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POV: Public schools are under pressure

This article originally appeared in Capital District Parent Pages.

Public schools are big news these days. There is a national dialogue about the need for improvement in our public schools and a complicated new process for evaluating teachers.

Since this new process reduces a teacher’s value to a numerical score, we can assume it probably isn’t a good thing for teacher/student relationships. In addition, parents will have to deal with the increased emphasis on mandated standardized testing in their children’s classrooms.

During a time when public education has become the topic of national reform, there is more attention on our schools than ever before. Education is getting a lot of press, and it isn’t all pretty. The headlines report tight budgets are leading school boards to cut teachers and academic programs, class sizes are increasing to save money, New York is mandating more testing, and on and on.

Enough already! Does anyone have something nice to say? Talk about taking the joy out of going to school! What happened to our Norman Rockwell painting, and when did it become more akin to “The Scream”?

Whether or not you believe this is a nightmare, it is time to start screaming. Your schools have been hijacked by state officials, ambitious politicians and someone called Pearson.

Do you know who Pearson is? Pearson is the test making, for-profit company that has a $32 million contract with the state of New York. Speaking of Pearson, have you heard the one about the pineapple and the hare? No, it is not a joke. It refers to an actual Pearson eighth-grade reading test question involving a nonsensical story about a talking pineapple. If you look up this story online you will get a big laugh, but then you will have to stop laughing when you remember that the state has a five-year contract with this company. By the way, this anecdotal account of a bizarre test question is all you’re likely to ever know about the contents of any Pearson test. All tests are strictly confidential, and actual test papers are not to be shared with parents, teachers or administrators. Why? Because that five-year contract says so.

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shanoid 1 year, 10 months ago

This article brings up some VERY important points about the condition of public education in this country. Teachers' unions, of course, have been verbally protesting this move towards robotization of our country's children, but their protests are summarily pooh-poohed by the media as being the whines of spoiled teachers who only care about their summer vacations. Call it a monopoly, a trust, a cartel - what we have here is a very real case of industry (e.g. Pearson Inc.) being in bed with government officials (from state houses to state education departments and beyond) and doing what is best for their bottom lines and/or re-election campaigns. At the same time that more and more valuable school programs are being cut and school personnel being laid off due to severe budget constraints, taxpayers are footing the bill for latest new textbook series with all the bells and whistles, "benchmarking" software, and the mandated high-stakes exams themselves to the tune of tens of thousands of dollars per school district - all to "be in compliance" with newly adopted state and federal laws that mandate testing our children to death. Oh, and, yes, all of the above are produced/published by PEARSON. Perhaps Pearson will have cleaned up its act by the time the deluge of spring 2013 tests begin. I hope so, because for every year I have been administering various high-stakes tests to public school children, I have found egregious errors on nearly every exam - from minor grammar mistakes to gross logical fallacies. These tests do NOT measure what is really important in the education and growth of a child. Parents need to educate themselves about the efficacy of the whole examination processes and then start making some noise. Teachers, apparently, do not make up an important enough percentage of the electorate to affect any meaningful change in the right direction. But parents do!

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