[Susan notes: Charles Finn clearly states the problem--and offers a telling firefighting metaphor besides.]
Submitted to Time Magazine but not published
Gilbert Cruz's feature on Arne Duncan and the Race To The Top program
entirely missed the boat, misrepresenting the issues and ignoring
years of evidence about what it takes for students to learn. The idea
that teachers should be held accountable for the success or failure of
their students is neither new nor (amongst teachers) controversial.
The controversy surrounds the means by which we evaluate both students
and teachers. With Race To The Top, President Obama and Secretary
Duncan lay all of the responsibility for students' success or failure
squarely on the backs of classroom teachers, while giving them no
authority to do anything whatsoever to change the status quo. Today's
teachers are regularly forced to use scripted lessons and follow
pacing guides that leave no room at all for creativity or professional
judgement. If teachers have no power, how can we hold them
accountable? Would you hand a firefighter a set of procedures to
follow at every fire, regardless of its size, location, or nature?
Would you require doctors to use the same treatment with every
patient, regardless of the disease? That's what is happening to our
teachers and students.
In his effort to blame teacher unions for standing in the way of
reform, Mr. Cruz fails to note what an abject failure No Child Left
Behind and its era of high-stakes standardized testing have been.
States spend billions on tests that are not reliable and are often
inappropriate. School districts have responded by narrowing the
curriculum so that teachers teach only what is to be tested that year.
Many elementary students never touch a history or science textbook.
Art and music are things of the past. Physical education is
disappearing --And research shows us that these subjects and programs
are vital to student achievement.
There is no evidence whatsoever that our testing mania is helping
children; there is mounting evidence that it does them terrible harm.
Educators are challenging Race To The Top because it's going to make
things worse, not better. Once salaries are tied to test scores
teachers will compete to work with the best and brightest students,
those who are likely to test well. Our students with the lowest test
scores and the greatest needs will get the inexperienced and less
capable teachers. I have taught English Learners and immigrant
children for over twenty years. My students learn a great deal, and
make tremendous advances, but they traditionally score poorly on
standardized tests because they have yet to master English. But we
still keep giving them the same tests we give the English-only
students, knowing in advance what the results will be. Who is this
helping? And more importantly, who is going to want to work with these
students once salaries are tied to test scores?
Charles Finn is a teacher, Oceanside Unified School District