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Perhaps Governors and Corporate Leaders Should Talk to Parents

A Parent Talks Back

Publication Date: 2002-08-06

When media lackeys roll over and play dead for corporate-politico alliances, parents need to respond

Below is an editorial from USA Today, the newspaper that can be relied on to march lock-step behind every Standardista imperative. Like the proverbial leopard,USA Today doesn't change its spots. The paper has been pushing for a national test since Bill Clinton was governor of Arkansas.

USA Today
August 5, 2002

School ratings fail parents

Parents are right to demand evidence that their children attend effective schools. Math instruction, for example, shouldn't vary much from school to school. And parents should be able to compare their children's math progress with that of other students across the USA.

But accurate national yardsticks don't exist in education. More proof of that problem emerged Monday, when USA TODAY revealed that at least 19 schools receiving the federal government's prestigious Blue Ribbon honor during the past five years also received failing grades from their states for not adequately educating students. Three of those schools won the Blue Ribbon award in May, just a month before the list of poor-performing schools was released.

The disconnect occurs because the Blue Ribbon program judges schools more on the methods that teachers use than on the materials students learn. So schools can be honored even when achievement falls short.

Last week, Education Secretary Rod Paige promised new criteria for Blue Ribbon schools. That's only a superficial solution. The real problem is that parents have to glean information on school performance from conflicting awards and lists because there aren't clear measures showing how schools stack up nationally.

President Bush and members of Congress claim they have solved that problem through the "No Child Left Behind" law, which holds all schools accountable improving student performance and requires states to identify failing schools. But they're not telling the whole story.

Rather than set uniform national standards, the law allows states to set their own educational requirements and testing policies. Predictably, results are fudged. For example, of 8,652 schools recently listed as low-performing, none is in Arkansas and Wyoming. Yet 1,513 are in Michigan because that state set tougher standards.

Currently, the best hope for an honest national gauge of student progress lies outside the federal government. A group of governors and corporate leaders called Achieve is working with 14 states to develop a common eighth-grade math test and uniform teaching tools and training. If successful, Achieve will make it possible to accurately compare schools' math programs from California to Missouri, Florida to Maine. Until then, parents may be confused, but they shouldn't be surprised that they can't judge the quality of their local schools.

Neither can the federal government.

Ohanian Comment: The editors at USA Today disingenuously pretend that Achieve is an impartial and independent entity, working for the benefit of children. Here is a statement from Achieve?s website:

"IMAGINE A public school system where every student in every school is held to high expectations and provided the tools to achieve them. Where hard work is encouraged and achievement is rewarded. Where a challenging curriculum and excellent teaching ensure that every high school graduate has the knowledge and skills essential to succeed in today?s increasingly competitive world.?

A distressing number of parents can tell you that we had better imagine what happens to all the kids who don't measure up to the corporate high stakes. The evidence is rolling in that as early as seventh grade kids see they aren't going to pass the high-stakes tests in high school and drop out. Seventh graders out on the streets--with no hope for the future. Achieve and their politico-corporate brethen don't tell us what grand plan they have for these kids. Recently, California's Governor Davis spoke of the "deserving student," making us wonder about the definition of that word "deserving" and what it implies about other students. Do kindergartners deserve to be terrorized over the fear of failing? Do fourth graders?

USA Today reveals their pathetic cronyism in their claim that "the best hope for an honest national gauge of student progress lies with governors and corporate leaders." Interesting notion: We have plenty of evidence that corporate leaders don't provide "honest gauges" of their own finances, but nonetheless we should let them loose on students' schooling?

A growing number of parents across the country are not taking the party line that the corporate-politico outfits like Achieve and their media lackeys at USA Today dish out. Here?s the response of Mickey Vanderwerker, parent activist in Virginia.

A Virginia Parent Replies to USA Today:

As a parent of five kids in elementary and middle school, I guess you would expect me to be thankful that the governors and corporate leaders that make up Achieve are going to tell me how good or bad the schools my children attend are. Thanks but no thanks.

Count me as one parent who refuses to turn over my own critical thinking skills and judgement when deciding how my children's schools are doing.

Count me as a parent who thinks that comparing schools by using standardized test scores will backfire on our children and turn their schools into test prep centers. That this group of politicians and businessmen thinks that test scores can be used to accurately define good schools and bad schools simply tells me that they don't understand the limitations of testing and what the scores can actually tell us.

When I measure my children's schools, I have other, more important criteria:
?Do I trust the principal? Does she have control over staffing? How often does staff turn over?
?Do I trust my child's teacher? How was she educated? Is she experienced? How does she approach learning and teaching? How many kids are in the class?
?How many kids in the school? Are there enough materials? What technology is available? Is there a music and art program?
?Do kids seem happy to be in school? Is there diversity in the classrooms?
?What happens if kids are struggling? What happens when kids already know the subject?
?Are kids receiving special education services included in general education classrooms?
?What's the discipline situation? Are kids expected to behave or are they bribed and punished?
?Are parents involved and welcome in the school? How do parents feel about the school?
?How well kept is the facility?
?What is special about the school?
?Will my child fit in this school?

The definition of school excellence is not elusive for many parents. Perhaps the governors and corporate leaders should talk to us.

Mickey VanDerwerker
Parents Across Virginia United to Reform SOLS http://www.solreform.com

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