Thursday, July 28, 2016

How Texas is Destroying the Education System

On Wednesday, local North Texas NPR station KERA reported that lawmakers and policy minions in Austin are looking into incorporating more testing into the academic year. While the committee does want to pare down the actual STAAR test, they do recommend to increase computer-based Benchmark tests throughout the academic year. The reason behind this, officially, is the provide all associated with the instruction of students with a "snapshot" of how the students are learning and what they are learning...the educational buzzword here is "formative assessments". In theory, formative assessments are suppose to gauge how well the classroom teacher is delivery the information to the students' brains and how well they are retaining the information. I say "in theory", because as a classroom Texas secondary teacher, it never went the way imagined by those assholes in Austin or in the main office. In this blog article/rant, I will be laying out the case on why and how the Texas State Government is destroying the last shreds of the education system, despite pouring money into the broken system.

Why I Give Shit
My actual Classroom
Hi! I am new to the Refuse To Cooperate blog, but I've known the founder since our time together at University. For the record, I am a secondary high school social studies teacher that taught for two school years in a low-performing urban high school. My population that I taught was refugee kids from countries like Nepal, Afghanistan, Mexico, Burma, and even parts of Africa. These language center students were generally isolated from the main student body, I am no longer a teacher with the district after not being renewed due to my "disagreements" with my Assistant Principal (AP), however, my kids loved me and my US History STAAR test results were higher than the last three years. You are welcome. Even if you are not a teacher or even have kids in Texas schools, there is a full-scale war on public education as a whole that directly affects all of us living in the United States.

Why More Testing is Not the Answer
For many of us approaching 40, we were the last generation that knew school without the looming deadlines of draconian tests other than the standard finals and the ACT/SAT. We didn't know how lucky we were, because now, the organic process of the learning environment is completely derailed by these state-mandated tests. In the classroom, testing takes on added pressure to the teacher, the classroom, the students (especially those who are ELS) and the school as a whole. This forces the content to be streamlined, abandoned, or shaped to cover tested elements. All because we teachers are staring down the barrel of state-dictated Benchmark tests that require us to lose a day or two or even three to administer these tests in all day sessions that cause the entire yearly schedule to be thrown off.
This is even worse in block scheduled schools, where either "A" or "B" days are unevenly impacted, causing one to be strongly affected. It is even worse in ineffective schools (like mine,) where the idiots were in-charge causing the testing to be highly disorganized and stressful enough to drive an instinctual desire for a margarita...or three. The test, in of themselves, are highly stressful due to the exact instructions that must be carried out. At every training I've been to about administering these test, our teaching license are threatened. Nice. Then there is the students. You are assigned a batch of kids you may or may not know, and given the high stakes of administering the test correctly and monitoring them for five hours, you have to watch them like a hawk. The "good" students will appear to try their best, not talk, and not try to hide their phones. While the "bad" kids will take this opportunity to be an asshole and disrupt everything; risking your job and mental health. Then you have the ELS kids that are faced with an test that can barely understand. All of these elements erode the ability for any of these standardized tests to be successful. By the end of the testing cycle, your week is shot and the kids are just over it. There goes a fucking week of instruction down the tubes! Thanks Austin! Should we not as a society desire and support teachers teaching and students learning rather than days of taking a series of tests?

Why Computer-Based Tests are Not the Answer! 
Computers in the classroom have been a promise of science fiction since their emergence in the 1950's, and today that promise as arrival like a Texas spring thunderstorm. Even the poor school I worked in was able to issue laptops to every students and Fort Worth ISD pushed teachers to involve these machines into the classroom by designing and supporting virtual classrooms. This was the promise, and the reality was students googling the answers, watching anime, and generally fucking off. It was hard as a teacher to promote group learning, original thinking, and the use of non-computerized databases...you know, books.
Given the challenge of monitoring just one classroom of about 15 students with laptops, can you imagine the challenge in monitoring 30 kids with computer taking a test that could have dire consequences for you if something happens? Plus, there are few if any schools that could host hundreds of students taking computerized testing in computer labs. If they used their own laptops, the chance for something bad happening only increases to nosebleed heights. Count me out. And if anyone in Austin actually taught in this decade, they would damn well known that this bullshit will never work like they imagine...or is that the point? I would think that TEA would be reconsidering the use of computer-based testing for STAAR after last school year when there were dozens of issues with the test results,wiping out some of the test scores entirely.

The Aftermath...
Testing has destroyed a generation of students by completely altering the organic method of instruction, extreme disruption of the school day, boring or disconnecting students from the real purpose of education, and punishing those unfairly for gaps in their education. You have students that are poor readers or not native English speakers that struggle with the test, failing them and shattered their own self image. The teachers are behind and spinning up for the next test that is looming on the horizon instead of planning good engaging lesson that foster real knowledge construction. Another effect of these testing is the weekly meeting for teachers, called PLCs, are repurposed to endlessly discuss the statistics of the results that are pulling data from corrupted pools of information and simply cannot be trusted...but that does not stop the administration from putting their full faith into this data because they cannot have an original thought. If the test was designed to collect data for use by the teachers to see an educational snapshot of their students and their peers, it fails and is only a hindrance to the educational process. Lastly, standardized tests also tell students that all that matters in school is passing the test, not learning and creating. Is that the message we want to send to the next generation?

What Needs to Be Done Before Its Too Late
The pinheads in Austin and Washington need to the listen the guys and gals on the ground and in the classroom that are in the fight everyday and actually know the student population. Too much of educational policy is determined by former teachers who have not been in the classroom in a decade or more, and politicians who simply know shit about the classroom and view public education with contempt. Educational policy needs to be designed from the bottom-up, not the top-down. Actual classroom teachers with current experience with today's population have to be making policy and shaping the political discussion. Also, what is needed now is to abandoned all of the testing, return power to the teachers to generate organic lessons that instruct students in what they need to know about the subject area, along with fostering academic curiosity that honestly shapes real learning. Moreover, as President Obama says, "Don't boo, vote!"along with getting involved and protest before it is too late for public schools. It may be too late for me, given this new rash of more testing fever sweeps through Austin, it might be time for me to get out and abandon my profession.

The Conspiracy Theory on Why The Hell is Texas is Doing This to Public Education
If these tests are so horrible then why is Texas government inflicting this on their students? Some believe that the truth of why standardized testing has a stranglehold on modern education is due to an conspiracy theory and it begins during one of the saddest chapters in the American presidency. In 2001, Texas Governor Little Bush stole the election and was sworn into office. He would bring from Texas to the national stage the No Child Left Behind policy that incorporated standardized testing to verify that students were learning and the massive funding was justified. Like many things in the Little Bush Administration, there was the public reason given and then the shadowy reason behind the policy (The War in Iraq anyone?!). That insidious reason is most likely the desire by the Republican party to completely wound and hobble public education to the point of mass exodus by the bulk of parents and educators.
In the place of free public education would be the privatization of education as Texas as done with the prison system. Money would flow from the school systems into the network of private schools and home schools. This would primarily benefit the vast community of private christian schools across the state, and forward the Conservative-Christian agenda of eliminating non-christian teachings in the classroom. Even I got shit for teaching evolution and palaeolithic history in my high school world history class by my AP. This desire has been spoken aloud by dumbass recent governors of Texas and is in the DNA of their school political policies. The privatization of public education would also favor the parents with greater financial resources and punish the poor...which is the bread-and-butter for the Republican Party. In the end, the standardized testing is a vehicle to destroy the public schools to enact a massive social engineering experiment by further separating the haves from the haven'ts and folding more drones into the GOP and mega-churches. It is just a theory after all and your mileage might vary.

5 comments:

  1. As a Texas Charter school educator, I agree with this article. These tests are sapping the life out of teachers and students. Tragic.

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  2. Images were too distracting to read the article.

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  3. If the images are too distracting for you to read this article, may I gently suggest that you might have a learning disability. I know one of my grandsons has, and it's really disturbing to see him try.

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  4. If the images are too distracting for you to read this article, may I gently suggest that you might have a learning disability. I know one of my grandsons has, and it's really disturbing to see him try.

    ReplyDelete