Adding Fairness to the Testing Equation
Ohanian Comment: This position is morally bankrupt. Well, thank goodness Chase is no longer head of the NEA. When someone doesn't have the guts to admit that the standards--and the tests they drive--are corrupt and destructive, there is no hope. Until you have the courage to stand up and say that the standards are wrong, then you have nothing to stand on when you complain about the tests. Please note: saying these corporate-politico state standards are wrong doesn't leave me "without standards." Not by a longshot. It leaves me looking after the needs of individual students instead of offering some hot air corporatized learning objective on the chalk board every 45 minutes.
Chase is blowing hot air (and worse). He shows how out of touch he's become. Teachers don't "embrace this new accountability"; they accept it because they have no leaders willing to lead them out of the wilderness of the corporate politico imperatives that Chase espouses. I am shocked that Chase would embrace the argument that low test scores come from non-qualified teachers.
He actually calls for: modern facilities, small class sizes, rigorous academic programs and—most importantly—high-quality teachers.
Ah, yes, rigor. Grab a dictionary, Mr. Chase, and look it up.
Chase offers not a mention of what these poor kids really need: they need households earning a living wage; they need the lead removed from their homes; they need dental care; they need functioning public and school libraries. Imagine if their parents didn't have to work three jobs to put food on the table. Imagine parents who had the time and energy to read a good night story every night.
I expect this kind of rhetoric from corporate politicos. I am very sorry to see that the former head of the NEA has joined their ranks. Maybe he should read what Richard Rothstein had to say on NPR.
By Bob Chase
Politicians—Democrats and Republicans alike—are talking tough about testing. Their idea is simple: Testing will force students to shape up. Testing will put steel in our schools. Testing equals accountability. It is a popular, get-tough message, full of what I call "test-tosterone."
Public education today is in the midst of an accountability revolution. This revolution is premised on high standards and high-stakes tests—tests that students must pass in order to be promoted or to receive a diploma. The good news is that for the first time we have made a national commitment to hold all children—-rich and poor, smart and slow—-to the same ambitious standards.
Now the Hard Part
Let me be clear: The great majority of teachers embrace this new accountability. But we have an urgent message for our political leaders: Setting high standards is the easy part. Putting in place a regime of testing and punishment is the easy part. The hard part—-the part that has been seriously neglected—-is giving all children the good public schools and quality teachers they need in order to have a fighting chance to succeed.
The great majority of America's children, especially in affluent suburban communities, attend public schools that range from good to outstanding. Most of these kids will be able to meet the new standards and to graduate.
But millions of other children—especially in poor inner-city and rural communities—attend schools that are struggling against dire circumstances. Facilities are run-down and overcrowded. Teachers often lack certification. Student achievement is dismally low.
The harsh reality is that we have one-size-fits-all standards in a world of savage inequalities. And the consequences have been devastating.
In Texas—which has led the way with tests and standards—the dropout and attrition rate for black and Hispanic students has soared to nearly 50 percent, and for white students to nearly 30 percent. A new study by researchers at Johns Hopkins found that about half of the high schools in America's 35 largest cities have dropout/attrition rates of 50 percent or worse.
These numbers are not just disturbing. They shock the conscience. They shame all—including President Bush and myself—who believe we should "leave no child behind."
This, then, is the challenge that confronts the President, the governors, teachers' unions, all Americans. We have a moral imperative to take on the challenge of these low-performing schools and the millions of children who are being set up for failure.
The National Education Association is in the midst of a major initiative to do just that. We are training NEA activists to jump-start reform efforts in each of their local school districts.
But we can't do it alone. The challenge of lifting up low-performing schools is simply monumental. This is going to take a national commitment on the scale of the Marshall Plan or the Apollo Project. But thanks to surging federal budget surpluses, we have the resources to ensure that every public school is as good as our best suburban public schools, with modern facilities, small class sizes, rigorous academic programs and—most importantly—high-quality teachers.
Redeeming the Promise
I'm not a budget expert. But I know that the share of the surplus devoted to tax cuts is some 40 times greater than the amount devoted to public education. If we have the vision to take even one quarter of the proposed $1.6 trillion tax cut, and if we reallocate those funds to the President's No. 1 priority—improving public education—then our nation will, at last, redeem its promise to give every child a quality public education.
Then all Americans can join with President Bush in declaring, "I refuse to leave any child behind in America." And we will mean it.
Bob Chase is the former President of the National Education Association.
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