mentioned them at the beginning of the year, saying they wouldn’t be focusing on them, because they weren’t on the test at the end of the year (she was referring to the required standardized tests). Our jaws dropped, and to this day my wife is still trying to figure out how you get through geometry without learning proofs. That was the moment I realized that what my mother had warned would happen was in fact coming true. Yes, you can get away without learning something like that, but it goes to the heart of developing analytical thinking, and is a prime example of what Ken talks about in the letter I linked above.

I know people like to use the traditional corporate method of discrediting stuff like that with responses like:

  • He must be disgruntled
  • He doesn’t represent the views of most teachers

and on, and on, and on. If that’s the case, why is it that we’re seeing more and more teachers leave the profession for similar reasons? Why is it that almost every time I talk to a teacher, I hear the same thing? Why do more and more teachers keep coming out telling stories of how they’re pressed to ensure no one in their class fails? Examples:

I could add a whole lot more links, but to what end? Want to read more? Use a search engine, these articles aren’t hard to find.

These are symptoms of a larger issue: Education is broken. Badly. Many people talk about how we need to step up and fix the educational system in our country, but the ideas thrown out are usually crap. Standardized testing isn’t the answer, but it allows administrators to take the easy way out. They say they have a way to measure teacher effectiveness, but as anyone with any common sense knows, it’s a method that’s doomed to fail, and year after year, stories like those above show that it has.

Why did I bring this up? Well, I get tired of defending our decision to put my daughter in private school. It’s not some badge of honor in my eyes (as my colleague seems to think it is), it’s a sign of failure on the part of many people, both in public education and in government. No one who has a child in private school should see it as a status symbol, they should find it sad that it came to that. We pay taxes that go to a public school system we don’t use, so we’re effectively paying tuition twice. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining about my tax dollars going to a school we’re not making use of, I’m complaining that the kids going to the schools funded by those taxes aren’t getting the education they deserve, and no one actually seems to care. I’m annoyed that I have to pay tuition twice in order to keep my child out of the standardized testing cycle.

At what point do we actually start listening to teachers likeĀ Kenneth Bernstein and stop focusing on standardized testing as the sole measure of success? I realize that defining success is a hard thing to solve, but it’s quite obvious that NCLB testing (and the programs that have/will follow it) isn’t working. It doesn’t prepare our kids for life. It teaches them how to answer test questions, it doesn’t actually teach them the material. We hear people decry this practice all the time, talking about how we need to better prepare kids to compete in the global economy, but we do nothing to change a system that’s failing them. Instead, we keep continuing down this path, making simple cosmetic changes that do nothing, all while good teachers leave the profession.

If you noticed in the title, this is just part 1. In part 2, I’ll spew my thoughts on a more recent trend in the college system that has us questioning whether or not those upcoming tuition bills are really going to be worth it.


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