UPDATE: The text of the quoted letter below has been changed and resubmitted due to insight gathered in post comments. The original letter text is here.
ANOTHER UPDATE: Here’s an article by Jay Mathews of The Washington Post that appeared in the February 24, 2006, Times Union. He makes the case better than I can… I guess that’s why he does what he does and I do what I do.
I’m getting rather fond of this “letter to the editor” thing. I just fired another volley to the Albany Times Union in response to this letter regarding charter schools and their perilous emphasis on standardized testing. The author described the “demoralizing” effect standards have on teachers and the horrific result – a failure “to provide fully enriched learning experience”, whatever that means.
I must take exception to Samantha Sleasman’s letter to the editor in The January 2nd’s Times Union regarding charter schools. Her assertion that charter schools, and their standardized testing, can be “demoralizing” to teachers and fail to “provide a fully enriched learning experience” is laughable at best, and derelict at its most potent. Too often we hear about educators being coerced into “teaching to the test” by the unyielding gods of standards-based education. I think it’s pretty simple, really. The tests are based on the curriculum. The curriculum is what is supposed to be taught. So, if the teachers aren’t “teaching the test” then what on Earth are they teaching? Teaching the curriculum is their job.
This notion of a “fully enriched learning experience” is subjective, rhetorical nonsense. If this “enriched learning experience” doesn’t promote the students’ retention of the class material, then I would humbly suggest it is not enriched at all. I knew some teachers in school who were great at both stimulating my learning while making the experience enriched, and when it was time for me to answer the test questions I was well prepared. I know some teachers today in the Capital District who have done this wonderfully for years, and the children in our area are better for it.
A more likely reason that standardized testing is scorned by some educators is accountability. Standards allow for a normalized measurement of a child’s education, which then allows for the accountability of school districts who are not good stewards of the taxpayers’ money. Poor teachers should be held accountable for not performing to the standards required of them… and, in kind, excellent teachers should be suitably compensated for their superior contributions. Without standards-based education it’d be much easier for a lousy teacher to continue to slide by and for an excellent one to be inadequately rewarded.
Now let me say that there is a danger that education officials could make the required standards fantastically unrealistic and put teachers in an impossible situation. Indeed, I’m told this may be the case now. I know that most teachers work hard at a job filled with irate parents (who have their attorneys on speed-dial) and out-of-control problem kids. Let’s fix the real problems and allow the standards to do what they were made to do. Charter schools, and their standards-based education, are a benefit, and a little healthy competition is better than a monopoly.
Now as a disclaimer of sorts (and I really don’t need to say this), I have many good friends who are teachers… and I’ve always known (most of) them to work hard and teach well, because, frankly, they like teaching. As such I see standards-based education as having another benefit, to allow the good teachers to stand out and be recognized for their super-ordinate contributions to their schools.