Educational structures that lack respect and trust are doomed to fail

I had a debate with a friend the other day on the question of why more parents are not against testing, why more parents are not out there lobbying for smaller class sizes for their children, etc. I meet parents daily who not only happily agree with standardized tests, but who also need them to help them define to themselves who their children are.

Do we need a number to know our child? Is our child not essentially the same child regardless of what percentile they are at on some bubble test? In 20 years from now, would this child be truly affected by where they scored on their high stakes testing? The answer to these questions is no. As a nation we need to begin to wean ourselves off this obsessive need for data for it's doing more harm than good. Do we not trust our child's teacher enough to have her just tell us where our child is in math, reading, etc? How did we as children ever make it to adulthood without all this data? I don't remember ever taking TWELVE hours of bubble tests in one week.....ever! That is what our kids do several times a year.

The solution of why more parents do not come forth against these practices was simple. The idea of 'accountability', as it's defined by the reform folks (I call then deformers) is an easy sell. For parents who don't go beyond the local 5 o'clock news, and for parents that unquestionably absorb what's told to them in the mainstream media and don't or can't bother to scratch below the surface, an 'accountability'-based system makes absolute sense. It's a simple and uncomplicated way of addressing the so called 'bad teacher problem" and in this day and age of tweets and a plethora of information coming at us every second, we want short, sweet answers to complicated problems.

When Oprah had Rhee on as a guest on the Oprah Show a few months back (And yes, I have not yet forgiven Oprah for that yet) Rhee was able to sell to the mass public this oversimplified rationale for her reward-punish system. This system is now used to evaluate teachers all over the country. It sounded so easy when she explained it that even I thought, who knew different thought it made sense; that's what I mean, the easy sell. It sounds logical, it's a clean lobby attempt without any glitches. The gist of it goes like this: You put the child into public school, knowledge is poured in, they get tested, scores are tallied, the results are then used to evaluate everything from teachers, to schools, even districts. The scores are also used to justify rewards and punishments, such as closings, firings. Simple right? How could one not fall in this trap?

The issue is that education is not linear, our children are all more different than they are the alike. Accountability does make sense, but only when the variables are not so varied and most importantly , when the 'products' are not children. When teaching children, there are no high-stakes bubble tests for what phrase, lesson, unit or teacher who will ultimately be the life-changing agent in that child. What is most unfortunate is that the current forced system of 'accountability' essentially squeezes the life out of teaching. This might sound a bit cliche and dramatic, but it's true, what makes any teacher effective can never really be measured by any bubble test.

A true measure of a teacher is seen in her students' eyes when they go home and share stories about the magic going on in their classrooms with their families, the true magic of teaching is planting a tiny little seed of self-esteem in a child's heart that will one day grow and make him fearless and great in the things that matter. A true testament to how good a teacher is can be found in those quiet unstructured moments. What most parents don't realize is that teachers need a great deal of creative freedom and trust in order for these famous inspiring abilities to naturally spring forth. In forcing teachers to work and exists within a factory-style structure that uses disrespect and distrust as its main tools, they only serve to dampen any possibility of this power of inspiration to rise in anyone within the system. In essence, we are hurting our own children by supporting a disrespectful and distrustful system such as the one reformers currently push for today.

Want to help reform education? Ask teachers and parents the tough questions, listen to their answers. Let them help you frame your systems so that respect, trust and children are at the core of each policy decision made. Just as children cannot bloom in an abusive home where respect and trust do not abide, teachers too cannot do their best for your children when the systems in which they work and exist in parallel a broken and imbalanced home environment.

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