Tuesday, January 13, 2015

STAAR Requirements Oppress Teachers and Students And We Can Do Better

Corpus Christi AFT recently filed complaints against CCISD for infringing on teacher planning time in various ways and for requiring excessive paperwork in regards to lesson planning.  The district responded to the complaints, addressing each issue to explain why what is happening in Corpus schools is not a violation of the law.  I have heard these complaints before and expect that CCISD may in fact be obeying the letter of the law.  The spirit of the law, however, just gets crushed more and more each day, as do the spirits of our community's students and the teachers - especially the teachers in impoverished schools - who work tirelessly to educate our children under terrible conditions.

Allow me to be honest:  if you wanted to make education meaningless drudgery that did nothing to prepare a child to take her place as an informed and critically thinking citizen of the world, you could teach a monkey to pass the old TAKS test.  It was easy enough that students from literate, educated, privileged families - the sort that get bedtime stories and ballet classes - would pass it no matter what the teachers and schools did or did not do to prepare them (other than explaining about how to properly bubble in the answer documents).  Students with fewer advantages could be drilled endlessly and drearily and they would pass, too - schools could just shove garbage in, and kids would spill the garbage out in neat little bubbles and pass.  Of course, they would not learn about thinking or citizenship or the love of wrapping your mind around an issue and expressing yourself and exploring the expressions of others that way.  They would hate school that way.  No educator ever wanted to run her classroom that way.  But they could all pass, even the ones who come to school hungry and homeless and years behind in the vocabulary of middle class success.  If you stick your thumb on their teachers and make them do that to the kids.

Enter STAAR:  it is harder, maybe a nod that more critical thinking was needed, sure, but no nod to the fact that abstract thinking develops slowly throughout childhood and is often mostly missing until mid- to late- middle school or early high school.  No nod to the kids who come to school scared and hungry and afraid.  STAAR the privileged kids will not pass automatically.  It takes careful attention to certain parts of the curriculum to prepare even them but they mostly can be prepared with hard work.  They have a head start in the language of success.  The kids who start school without the vocabulary of bedtime stories and thousands of words spoken to them by age three and warmth and safety, though?  You are not going to be able to drill the STAAR into them.  It just is not going to happen.  That kind of abstraction is not possible for most humans when survival needs remain unmet.  Basic Maslow - read Abe's books, guys.

The corporate reformers who have shaped No Child Left Behind at the federal level and the public-education-averse types who have shaped the TEA accountability system do not bother with basic psychology and sociology and early childhood development, though - they do not want to be distracted by the facts - they want miracles.  They think if you are a good teacher, that the environment of your students should not matter.  Forget the hunger and fear and that they come to you years behind what these corporate types consider to be grade level - a good teacher should be able to make up for all of the ways that society has failed these children and get them passing that test in no time! 

These unrealistic expectations are passed down from the corporate reformers to the feds and the states to the districts. The districts then press on the principals and assistant principals who, I am very disappointed to say, seem to drink the Kool-Aid really quickly for the most part, with a very few shining exceptions.   Then school administrators oppress their teachers with lots of extra trainings that do nothing to help, endless "data" meetings, less planning time, tons of requirements and frequent walk-throughs and expect the teachers to oppress the students with endless drills and boring preparations that frankly are never going to get most of the students to pass anyway.  

These unrealistic expectations are hard enough in the schools that are populated primarily by the privileged.  I have heard even south side teachers from rich schools saying that they have about had it and are looking for other ways to make a living lately.  Teachers in rich schools have privileged students who they can get to pass but it ruins the students' educational experience to do so and they just do not want to create joyless test-taking machines - no one who goes into education wants that.  Teachers kind of love learning, you see.  It is much worse for teachers in low-income schools, the schools most likely to be on the dreaded IR list, risking being let go from their jobs over test scores while their school is re-constituted, as if the districts are going to be able to find anyone better at teaching than the dedicated professionals who spend their days nurturing the children who our society treats so shamefully.

Texas has over 7.5 billion left over from last year's budget.  Over 7.5 billion.  As the gavel falls today to mark the start of the 84th Legislature, Texas is expected to have over 18 billion in new revenue this budget cycle and the Rainy Day Fund is expected to reach over 11 billion dollars by 2017.  

We could be using this money to help the children of Texas grow into the citizens they should have the opportunity to be, rather than forcing them to be failing pawns in a ridiculous accountability system.  

We could return school funding to its pre-cut levels to start and then we could add some more funding.  We could have small classes in our low-income schools, school social workers at all of them, good food, family health clinics - we could do so, so much.  We could regulate the refineries and clean up the pollution where our children live, provide high quality daycare so their parents can work.  We could lift our children out of poverty with humane support systems, public health and real education.

Instead, we will probably keep blaming teachers for poverty and grant more corporate tax cuts.


Unless we act.  Unless you act.

Unless you elect people who care more.  

Unless you stop electing people who just keep cutting and cutting the funding for our schools because they don't really believe in public education and democracy at all - they just want an oligarchy of people who can afford private school or to stay home and home school their kids - we, the people need not apply.

We can fix this, Mamas.

Elect people who believe in public education and who care about our children next time.  

Ahora, tell today's legislators that you stand for our children and teachers and families and that they will have to stand for children and teachers and families to get your vote.  Start today.

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