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Education reform: Here’s why I care

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I never intended to care about education reform. So boring, right?

When my firstborn child became old enough to start playing a band instrument, THAT’S when I started paying attention. Anyone who cares about music and arts education SHOULD care about education reform.

For more on arts education & ed reform, follow me on Twitter!

Standardized testing and school district funding

I started hearing stories about schools slashing music budgets. At the same time, I noticed the increasing pressure on my children, their teachers and their schools as a result of standardized testing.

Rather than taking a couple of afternoons to fill in some bubbles every couple of years, like we’d done when I was a kid, test prep and testing now consumes multiple weeks every year. Artwork comes off the walls at the school. Teaching stops, and highly trained educators become proctors.

For me personally, my last straw was when my children’s homework consisted of multiple test prep packets. My 6th grader was assigned 57 math problems on a Friday afternoon, due Monday morning. I looked at the packet. I didn’t even know how to do the problems on page two.

Upon learning more about it, I realized that the dwindling music department budgets and increased dependence on standardized testing were inextricably linked.

School districts are now required by law to submit to rigorous standardized testing. But no additional funding was made available to cover the costs. That’s why virtually every school district nationwide is in a serious budget crunch. They’re “saving” money anywhere they can.

The arts are not so easily measured by scantron sheets.

Music does not appear on these mandatory standardized tests. If it’s not tested, school boards with their backs against a financial wall must view these line items as expendable. Even if administrators and school board members are supportive of the arts, and know the benefits of music education, their hands are tied by budget constraints.

 Though I know I sound like a crazy conspiracy theorist every time I say it, there is big money behind making sure that our children’s public schools are tested and labeled as “failing.” 

The testing companies are for-profit entities that benefit economically from the requirement that every student in every school be tested. They sell the test prep kits, the tests and answer sheets, and the grading services as well. For all that money spent on them, there have been allegations that the tests are poorly designed.

You know what else causes poor performance on standardized tests?

Poverty.

 

Standardized testing and poverty

School districts rely heavily on property taxes for funding. If a district is impoverished, the school is underfunded. Underfunded schools can’t afford to supply the brand-spanking new textbooks that are published every year. Do you know what’s in those books?

Test answers.

The companies that write the textbooks are the same ones that design the exams. You might not think there’s a direct correlation, but there seems to be.

From a more personal perspective, if a child hasn’t eaten well (or at all), if that kid doesn’t know where she’s sleeping tonight, if their families are having trouble meeting the child’s basic needs, how well do you think that kid is going to be able to perform on a standardized (or any other!) test?

Teachers and schools have no control over these poverty-related variables. But they are graded on them just the same.

If students “perform poorly” for whatever reason on these expensive, poorly designed exams, they won’t be able to make “adequate yearly progress.” Funding is tied to test results.

Schools NEED to make AYP in order to secure funding. That means that they must slash the funding for any subject that isn’t tested in order to bolster the subjects that are tested.

Lack of AYP could trigger a government takeover of the schools.

And so schools defund music and arts education, libraries and physical education. Possibly even worse, poorly-performing students are pulled from arts classes to get more remediation in test subjects.

They’re being pulled out of the very classes that research shows bring up their grades and keep them in school.

Who profits?

And guess who is ready to step in?

Private, for-profit charter school companies. They’ll now get a lucrative government contract to run the schools. And they won’t have to hire unionized teachers.

Follow the cash. Who economically profits from standardized testing? Testing companies like Pearson. For-profit school corporations. Private charter schools.

Who politically profits? Students trained to fill in bubbles are not as skilled in critical thinking. Without the arts, they’re less equipped to express themselves, and they’re not as empathetic. Our society depends on a well-educated electorate. There’s one political party in America that thrives on misinformation and fear.

So does standardized testing pay off? And for whom?

You do the math.

 

Resources

 

Why the kids who most need arts education aren’t getting it

VIDEO: a message to parents from your child’s teacher

DianeRavitch.net plus her latest book

Yinzercation (Pittsburgh-based education)

A closer look at Philadelphia schools: You Cancel Our Contracts, We Cancel Your Tests!

Teachers as ‘conscientious objectors?’ Status sought for those who oppose high-stakes tests

UNITED OPT OUT: The Movement to End Corporate Education Reform

United Opt Out Facebook group

Dave Conrey of Fresh Rag speaks with Kathleen Jasper of ConversationEd

ConversationEd: blog, podcast & soon to be a book

Badass Parents Association Facebook group

Lace to the Top Facebook group

 

Also on the podcast…

Christopher Woodside of the National Association for Music Education

DJ Corchin of The 13th Chair

 

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