Back in 1986, in a column titled "Internal Combustion Prose," New York Times columnist Russell Baker noted the defeat of a proposal to emblazon Wisconsin license plates with the slogan "Eat Cheese or Die." It looks like Arne Duncan has taken up where the folks in Wisconsin left off, traveling the country shouting, "Raise Test Scores or Die." He calls it Race to the Top. And with his threats about merit pay based on student test scores, he comes perilously close to admitting that every teacher whose students fail to perform will find her name on a tombstone.
In Finland, where children score at the top of international tests in reading, schools don't start teaching literacy skills until children are seven years old.
What NCTE should do right now is tell Arne Duncan, Senators Murray and Franken, and the members of the House Committee on Education and Labor and the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions--the folks who got us into the NCLB mess--that a teacher gains more insight into a child's thinking from a dinosaur riddle book than from 10,000 standardized test printouts. But I remember what happened in the late 1980s when the Business Roundtable joined hands with governors to pursue a school excellence agenda. NCTE started selling "excellence" sweatshirts. I wait with morbid fascination for the appearance of the "Raise Test Scores or Die" slogan on their next batch of T-shirts, coffee mugs, and bumper stickers.
I want my T-shirts to read:
• Let Kindergartners Play
• Protect 5th Graders from Excessive Homework
• Let Bill Gates Fix Windows and Leave Schools Alone
Any child psychologist will tell you that children up to kindergarten age should be socializing, not learning facts and figures and having homework. Who started this trend to have grades earlier in life, and test kids to death?! Kids should have time to be kids. Teachers shouldn't have to fear getting fired because their students can't pass the tests. What if a teacher has more than average number of kids with test anxiety? What if she has kids with behavior problems? Can't Congress look at the number of kids with behavior problems and figure out the stress of school is killing them? Homework amounts have gone sky-high, and more emphasis is on the parent to teach them. What happened to the teacher aides who used to help teachers with explaining things to kids? What happened to the days when kids could look forward to a holiday party every month? Where's their incentive to work hard, now? It's all work and no play. Teachers are so overburdened by paperwork, they don't have time to teach, and classes are overcrowded. I'm not happy over this new program. Will the government force babies to learn math?! It's time for parents to unite, and loudly. Tell your Congressman that you don't want testing, you don't want your preschoolers to start school, you want kindergardeners to play instead of starting school! Let the kindergardeners play! Don't test until kids are in junior high. Change the tests so they are passable by minorities because the way they are written, you better be white to understand 'em. White people aren't smarter, they just understand what's being asked better.
Congress tries to run schools and libraries like a business, with benchmarking and proof of results. Kids don't read the business section of the newspaper, and could care less. All they know is, they're doing more and more homework, and school isn't fun any more. Dropouts are at an all-time high. They need to know, schools and libraries are service organizations. They will never be profitable. They need to be run with love, understanding, and tolerance. Teachers need to be free of all the paperwork and benchmarking. Students don't need all that homework, and parents don't want to be bothered with it. I didn't want to be told to read with my daughter 30 min each night, as if I were a student, too, getting homework! Imagine! I read with her for enjoyment, and I didn't watch the clock. I resented having to set a timer when all my daughter wanted to do was go to bed, after hours and hours trying to get her neverending homework done. These policies discriminate against anyone who's low-income. It's time for parents to let their government leaders know they want friendlier schools. I wouldn't want the government to be testing my baby for facts and figures, and is this where all these added mandates will lead? Start school at age 6, and leave the babies alone!! Let kids under 6 play, and get the idea that school is a fun place, before first grade shatters their dreams.
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