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Sparta — Letters to the Editor

Response to Bader George Qarmout's Letter

Michael Harris

Tuesday, February 26, 2013 • 5:47pm

As a teacher with over 25 years of experience, I can no longer remain silent about the massive hijacking of public education that is in the process of happening all across the country and in New Jersey. Parents need to know about what is going to happen to their children in the coming years and become engaged and educated about these changes. The lies about public education and the “competitive” status of American students has been promoted by powerful and opportunistic interests who see relatively safe and guaranteed profits in gaining private corporate control over taxpayer funded education.

The first step in this hijacking of our dollars and our children has been to convince society that public education is a failure and must be reformed using market based practices. To create this “crisis”, a battery of statistics and so called test results are used to spread the notion that American kids are dumber than their international peers, that this is a threat to our continued economic well being and, that miserable public education is a threat to our national security! When one peels back the layers of this onion, one finds that American kids from middle and upper class backgrounds score at or near the top on Math, Language Arts and Science tests used in these so called international comparisons.( http://www.epi.org/blog/international-tests-achievement-gaps-gains-american-students/)

The shameful percentages of American children living at or below the poverty level is where test scores show the biggest disparity with their international counterparts. Kids living in conditions where food security is an issue, where transience is an issue, where violence is an issue, where family life is characterized by greater stress and uncertainty, tend to have less resilience when it comes to academic achievement when compared to their more secure and safer peers. Finland, currently recognized as having a model of education and lauded for their high test scores has a child poverty rate of around 4 percent, and Finland is outraged at how high that is! Here, we have a child poverty rate of at or above 20 percent and we hear loud cries to cut so called “entitlement” benefits for children and the unemployed!! ( http://www.childrensdefense.org/newsroom/child-watch-columns/child-watch-documents/the-state-of-americas-children-1.html ) In poor communities, privatizing schools has meant reduced aid to public schools, eliminating the arts, libraries, social services as the money is siphoned and redirected to for profit enterprises using generous public subsidies to generate private profits. ( http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/08/02/private-firms-eyeing-prof_n_1732856.html)

Studies from Stanford University, among others have revealed that these “for profit” public schools do not measurably improve “student achievement” however one wants to measure that, end up with less learning disabled and behaviorally challenged students and experience much higher teacher turnover rates. ( http://credo.stanford.edu/reports/National_Release.pdf) The reduced amount of funding that is taken away from the public schools in these areas results in a further narrowing of the education kids receive, an increased reliance on high stakes standardized testing, which is the driving metric in the decision to close public schools and/or further redirect funding to “for profit” education enterprises and, as one increasingly sees, a notable and disheartening rise in cheating, corruption and scandal associated with the “for profit” motive of these new schemes. To further promote the notion of crisis, so called educational reforms have been adopted by many states.

Eager to increase or maintain their shares of federal funding, states have rushed to sign onto the Federal Race to the Top (RTTT) incentive program and/or eagerly signed onto waivers that would release states from the incredibly silly No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law of the past 10 years. NCLB mandated that every child in every school be able to pass high stakes tests by 2014 or face draconian penalties and threats of takeover and closure. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has mandated these waivers to include many of the so called reforms desired and lobbied for by such powerful interests as the Gates Foundation, Koch Brothers and other self interested corporations such as Pearson Publishing which stand to profit handsomely and safely from the changes that are occurring. These federal waivers include adoption of the Common Core Curriculum and a non-stop assault of high stakes standardized testing beginning as early as Pre-K and running through grade 12.

Some reviewers have estimated that, in New Jersey, by the time current 5 year olds reach grade 12, they will have been subjected to close to 200 high stakes tests that supposedly measure their “achievement” and the effectiveness of their teachers and schools. ( http://www.huffingtonpost.com/will-richardson/do-parents-really-want-ov_b_1913704.html ) This standardized test assault is what was behind the Chicago teacher strike in the fall and the current boycott of administering the MAP test in and around Seattle, Washington. These brave teachers are some of the first to speak out and up about what they know is not good, sound educational practice and is not good for kids, schools or communities. No research supports the notion that more testing improves anything about student learning or educational effectiveness. ( http://neatoday.org/2011/07/18/national-research-council-gives-high-stakes-testing-an-f/ ). Even the researchers and test makers themselves do not support the use of high stakes tests in the manner in which they are being used.

The most recent New Jersey Department of Education webinar on the technological requirements for all the testing that is to come beginning as early as next year, advised that New Jersey high schools can plan on at least 22 days of testing in the school calendar!! 22 days!! And with the pressure on schools and teachers to prepare students for these tests, even more instructional time will be slavishly devoted to test prep, test analysis, test taking strategies and not to anything related to actually learning or thinking except how to do well enough on the tests!! In other states where the Common Core and massive testing is underway, students in kindergarten are being made to sit at computers and take hour long tests that many educators feel are developmentally inappropriate for their age. ( http://www.chicagoreader.com/chicago/testing-consumes-kindergarten-class-time-in-chicago/Content?oid=7740293 and )

Educators are beginning to speak up and voice their deeply troubling concerns over these so called reforms. It is time for more parents to educate and engage themselves in what is happening to their children now and, even more so, over the next few years. There are ways for parents to opt their children out of these non-stop high stakes tests. Parents can look at unitedoptout.com, FairTest.org and Dianeravitch.net as starting points for understanding what is at risk and how to put a stop to it. Diane Ravitch is of special note as she was Assistant Secretary of Education for George W Bush and was an architect of the No Child Left Behind Act who now sees the damage and failure that law inflicted as well as the newer reform measures. She is a voice of reason and sanity in the current carnival climate of so called education reform. Ignorance is the enemy of an open society.

Public education works. Do not believe the hype and follow the money!!


Mike Harris

Sussex, Nj 

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