Friday, January 30, 2004
( 1:03 PM )
Cheating our Children
I have been a political activist all of my adult life, both here in the U.S. and in other countries. Issues like equal rights, immigration issues, things like that were first on my focus list. But I have more recently become a "social activist" - that is, once I became a parent - the issues of my society around me in my own community became much more important to me. Suddenly, when I had a child, these issues became much more clear to me through the new prism of being a Mama. Of course, before I cared about children's issues - I was fairly educated about the problem with education, foster programs, poverty. I became more concerned about education issues once I realized that what I'd really like to be is a teacher. But once I became a parent, it got personal. That's why the news out yesterday about Oregon's "report cards" on our schools has me once again in a rant about No Child Left Behind.
Oregon issues "report cards" every year about all of our public schools. The ratings changed this year to not reflect so exclusively on test scores - a position that is out of the ordinary these days. Instead, the ratings judge a mixture of factors, including drop out rates, attendence, the number of students tested and their improvement over time percentages. Our report cards were good this year, boys and girls!
One in eight Oregon schools was rated exceptional this year,
the highest proportion to get the top grade since the state
first issued school report cards five years ago.
Statewide, 130 schools were graded exceptional. Most were
elementary schools. The change in the report card formula
allowed 34 schools that would have been rated strong to
earn the coveted top grade.
Unfortunately, the fact that so many schools across the state were graded exceptional by the state no longer matters in terms of how they will pay their teachers or, in some cases, even continue to exist. Now, the federally mandated No Child Left Behind Act determines what schools, what teachers, and what children will live to see another day of good education.
Those report cards used to matter more, because a low
or unacceptable grade put a school on a federal watch list.
But the federal ratings required under the No Child
Left Behind law have taken over that role: Schools
that don't meet the federal performance targets get
put on the watch list and face escalating consequences
if they don't improve.
Across Oregon, 330 schools fell short of the federal
performance targets based on their 2003 test scores
-- far more than the 39 schools graded less than
satisfactory on their 2004 report cards. That's mainly
because the state grades schools on their overall
performance, while the federal law holds schools
accountable for the performance of their minority,
low-income, special education and second-language
In other words, the federal funds and assistance that might have come the way of many schools in this state if our statewide report card system was still the measure used are no left to scramble because according to Bush's reckless standards, lack of funding, and ridiculous "goals" the No Child Left Behind Act is robbing our children and teachers... and ultimately, our entire community.
The federal government is determined to treat our children like hamburgers, as former teacher and administrator Jamie McKenzie says:
The prevailing model for school improvement imposed by
Washington these days is fast food education. We have
leaders and self-styled reformers who see schools as
assembly lines and deep fat fryers. Their response to
- Standardize everything.
- Bring in the stop watches.
- Get the routines straight.
- Teach by recipe.
- Follow the script.
- Flip the burgers.
- Stamp out anything that seems unique,
special or magical.
As a mama and a (hopefully) future teacher, I'm incredibly distressed by this idea. In fact, all adults in our country should be distressed by it, no matter if you have children or not. The reason is, your future will be handled by these very children who are being stripped down to nothing but assembly line products of a consumer nation. People used to worry that public schools were nothing but indoctrination sessions to teach children the government line. Sure they were, but at least the teacher that wanted to had the ability to step out of the mold and inspire. But now it's much worse. The indoctrination isn't about the government, it's about consumerism. It's about measuring UP to the LOWEST common denominator. It's about stifling the personalities and differences in our children instead of investing in them. We choose, as taxpayers and citizens, time and again to support a government and its policies that would take money away from schools that need help rather than give more aid to the schools that need it most. We are selfish, short-visioned and, frankly, cruel. I do blame Bush and even Ted Kennedy, who thought that he could trust what Bush/Rove told him, and I blame Congress that went along with the whole thing without thinking. Now most of them regret it, but what are they doing about it? Nothing. So it's up to us, and so far, we've proven to be a bunch of selfish, short-visioned and unthinking citizens when it comes to the future of this nation.
I could go into why we are like that - that all we ever hear about is consume, consume, consume - that our entire culture is based on instant gratification and "looking out for number one" - that our entire legacy is built on the falsehood of the "american dream" myth and that our entire national mindset of "manifest destiny" has ruined more lives that got tramped down in its path than anyone could count anymore. I could go into the fact that the new "anti tax" people that have taken over almost all the local special interests in almost every state are not looking out for the working people - of course they're not! - but those are the people they're suckering into their empty message. While they preach that we should have our taxes lower or not have to pay even a small amount more to help our own state, our own community, they pretend that all the services we take for granted will still be there for us, and they certainly don't preach that the corporations should pay the same taxes! I could go into the fact that the next Martin Luther King, Jr., or the next Harry Truman, or the next Maya Angelou might be a 4 year old child right now who is hungry because his Head Start Program was cancelled under No Child Left Behind, and that was the only place he got breakfast and lunch, and now he doesn't even have a place to color or paint or look at picture books or build blocks because all the kids in his class couldn't pass the TEST.
But none of that is going to change if we, the adults in this country, don't get off our asses and DO SOMETHING to change it. Already, I see democrats falling into the same old traps they did in 2000 and 2002 - going for what they imagine is the "safe" route. Not standing up in the face of the Machine and demanding something totally different, something that is in their name - no, that's too scary, too risky! The same laziness and fear infects us all when it comes to issues like education and our children. We no longer see the power in collective action against the government, we no longer see the long term interests of our children when we vote on tax measures, like the one we have before us here in Oregon next week (more on that in another post). We no longer even care enough to vote out the people who betray us as our representatives in Congress! What is wrong with us?! Don't we see the forest for the trees anymore? It doesn't seem so. That we've allowed No Child Left Behind to go on this long (it celebrated its 2-year anniversary this month) is a crime in itself. Why aren't we massing at our school buildings, defending our teachers, insisting our children be measured not according to George Bush's standardized tests, but according to their potential?! What's wrong with us?
Damn right I'm angry. Why aren't you?