Yvonne Shortt

Yvonne Shortt
Birthday
December 01
Bio
Yvonne Shortt owns her own technology firm and is the executive director of the Rego Park Green Alliance, a community based non-profit in Queens, NY. She is also the author of A New York City Public School Goes Green. In her spare time she teaches robotics and works on a new book called All About Maddie where a little girl deals with her grandpa's fading memories. http://www.allaboutmaddie.com

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Salon.com
JANUARY 22, 2012 11:02PM

Stop Drinking The Education Kool-Aid; It's Rotting Our Minds

Rate: 6 Flag

We have been told over and over that unless we pick up the pace and score higher on international and state tests we will no longer be a great nation. So loud is the call that some elementary schools no longer have art, poor performing schools see teachers fired and schools closed, and new charter schools are all the rage. Education is being revamped to be sure, but relying on testing and high stakes accountability to determine which schools close, who gets accolades, and who gets the boot has increased our fears, decreased our potential, and put our priorities in the wrong places.

Before 2010, in NYC all I heard about was how NYC was making strong gains in reading and math.  The Mayor’s office and others pointed to the increases seen in Math and English state test scores. Parents were told their kids were progressing or not progressing because of these results. Teachers and school administrations saw their livelihood taken from them because of these results. Then came the truth.  The state tests had been dumbed down over several years.  So much so that a fourth grader only had to get 37 out of 70 points on the math state test to get a level 3 (proficient in subject area). The state promised to do better. In 2010, to achieve the same level of proficiency a student had to earn 50 out of 70 points. What this meant was that a school in the Bronx, which received 81 percent passing when the tests were dumbed down, had only 19 percent passing after the change in scoring.  

How could those in charge not know what was happening? They were making serious decisions based on this data. I knew something was going on the minute I started helping my daughter study for the math state test. I downloaded tests from several different years to have a better understanding of the material covered and saw how subjects like volume and probability, which were present one year, were noticeably absent the next. Although the state has made the criteria for obtaining proficiency on the state tests higher I still haven’t seen the high quality of questions that I used to see. It just goes to demonstrate some of the unintended consequences of using state testing data to make decisions. We can also see unintended consequences at the high school level. According to the State Education Department, NYC’s high school graduation rate is up to 61 percent but their college preparedness numbers hover around 23 percent. Meaning, just because one has a high school diploma doesn’t mean he or she is now ready to enter college, at least not without some remedial course work.  

New York is not the only state with funny numbers. You can’t turn on the television or open a newspaper without hearing about cheating on standardized tests.  Many business and education leaders held Beverly Hall, superintendent of schools in Atlanta, in high esteem. She used words like data-driven decisions, return on investment, targets, and metrics. The same kind of words I heard in NYC. Then came a state investigators report that listed 44 schools and 178 teachers in her district in a standardized testing cheating scandal.  How could we be surprised?  Many of these reforms were based on corporate decision-maker ideology and methodology.  Look at AIG, Enron, and many other corporations fined or sanctioned for data manipulation and poor interpretation. Cheating has become a part of our corporate culture.

Nowadays it’s not just the state test data we have to worry about. Often we hear that we are lagging behind China in international testing and the United States and all it stands for is at risk.  The truth is that we never scored high on the international math and science tests.  The first year they were implemented we came in twelfth place and there were only twelve nations tested.  However, somehow we were still seen by many as the best country in which to live and work.  Proving that scoring number one on these assessment tests did not necessarily equate with a country’s economic growth, viability, or quality of life.  And of course the international tests only test three cities in China. In the United States, everyone, whether they have a disability or not, are given a chance to get educated for free and therefore subject to the international test.

We are chasing the ever-elusive number one status in the international testing arena to the detriment of what has made us unique. We have always been a creative nation yet we are having our students mimic the behavior of countries that score high in testing. I hear longer school days and shorter summers are in order to get our kids up to par.  Less art and music to make way for more math and English; yet there are physicists, biologists, and mathematicians graduating from some of our best universities who are not able to find jobs. We tell our kids study and work hard but we know that is no guarantee of getting a good job upon graduation.  I look at China and how many of their factory workers live in dormitories and come from rural areas to make money to send home to their families.  Their living quarters are small and their quality of life is not very good: working long hours, often leaving their children with their family members while going off to make money. Is this what we are chasing after? Is this what Americans have to look forward to when they test better?

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I'm a retired high school teacher who was spared the agony of high stakes testing, partly because I taught in a Catholic school. What I see now is the further dumbing down of American education, especially for working class students who are especially targeted for mindless rote memorization.

It seems they also want to turn teaching into a deskilled poorly paid job of ladling out predigested corporate created "curricula" designed to go in lockstep with the high stakes tests. The attacks on teachers unions and the spread of privatization of public education are further evidence of this.

If I were a conspiracy theorist, I might believe this is all some kind of master plan for an America where artistic thinking, scientific curiosity and social dissent has been "schooled" out of people.

But of course that could never happen in the USA. We're a free people. We would never tolerate such a thing.

Right?
I know exactly what you are saying. The tittle of my next piece is the manufactured worker.
I so agree. I've been wanting to write something about this-- but you said it better than I could have!
Thanks Jacqueline. It took forever to get out so I'm really glad you liked it!
Oh God, don't get me started! I could expand and expound on your excellent presentation forever. rated!
I'll lead off with the admission that I have no answers, only more questions.
I also completely agree that our educational system is broken.

What truly baffles me though, is this; I come from the time when there was still recess twice a day in middle school. We still had art, music and even some fun electives in high school. (My favorite elective, to my parents great dismay, was a class on the Tolkien Trilogy!)
How is that folks I went to school with had time to learn history, the math, english and science skills needed, without the tests being dumbed down?
The high school graduates I often encounter today - with so many more resources at their fingertips than we ever dreamed of - cannot name the current leaders of our country, or tell you where other countries are located. They are ignorant of the most elemental historic events and they cannot perform basic math; they cannot even make change at the register if the machine does not tell them how much to give back.

Now, ask the same young adults about nearly any performer, actor, or sports star, and they can recite details, chapter and verse!

Without all the 'distractions' of the arts, how is it that there is not enough time to give them a basic education? Are the teachers now truly that bad, or are they really being that controlled, as suggested by former teacher, Bob? It's all very sad.
It's known among principals that the state tests miraculously get easier in a mayoral election year and that the numbers get manipulated year-to-year depending on some political goal decided somewhere. Teachers, principals, schools and KIDS are pawns in a war over political ideology in this country--so far it looks as if the corporate education industry is winning; i.e., test creators, curriculum creators, teacher-evaluation creators, school reformers, consultants, metric-makers, and so on.
Fay thanks for reading. I so enjoyed you're Nanny post I read it to my husband then my kids last night.

Mrs. Manhattan thanks for getting me off my duff to finish the piece. It was taking forever to get on paper. Also, thanks for confirming my thoughts that the actual test was getting easier.

Barb I agree. I see it in my own children.. I now use the dinner table to have conversations about basic stuff like who is our current president & who is he running against.