Saturday, April 21, 2012

Down the Rabbit Hole

Thank goodness for the recent "Pineapple Story" on the New York State reading exam for eighth graders.

The story the students were asked to read and the multiple choice questions based on the story were so patently absurd* that they became the talk of the eighth grade and finally the talk of the city of New York itself.  (If you read the story, be sure to read the comments.  Many claim they would have to be under the influence of drugs in order to comprehend both the story and any logical choice in the questions.)

*Can you imagine being an eighth grader who knows the importance of the tests to both your own future and your teachers'--and then being faced with this nonsensical story and its ridiculous questions?  If you think there isn't a moral question in all that's been foisted on our children, think again.

Finally, the conditions teachers have faced and the impossible game we have been asked to play--and its unsettling, bizarre landscape may be clear to the general public.

Let's hope.

Teachers have argued for ten years that the accountability game is rigged.  We can't see the tests in advance.  We can't discuss the tests afterwards.  We cannot give students feedback on the tests.  We cannot argue the validity of questions. (We can't see the tests, remember?)  We don't know who is evaluating our students.  We get scores too late to help anyone in terms of instruction.

Incidentally, we also don't think the testing mandates are reflective of either good instruction or good evaluation.

Gosh.  Even sports coaches get to scout out the competition before a game.

Suppose this were a football game and the opposing team said: "We're going to change the rules, but we won't tell you the new rules.  And we are going to bring our own referees, and you can't see their credentials.  And we will provide the score at the end of the game and there will be no discussion.  For all of this you will provide a LOT of money for the referees, the new rule books, and the upgraded, state of the art (online) playing field.  And if your team loses just ONCE we will declare the whole league a failure."   Add to that scenario that some of players on the team will arrive with only half the equipment, underfed, perhaps homeless....

You get the picture.  I think most sports fans would protest.  Sadly, most citizens do not pay even half as much attention to education policy as they do to big-league sporting events.

Meanwhile, there has been a huge media campaign to discredit teachers.

The narrative goes like this:

Teachers get a job for life.  They don't work very hard.  If they did, all the children would be successful.  They can't be trusted to evaluate children and their work.  Teachers are a drain on public monies.  They need to be watched ('cause they are sneaky cheaters who are gorging on public money).

And who is watching the hen house?  Large testing companies.

And who is scoring the tests?  Temporary workers.  (If I think about it, I get really angry about this.  With my master's degree, various publications, years devoted to improving instruction in writing, I am trumped by a $11/hour employee who may only have a high school degree......  I try not to think about it.)

And who is writing the tests?  Whoever they can find.

But let's be clear.  The rules are just a fog of distraction.  Improving schools was never the goal.

The real goal is to dismantle public education.

Getting teachers and policymakers to discuss the minutiae of testing rules, test questions, testing windows, extended days, salaries, training, while simultaneously expending time and energy in discrediting for-profit providers is a lot like rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.

Everybody is kept busy playing "whack a mole" while the gorilla saunters by in the background and walks off with everything.

There's a lot of money to be made off the taxpayer's, and those who wrote the rules to the game we've been playing always intended to win.  They were just playing a different game: privatize and then profit off the giant education pie that is just waiting to be divvied up between the hedge fund managers.

The plan is working.

But maybe these bizzaro, alternate-reality test questions will get the public's attention.

Go ahead.  Read the test questions.  Then welcome to my world.