By Anita Gibson, AEA President
Welcome back to school! As we begin a new school year we will be faced with many changes and challenges. Some of these will be new and some will not.
I recently did a little reflective thinking concerning the struggles we face as public educators. I discovered some pretty amazing facts. I mean really, think about common core standards, teacher evaluations based on student test scores, education reform, the reauthorization of ESEA, charter schools, vouchers, and the list goes on. During my first term as your president these same issues were being hotly debated and kicked around.
So now I ask you to think about the forces behind each of these issues. Consider with me for just a few minutes who is driving the debate. Is it the education employees who are actually in the trenches each and every day? How about the administrators, or local/state superintendents and boards? Could it possibly be a committee of concerned parents, education professionals, administrators, and community leaders/business owners?
Sorry, that would still be a loud, resounding “NO.” If you look closely you will find the same 12 notable foundations, which by the way are not eager to disclose their individual commitments, who are teaming up, more times than not with the Koch brothers. Their focus is on pouring unheard amounts of funding into states willing to throw the baby out with the wash, (or is that the educator/student), and change state legislation and education policy concerning turning around low-performing schools, extending learning time, creating “high-quality” charter school options under whatever disguise necessary, and the evaluation and pay of educators. What a coincidence that all of this comes at a time when our public school systems are desperate for funding.
Could it be that foundations such as Gates, Walton, and Broad have far too much influence on education policy? It seems very possible considering the fact that many members from the philanthropic community serve in key positions in the U.S. Department of Education.
When these foundations play such a major role in designing and funding proposed education reform we must look at the kind of message they are sending. That message seems crystal clear – reform ideas that do not fit their agenda will find it extremely difficult to secure financial resources.
Let us not forget the impact on teaching and learning from the assessment consortia as they continue to set the course for the implementation of tying high stakes test scores to teacher evaluations. Oh, do not forget the efforts to grade our schools based on those same high stakes test scores.
So when will this vicious cycle break? When we as educators, parents, and community members find our voices and our courage to stand united on the issues that are threatening to destroy our community schools and our communities.
If I had to narrow my focus down to just one issue I would have to concentrate my energies on the use, or should I say misuse of high stakes tests. We have witnessed the onslaught of attempts to change existing laws or adopt new ones that call for the use of student test scores as a predominate element in evaluating teachers and as a tool by which to grade our schools. Educators are not afraid of or against accountability, after all we invented tests. We must insist on a fair and accurate process for our students and our educators.
I am encouraged by the abundance of research that is surfacing that stresses the importance of caution against these practices. Even as early as August 27, 2010, the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) issued a report that pointed out that even when adding the use of value-added modeling (VAM), student test scores were still not reliable indicators of teacher effectiveness.
The report also provided research that clearly shows that the use of test scores as the dominate factor by school officials when making high-stakes decisions about teacher evaluations, compensation, or discipline of teachers is a misuse of student test scores and is extremely inappropriate and harmful.
I am also encouraged when I hear Superintendent Bice telling educators they have permission to break the rules because he understands the damaging impact the test craze is having on our students. There are so many things that happen in our classrooms every day that influences the learning process that cannot be measured on a standardized test. As educators we know there is a wide range of factors that influence student learning, particularly the backgrounds of students, and the support system offered to students in their homes.
I recently participated in a discussion on the whole issue of high stakes testing and I, like many in the room with me, believe there is a strong movement mounting that will lead to the demise of this current so-called accountability system. As pressure mounts from parents, educators, and superintendents as they band together, I believe we will begin to see relief from the “drill and kill” problems, and all the time spent on tests prep, practice test, and the actual test. When this happens we must, as professionals, be prepared to step up to the plate with an alternative plan. One that is meaningful, that fosters a love of learning, that doesn’t pit us against one another, and one that truly helps us in effectively evaluating what our students need and how far we have taken them over a given course of time. We must be prepared to lead the way as we redefine equity and excellence.
It can no longer be about test scores. We must be prepared to turn the focus to helping each student reach their God given potential by helping them establish individual goals of excellence. We must be prepared to lead the way in providing every educator a safe place in which to use their God given talent to teach in a way that inspires their students to reach new heights without fear and intimidation.
As professionals we must be prepared to lead the way if real change is to take place.