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Guest Column: Blame, bandying and excuses in our public school system
By Amy Orvis
Rockford Public School Teacher
Want to engage in the public education “reform” tournament these days? Serve the words “failing” and “accountability”; rally the terms “performance” and “progress.” You’re in. You’re a pro — an expert, ready for the U.S Open school debate.
Rhetoric of late, volleys blame for failing schools; from teachers to the effects of poverty, from drop shots at administrators to passing shots of “accountability” (a.k.a: school closings, firings, test score-tied pay), then back again for a replay. Failure … success … progress … ? But by what measure? With whose chosen tool?
Are the successes and failures of a student truly measured on a multiple-choice test for which some corporate entity has predetermined the most important vocabulary for life, which inconsistently assesses the two subjects it covers, and disregards the assessment of social sciences, civics, the fine arts, foreign language and writing? A test that also allows children from specific cultures, economic strata or geographic regions to more (or less) successfully navigate?
Which parts of these high-stakes tests measure resourcefulness, responsibility and creativity? Do we ever assess students’ grasp of vital issues, such as world hunger, poverty and/or disease? Their decisions to forgo Christmas gifts to purchase life-saving mosquito netting for Nigerian children? Their increased capacity for acceptance (and love) of others; of celebration of racial and cultural diversity? Of the ability to participate in rich, meaningful discussions?
As for inadequate “progress,” who is to blame? Do we blame cancer on the victim’s parents for their genes? The patient for lifestyle? The researchers for no cure? The oncologist for lack of knowledge or laziness?
Do we then hire highly-paid consultants who know nothing about cancer, but print out sure-fire binders and books of “cures”? Corporations knowledgeable about profits, but with not one medically-certified staff member?
If the oncologist is successful and sends a patient healthily on his way — is the doctor given merit pay? If he loses a patient, is he fired, or does someone close his clinic? Do these carrots and sticks make him care more and try harder? No.
Instead? We continue to attract and keep highly-trained, highly-dedicated researchers and practitioners. We look to cancer survivors for advice, motivation and hope.
Cancer “failures” — yes, it is genes, it is lifestyle, it is environment, it is oncologists not staying on top of current research; it is even, sometimes, a lazy practitioner hoping for imminent retirement.
Education “failures” — yes, it is genes, it is poverty, it is environment, it is professional development coordinators not staying on top of current research; it is even, sometimes, a lazy teacher hoping for imminent retirement. But, it is also oftentimes a corporately greed-fueled, test-driven, narrowed curriculum that consequently siphons joy and motivation from both students and teachers.
President Barack Obama and U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, the children need you on their side of the net. All children deserve more than blame bandying and excuses. All students deserve excellence. All students deserve adequate health care, early childhood education, equitable public school resources, a rich curriculum, and teachers who are highly (intrinsically) motivated and professionally coached (by educators, not corporations such as Pearson and Gates), and who share with their students a love of learning; teachers, who have a true passion for their profession, and are given the resources, autonomy and respect they need — and joyfully give back. Let’s change the score: 40-love; children … game! … set! … match!
Editor’s note: Amy Orvis is a Rockford Public School teacher who also teaches graduate-level classes on writing workshops to teachers. She is a former Illinois Writing Project presenter, and attended the Save Our Schools two-day conference, rally and March on Washington in July.
From the Oct. 12-18, 2011, issue