Author’s Note: I wrote this in February. Since that time, I became familiar with Fed Up With 50th and the Parents Campaign, two Mississippi parent organizations who support public schools. BOY have Mississippi’s parents put their money where their mouths are, several fold! If anything, they’ve taught me it’s us Mississippi’s teachers who need a talkin’ to, now. But at any rate, for any Mississippi parents who still “blame the schools” as if we’re against them, come on! Join the movement of parents and educators united for the good of ALL Mississippi students! We can all find more opportunities to “put our money where our mouths are.”
Parents of Mississippi school children, you’re being played.
You’re being set up by the political establishment against the public school system- YOUR public school system.
Oh, it’s not just you. They’re playing us teachers too- setting the two sides up against each other like pawns on a chess board. They know the things that we can’t live without- the strings to pull to move us into place. For you parents, it’s the little ones you tuck in at night. For us teachers, it’s our rent money. For those among us who live in both camps, it’s all of the above. They tug, and yank, and tease the strings, knowing we can’t bear to let them snap: You have to do what you must to protect your children. We have to do what we must to keep our jobs. The boys in Jackson are counting on it.
We teachers are not evil, we are not drones, and we have not been compromised. We are your next door neighbors. We are your grocery store buddies. We are church family members who pray for your unspoken prayer requests. We are not government bureaucrats. We are barely even middle class. We go through what you go through. We want the best for our kids, just like you do. All of our kids.
The fact is, the biggest proponents of standardized testing are not teachers. We have fought against it alongside you, shoulder to shoulder. No, the ones promoting that number-crunching system are the same media corporations and politicians who are promising that Common Core is a bad idea.
Surely somewhere in your Facebook raging and protest organizing, you found the real reason why your child’s teachers focus so hard on The Test year after year, right?
Is it because they just don’t know any better, despite having college degrees in impacting student learning?
Is it because they all secretly don’t care about their students, despite dedicating long hours of overtime to help students succeed?
We teachers teach to The Test because Mississippi’s education system has been deliberately underfunded for so long that schools just can’t afford to have bad test scores. We’ve been held underwater for the last 17 years by our state legislature and we are all gasping for air.
Playing the Game
See, here’s how the testing game works:
1. Mississippi’s public schools get money to operate from the legislature, but not as much as they actually need to perform adequately.
2. The schools are held accountable for doing their job based on standardized test scores. If they don’t make high enough test scores, the kids’ schools will get penalized.
3. The schools decide their Top Priority is to have better test scores. Everything else can wait.
Currently, The Test covers language and math skills. Not science. Not history. Not creativity. The numbers representing language and math skills are what determines whether a school is considered failing or successful in the newspaper each year- actually given a letter grade. In what other profession can you be called out on your job performance publicly, then told to stop focusing on that assessment? Failing schools can get taken over by the state, not to even mention the psychological effect that labeling a school by a letter grade can have on a child’s perception of her education. That is one reason your child’s teachers are constantly stressed out. It’s why administrators have become data players instead of true leaders of learning. It’s why science and history teachers end up going over some of the same things your child’s English teachers taught them, sometimes instead of actually teaching science and history. It’s not the teachers’ fault. It’s not their administrators’ fault. It’s the way the system has been set up.
To say nothing of the numerous studies that have shown time and time again that it’s virtually impossible for poor schools to dig themselves out of failure without adequate funding.
To say nothing of the legislature’s johnny-on-the-spot plans to help children in failing schools by starting charter schools (private schools that get taxpayer money). You know- the ones run by for-profit corporations that aren’t held accountable the same way the public schools are, and- in a crazy coincidence- also have a strong presence in Jackson to help the politicians find their reasons to support charter schools?
So, yeah. In a way, it’s crazy that your child’s teacher keeps focusing on The Test so much, but in another way, it’s not crazy at all. It almost seems like it’s part of some plan.
But what about the parents’ protests to “get rid of The Test?” Wouldn’t parents and teachers find common ground there?
Well, yeah, sorta, except that every time any new idea comes along these days, it seems like Mississippi’s public school teachers get caught in the crossfire. We’ve always done something wrong.
- Implement new standards to ensure Mississippi kids get education on par with the top ranked states? How dare these teachers be teaching Common Core?
- Demand full funding of your child’s schools? Why can’t these teachers just learn to make do with what they have?
- Respond to your standardized accountability measurements by trying to do the best we can? Why can’t teachers stop teaching to the test?
- Ask for pay raises to attract more qualified candidates into the profession? Shouldn’t this job be about the kids, not the money?
- Now you want us to join with you to abolish standardized testing? We can hear it now: Who do these teachers think they are, wanting free reign with no accountability?
You want teachers to really focus on your child, to give Mississippi students a world-class education? Just toss a little respect our way. What would really be amazing is if you followed your “get rid of The Test” logic to its conclusion. What if you as a parent, as a voter, stuck with it, and said “No! I will not stand for the destruction of my public schools through standardized testing. I support giving autonomy back to the schools. I support giving power to the teachers!”
I’m not saying teachers shouldn’t be held accountable at all. I’m not a “throw the baby out with the bath water” kind of guy. I’m not even saying I support abolishing all testing. All I’m saying is, we teachers in Mississippi are as tired and frustrated with the state of Mississippi education as you are. Could we maybe work together on it? Put your tax money where your mouth is. If you want your child to truly have the best education Mississippi money can buy, we’re 100% with you. Put education funding toward the public schools. Demand that your government fully fund public schools, then let the professional educators be the education professionals, NOT the politicians who seek to divide us for profit.
Then, we can actually work together to do what’s best for your kids.
For more posts by James related to Initiative 42, check out his complete list of 42-related posts.