The U.S. Education Department has been warning states that they could be sanctioned if their public schools can’t force at least 95 percent of their students to take mandated standardized tests for “accountability” purposes. The warnings became necessary because of a growing testing “opt out” movement around the country that stemmed from the Obama administration’s push to use standardized test scores to evaluate students and teachers in unprecedented ways, using methods that assessment experts say are not valid for that purpose. Education officials say that parents can’t pick and choose the exams that their children take and that these tests are important for “accountability” purposes. Education activists say parents have the right to allow their children to refuse to take a test that they believe is poorly designed and whose scores are being misused.
The original Opt-Out Movement
Every three years, America compares its educational student outcomes to 70 other countries. Other countries like Finland. Yes, I know what you’re going to say about that Nordic social-democratic mono-culture known for revising its once failing K-12 educational system to one that we and many other countries look to for insights and innovation. When in fact, one of the secrets to Finland’s success is Equity. There are no private schools in Finland (k-12 or even higher education). Finnish parents have choice of schools but the options are all the same. In other words, Finnish parents can’t and don’t Opt-Out of its public education system.
America’s K-12 public education system plays out like our economic model, where the marketplace creates, sustains and determines which students and schools will survive. A market where parents can make the choice to place their children in private, selective enrollment, charter or home schools. One in 10 U.S. students in grades preK-12 attends a private school, according to the most recent data from the U.S. Department of Education. Surprised it’s not a higher share? Here are few more figures for you to consider…5.1% of K-12 students attends a charter school and 3% of school aged children are homeschooled.
I know this is only the second blog I’ve written, but I struggle with the conclusions. I feel like I should have some amazing close with resounding words of action. So here I go.
The problems we face in our education system are weaved in an intricate blanket of racism, classism, sexism, and xenophobia. If we as a nation are serious about educating all students, which means figuring out how to solve the persistent problem of low performing students and schools, then our solutions can’t include “opting out”. Especially when “opting out” is only available to a small percentage of the American population because of high cost of attendance, location, strict admittance requirements tied to proven academic success or hoop jumping abilities. The only real option we are left with is to fix the schools we have – NOT create alternatives that hide the roots of low performance and gloss over the issue of equity.
MISSION CONTROL, WE HAVE LIFT OFF!!!!
What do you get when you collide 150 middle school students, an MIT astrophysicist, 3D exoplanetary simulations and real-time NASA data??? You get an innovative and creative science learning experience, called vMAX (Virtual Missions and Exoplanets).
vMAX is a collaborate immersion of science focused hands-on and minds-on learning experiences. Students are introduced to the ever changing world of planetary science, by utilizing NASA real world application data, daily interactive lectures by leading scientist in the field and incorporating virtual technology. All in hopes of creating the next generation of STEM professionals.
Patricia and Phillip Frost Museum of Science was the place to be this summer as middle school boys and girls from around Miami-Dade Florida, meet for a jammed packed week of Exoplanetary FUN! This unique summer science program was also conducted at several other locations simultaneously across the country (Chabot Space and Science Center in Oakland, CA; United States Space and Rocket Center in Hunstville, AL; Sci-Port Discovery Center in Shreveport, LA; New York Hall of Science in Corona, NY), creating a dynamic cross-sharing of ideas and experiences for its participants.
Phyllis Carey is an international atmospheric and earth science expert. She is currently leading the vMAX and GROOVE programs at the Patricia and Phillip Frost Museum of Science in Miami, Florida. Phyllis studied Meteorology at the University of Northern Colorado.
Let’s Make American Schools Great Again!
No, I’m not going to write about that guy running for President. I am going to write about the canard we’ve been telling ourselves. The falsehood goes a little something like this: Back in the day, I guess when Dewey was around, American schools were great. We reminisce about how great our primary school days were. We talk about our favorite teacher (mine was Mrs. Veum at Beye Elementary School in Oak Park, IL) and how said teacher evoked a love of learning. The truth is, “back in the day” American schools excluded people of color from its curriculum. It segregated students of color, excluded children with disabilities, allowed millions of children to drop out, and had different expectations for women because they weren’t going into the workforce. “Back in the day” academic achievement measures were introduced indicating American children were no smarter than 5th graders.
Here is where I go all Education-ese. I do love acronyms, so bear with me…
ESEA, IDEA, NCLB, and now ESSA were attempts to ensure American children were smarter than a 5th grader. I do believe these legislations had ambitious or “righteous” goals; but, each Legislation failed to produce the academic results we were hoping for. We assumed mandating tests and threatening with public humiliation would lead to miraculous academic achievement, but Legislation alongside mandates and threats have led to States and School Districts grasping at every literacy, numeracy, and social-emotional initiative under the sun by means of superficial random acts of professional development. Why do we keep finger pointing and placing blame at the “end” of the pipeline-- at students and teachers in the classrooms?
Here is my supplication to make American Schools Great Now!
We “cannot” continue to PD* our way out of a teaching and learning crisis, but rather take a deep dive into analyzing the root cause(s) for the reasons K-12 public education is broken. My research and analysis indicate the teaching and learning crisis in K-12 public education is a result of not having established and enforced “National Standards” for the practice of teaching and leading. I’m talking about National Standards that set rigorous requirements to be a teacher and leader that don’t include alternatives or short cuts to certification. Additionally, “Colleges of Education” whose professors, many of whom have never taught, led, or turned around a public school, design degree programs that perpetuate race, class and culture divides. These degree programs are not aligned with current K-12 standards and assessments, and they lack job-embedded internships/practicums that could address these voids. I could make a trite comparison to the medical and legal professions, but you all are familiar with that argument.
ESSA** is in its early stages of implementation and we have the opportunity to shift the dialogue from more Legislation, mandates, and PD to addressing the real issues and root causes of the teaching and learning crisis. Are you with me? Let’s Make American Schools Great Now.
*PD = Professional Development. Facilitated learning opportunities including credentials such as academic degrees to formal coursework, conferences and informal learning opportunities situated in practice.
** ESSA = Every Student Succeeds Act. which is the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) of 1965, last reauthorized in 2001 as the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act. The new law P.L. 114-95, enacted by Congress and signed by President Obama, addresses state education accountability, student testing requirements, intervention in low-performing schools, teacher evaluation, and grant reauthorization and requirements.