The debate has finally begun in earnest. It is a debate worthy to be had and long overdue. Our State and our Nation have become obsessed with standardized testing of students in public schools. Obsessed to the point it has changed what our public schools should be: strongholds of learning. Schools are places where children are meant to learn that reading, writing, math, science, music, art, and all fields of study are valued. These are the roads they can safely travel to achieve what they dream of becoming, of doing. They should be able to discover the outlet that will allow them to become more than "productive citizens," but people with a passion, contributors to our communities, our nation and our world.
Yet, over the past 15 years a dangerous hijacking of public education has taken place. Some of the catchphrases used to justify this are "accountability," "failing schools," "school choice,", "fire the 'bad teachers,'" "the teachers unions," ad nauseum. In reality, these have all misleadingly been used to promote one ultimate agenda: privatization of public education.
The most egregious of the tactics that has been used is the testing mania that has been crammed down the throats of public schools, and thus, public school students. Teachers are critical of this mania because it provides minimal to no useful feedback regarding the teaching and learning in their classes. Testing is supposed to be a diagnostic exercise. Not an evaluation of the teacher, but an evaluation of what a student has learned. It is meant to be used by the teacher to determine strengths and deficiencies in a student's understanding. It is to be a guide to what the teacher can and must do to help each student grasp the knowledge they need in whatever subject is taught. Educationally, testing was never meant to be a hammer held over the heads of students, teachers, and school districts.
Yet, in regards to the consequences of what may happen if we dare to refuse the continued abusive misuse of testing, they have not clearly identified what the nail will be. I can only assume they feel that no one would dare challenge their dictates, so there was no need to be specific with the consequences. All we know is that if a school district or board is unwilling to comply with laws mandating the implementation of high stakes testing, the State Board of Education has the authority to withhold funding for that district. Ah, that's the nail! No funding, no ability to operate a school system. If this occurred they would undoubtedly use it as an excuse to cry for further privatization.
But now, finally, there are parents, educators, and school boards in the State of Florida, that are having real discussions regarding abusive use of testing. The catch is, at what cost to our students, our education professionals and our school districts? Lee County has sparked this debate, having the first real public conversation suggesting the rebellious thought of "opting out" of the mandatory testing our Legislature has required. Other school boards around the state are now looking towards Lee and beginning the conversations in their districts. If more of them stand up and declare "ENOUGH!", maybe our legislators and Governor will realize that public schools should be permitted to fulfill their true purpose: give our children the gift of a love of learning, a desire for knowledge and a purpose for offering their skills, whatever those may be, to better their lives and our world.
If our school board should choose to take this powerful symbolic stand, we should all applaud them, stand beside them and be prepared to tell our Legislators and Governor, "You WILL NOT punish our students and our education professionals to further YOUR agenda! You WILL adequately fund our schools, as our State's Constitution demands of you! You WILL stop the abusive misuse of high-stakes testing!
Mark J. Castellano is the
president of the Teachers Association of Lee County