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The new world of schools

San Marcos Daily Record (07/11/2004)
By Carl D. Glickman

Parents, welcome to the new world of schools that can be summed up in a few words; test, test, test and Big Brother knows what is best! Get ready to comfort, cajole, and shake your head when that swinging school door opens. This year will bring more invalid tests, erroneous formulas to determine passing/promotion rates, harried and frazzled teachers and principals trying to measure up to impossible state and federal regulations.

Forget that what you and other parents across the country want above all else for your children is for learning to be active, challenging and enriching. Forget that you and other parents trust your local teachers more than anyone else to make educational decisions; forget that you and your fellow local citizens trust least the very folks who have decided what should be required. Just leave your own wishes at home and let Big Brother figure out what is necessary for your child. This will be, of course, a test; a ream of paperwork; and more illogical requirements.

Be prepared to help your child weather boring classroom work filled with test-preparation books and homework handouts. Forget about descriptive report cards about what your child can actually do with what he/she knows in real writing, presenting information, and completing hands-on projects. No more recess, little attention to art or music or health or social studies or independent and creative learning. If it is not tested, it's not taught. Tests are falling from the sky. Even your preschool child will be tested by a standardized exam to see if he/she is ready, and your third- through 8th-grader will dread the looming test that, most likely, will determine whether she moves to the next grade. If she fails, her chances of graduating from high school drop to 50 percent.

Your child will experience now - unless you are lucky enough to have your child attend a school with talented, creative and stubbornly independent teachers and school leaders who refuse to buckle under to the big test - is a test-preparation center. No more attention given to the excruciatingly obvious inequities of resources among wealthy and poor communities, no more attention given to the exacting need for high quality and thoughtful teachers, no more attention given to the real achievement and drop-out gap and helping all children receive an excellent education.

This new world under the glowing words of the federal legislation entitled No Child Left Behind is an example of the highest order of doublespeak, nondocumentation and selective spin. This legislation was ushered in with unflinching, moral righteousness by a conservative Republican administration that in the past derided federal involvement in community and state affairs and argued always and successfully for loosening rules and regulations for private businesses. This administration does the opposite when it comes to our most essential public institution, our schools, by increasingly federal involvement and creating hundreds of pages of new requirements, rules and regulations.

Who profits by this expansion of federal government into local schools? Clearly the testing industry that monopolizes the text-book and commercial-education market. Clearly, the school-voucher proponents who wish to rid America of that wretched institute entitled public schools whose purpose was to create an independent thinking citizenry.

Our schools have never been what they should be for all children, and major overhauls to address the needs of all of our children must be the center of what needs to be changed. But what Big Brother requires puts up impossible demands and invalid measures so that in time, public schools become more bland, boring, and failure-prone so that no one would want to send their own children there. And then, the private sector can jump in and keep American children from serving public purpose and democracy itself. Instead, the corporate sector can teach us its absolute truth that education is about making a profit by developing better consumers, not about ensuring a better generation of wise and inquisitive citizens.

Welcome to the upcoming new school year. May it not last long.

Carl D. Glickman holds the Roy and Joann Cole Mitte Endowed Chair in school improvement at Texas State University -San Marcos. He is president of the Institute for Schools, Education, and Democracy.