This week, 37 New York City principals launched a protest against the ELA, which seems to be the New York City state mandated English language exam for elementary and middle school students – the equivalent of North Carolina’s reading EOGs. There are tons and tons of posts all over the internet, including a very well written op ed in The New York Times by a highly regarded Brooklyn principal. From what I can gather, the two main complaints are that a lot of the reading excerpts were well above grade level and the questions were so convoluted and text-based, even adults couldn’t answer them.
One of the things teachers keep complaining about is that it’s impossible to get kids to love reading and want to read when there’s all this high stakes testing that’s really about just getting the right answer. I was thinking about this yesterday and I think part of the question that no one’s really answering is: what are public schools – or any schools, really – supposed to do? Are they supposed to create a well educated work force that will supply the employers of the future? Are they supposed to nurture creativity and out-of-the-box thinking so that some really creative types can keep coming up with new ideas that will innovate and make life easier, better and healthier (add in whatever adjective you want here)? Are they supposed to figure out what each individual student needs to be successful and give that to him or her? I guess #2 and #3 are sort of variations on each other, but they are really distinct from #1. Maybe a better way to ask this is: do we have public schools/schools for the sake of society and the community or do we have them for the sake of the individual?
And maybe it can be both, I don’t know. Of course the massive conflicts we have in education right now are partially about competing interests – the interests of the kids vs the parents vs the teachers vs the reformers vs the voucherists etc. (I’m using ‘voucherists’ here as short hand for ‘people who want to privatize the schools’) (And also all these groups aren’t necessarily fighting against each other. But even when they align together, they still have distinct interests.) But I’d like to hear a bit more about the conflict between what the kids need and what society needs. Maybe those are the same thing, but maybe they’re not.
I’m all for inculcating a love of reading in children, of course! That’s why I’m blogging about reading as a passion, as a craft, as something that’s worth passing down to your children. And I wholeheartedly admire the teachers who do this. But I wonder if that’s where some of the furor about this test comes in – what teachers see as their job is not necessarily what the people who made these tests see it.
I don’t really have any great books to give any insights into this post – well, except, maybe The Smartest Kids in the World by Amanda Ripley. Which I did really like, with some caveats – although I agree with what I thought was her central thesis: kids in America spend so much time and effort on sports that they don’t have time or energy to devote to the actual school work. (I get that that’s not how everyone read the book though.) There are, I’m sure, a ton of books crack under the pressure of being smart and perfect, but the only one I can think of right now is Laurie Halse Anderson’s Catalyst.