Thursday, January 27, 2011

Where is the Support for Public Education?

I have changed the name of this blog to Angie Villa Art and Education because the role of the arts in public education is something I care deeply about as an artist, educator, and parent. I believe that the current educational reform movement based on high stakes testing, data driven instruction, and unrealistic goals mandated by the government is harmful to our children because it narrows the curriculum, stifles creativity and critical thinking while unfairly blaming teachers for the low test scores of students.

Experienced teachers are the most qualified professionals who write curricula to meet the needs of all students. Let the teachers teach. Let new teachers learn from the experienced teachers. Currently we are investing a lot of money into new student assessment systems and MORE testing in order to fix the failed No Child Left Behind Act. We should be spending money on funding nutrition programs and extra resources for children born into poverty. There are even plans to evaluate teacher performance based on standardized test scores. This is wrong for many reasons, but mainly because there are so many factors outside the realm of school that impact learning. NCLB (No Child Left Behind) will now be called "Race to the Top" which won't work either because there will be winners and losers. Good teachers will be fired for not meeting the unrealistic goals set by policy makers, even if those experienced teachers are making progress in helping poor students. There is too much focus on punishment when it should be on teamwork and fostering the growth and development of all children. Not all children will make it to "the top" or go on to college. And poverty is the real issue here. If the legislators are going to continue to ignore the impact of poverty, then public education is doomed.

I believe that parents and educators need to speak out against the current drive to corporatize and privatize public education. The media perpetuates myths about how charter schools are going to save the day, and how our public schools are "broken" and greedy teachers are to blame. Teachers and unions are being used as scapegoats to deflect attention away from corporate and political failures that have appeased the wealthy, while ignoring support for public education. We need to fund and improve public schools. Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey is proposing to cut crucial programs like the free breakfast program for poor children, in order to cut the budget. This is wrong and immoral. Both Republicans and Democrats are to blame.

The Allentown School District has partnered with the Bill Gates Foundation to participate in research on how standardized test scores can be used to evaluate teacher performance. I believe this grant money would be better spent on programs for students. I believe teachers should be evaluated based on performance and observation of their own practices, not the actions of other human beings. We don't evaluate our police or social workers in this manner. Studies done by a top economist have shown that Bill Gates' research is highly flawed. More on this topic in future posts. But in education, "money doesn't talk, it swears." (Bob Dylan said that).

In future posts, I will provide links to research showing that a "whole child" approach to education, which meets the needs of all students is the best way to improve student learning. And creating an atmosphere where teachers can collaborate, and where curriculum is integrated with the arts, and where critical thinking and creativity is encouraged, where there is a focus on community, and where basic needs of students are addressed, is the way to improve learning. And testing can be part of that approach, but not at the center.

The new catchy buzz words, acronyms, and metaphors like "Race to the Top" and SAS (Standards Aligned System) and PVAAS (Pennsylvania Value Added Assessment System) AYP (Annual yearly progress) and "data driven instruction" will not improve student learning. But it may fool a lot of people into thinking this is a more serious approach and "student centered." Right now teachers are bogged down with paperwork which interferes with teaching. Most parents cannot understand the complicated algorithms and formulas now used to assess student progress. Too much school time is spent on testing and teaching to the test. Why is educating our children a "race?" Students are not economic units or products, they are complicated human beings. The corporate model will not work. We need to address social problems first. One size does not fit all. Why does our school board support this reform nonsense?

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