The Cycle That Must Be Broken



Test scores drive what determines a good school therefore:

Teaching is geared to the test-driven curriculum because tests determine what a good school is and therefore:

Curriculum becomes rigid, emphasis on yes/no, short answers or essays similar to those read by biased test readers because tests require this and therefore:

Curriculum becomes even more and more prescribed, designed by people who have not taught actual children, with the aim toward getting good scores on standardized, one size fits all tests; and therefore;

Children become bored, act out drop out. Teachers can have an inherent bias toward black boys, therefore: black boys get kicked out of class more often when they are bored therefore:

More repressive discipline tactics are put into place to control children who act out and therefore:

More black boys get suspended and become disinterested in school early on and therefore;

Instead of helping the opportunity gap, this system perpetuates and exaggerates it by creating conditions where bias, and oppression can flourish. And then, as more poor and black and brown kids fail to succeed on tests the more prescribed and rule oriented and punitive schools become.

It is a viscous cycle.

Add to this the fact that tests are more and more computerized, meaning computer time in school libraries is dominated by test preparation and poor kids lose out who have no computers at home (33%) and you have a rigged system of school apartheid.

Yet, if we are honest, we know tests are not the whole reason for our school systems’ failure:

Before No Child Left Behind, with its emphasis on testing, black students were not doing well compared to white students. It is not the sole fault of the testing scenario outlined above that causes black students and students of color to fall behind.

As a nation we have continued to turn away from developing active, culture rich, classrooms where students have agency, excitement and joy. Instead we moved toward sterile, punitive systems that do not take into account a child’s interests, developmental benchmarks, resilience, giftedness or economic situation. As a nation we never added social services in the numbers we need: counselors to work with students or social workers to help families find homes, food, after school programs, mentoring. We tracked students, loading up “gifted” programs with white students while black and brown students were put in classes called “basic” or “vocational”.

What would happen if we got rid of No Child, and the emphasis on standardized tests while at the same time we made radical changes in how we run schools? What if we decided to go deeply into what it is in our culture and our schools that contribute to our lack of success in reaching and teaching students of color? What if, as a country,  we looked at curriculum, and WHAT is taught; even to the point of asking why AP, which can be biased in its curriculum and pedagogy, or IB which can be geared toward white middle class learners, are our only examples of courses that are rigorous, demanding?  What if we began the journey of real anti bias training so that teachers became aware of their own propensity to see black children as “less than” or “other”?  What if teachers were allowed to truly evaluate how their students were doing each week, each month, as an organic part of their teaching rather than on a standardized test that is meaningless?

What if computer centers were places where students could invent, build, perform, create?

This blog is a series of questions because I am frustrated with those who have pat answers that require thousands of dollars for the latest “fix” ( the ipad, focused instruction, SLANT, flipped classroom to name a few) instead of revamping the entire system, from the way it is funded to the way we train teachers to the way we reward those who go the extra mile to the way we build in time for interaction and dialogue with both students and colleagues.

 What if we called a national halt to business as usual in our schools, and grappled with the racism that is grounded in our history as a slave owning nation with all that that implies?

I am at a loss now. As you can tell, I am struggling with how to patch and fix and move the chairs around on a sinking ship. I work with new teachers, I give talks to school districts, I visit colleges. I find individuals in all these places that are doing the work, bringing food for hungry students, spending hours after school to help not only their kids but their parents as well. I find teachers as heroes everywhere I go, kids as heroes too in every classroom. I see whole schools working collaboratively to meet student needs.I find hope in college classrooms, love for children in every community center, every poetry performance. The energy out there is phenomenal.             Yet I believe we are all working in an antiquated system, one organized to perpetuate a racial and economic divide. So yes, we do what we can. And yes, we are doing well at it. But we need a great takeover, a great education revolution. It is not all about testing, although opting out and refusing to be part of the system in that way is a vital first step. After that, though, we have to re-envision the whole of what we claim is a democratic institution: public education.