Education reform: Here’s why I care

empty classroom

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.

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.

The arts are not so easily measured by scantron sheets.

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 I suspect 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.

If a child hasn’t eaten well (or at all), 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 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 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.

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