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Failing the Test

I used to believe in the power of education. I had this idea that if you tried hard in school, you could do anything once you got out. I still believe in the ideals of education, but my faith in the public school system fades more and more every year. For some reason, I’ve been going to college on and off for the past decade to become a teacher. I’m finally nearing the finish line. I see the light at the end of tunnel. I can smell party invitations in my future, but I’m becoming more and more disillusioned with every report card my kids bring home, and I’m wondering, will I really make a difference?

For years I’ve studied education. I’ve turned in paper after paper expressing my knowledge of learning styles. I’ve had to make up lesson plans that address the needs of every kind of student. I’ve demonstrated a mastery of understanding kids with learning disabilities. I’ve had to research how to help the gifted and those who weren’t quite as good at grasping information. Like many other students, I’ve spent more time on the subjects I found interesting. My desk is cluttered with books that explain the brains of kids with ADD/ADHD. I’ve learned so many awesome ideas.

For example, did you know that kids with ADHD process information better if they are standing during part of their day? I’ve seen books that suggest standing cubicles in the backs of classrooms make a huge difference for attention deficit students. What I haven’t seen is a classroom that incorporates them. So let’s do some math… if kids in elementary typically have about 4-5 teachers a year (1-2 classroom teachers, art, PE, and Music) and high school students typically have 7-8 teachers a year, let’s just split the difference and say 6 teachers a year. I have 7 kids, and if I take the number of years each of them have gone to public school, including kindergarten, it looks something like 13+12+8+5+4+4+3 which equals 49 years of education cumulatively… and in all that time spent in classrooms, I’ve only known of 2 teachers who didn’t mind a kid moving around the room to get the wiggles out.

I used to eat lunch with Blondie almost everyday. People said “isn’t that a bit excessive?” YES! It was definitely excessive, but at the time they were giving them a 30 minute lunch break, and during that 30 minutes they could only talk for 5 of them. When Blondie told me that, I shouted “are you freaking kidding me?” She received a conduct mark for talking in class, and I said “talk at lunch, talk at recess – but do not talk in class.” Her little blue eyes looked up at me all sad and she poked out that pouty bottom lip and said “we can’t talk in the cafeteria unless we are sitting at the parent table with our mom or dad.” I couldn’t believe how ludicrous that was. An elementary school was holding kids to standard none of us adults can adhere to. Do you go to lunch with the ladies in your office and eat in silence? I bet not! I made sure she got to sit at the parent table as many days as I could drag myself up there. Of course talking at lunch isn’t going to make or break an education, but it’s one example of the double standards our schools are filled with.

STAARMy pet peeve has become standardized testing. We sit all the kids in these sterile rooms and pass out these high-stakes tests. We tell them they won’t pass to the next grade level or graduate if they can’t perform to a particular level on these test. If your child fails the test, you aren’t allowed to see the test they took. And here’s the kicker. Some of the world’s best schools are in Finland. They don’t believe in using standardized tests. Schools aren’t under national control, they are controlled locally. Teachers are highly educated, highly respected, and highly paid. Finland has proven the focus in a classroom should be the joy of learning, and yet we refuse to learn our lesson. Study after study proves that these tests have beat our students down, and yet what do we do? Redesign the test and pass it out again! I recently read an article that the State of Texas exams (STAAR Tests) were riddled with technical malfunctions. Can you imagine being 17, knowing your graduation hinges on the essay you’ve just written, and then just as you hit the submit button – it disappeared? Yikes, that’s just not acceptable!!

That’s what really gets me. We have all this research and knowledge available to us, and we don’t use it. Another thing I find really perplexing is the way we teach foreign languages. Research proves language acquisition is easier and better at early ages. Why are we teaching it for the first time in junior high or high school? Why don’t we just make a lateral move? Take those high school Spanish teachers and put them at the elementary school! Rosetta Stone for everyone!

Some people might say “this is America, speak English!” but the truth is, knowing more than one language just enriches the brain. Being bilingual is the standard in most European countries. Jobs pay more if you’re bilingual. It doesn’t hurt anyone to know more ways to communicate – in fact research proves being bilingual can delay or even prevent Alzheimer’s; but we don’t really teach our kids a second language. How many of you took Spanish in high school and don’t even remember what Hola means? Blondie thought “cheese” was “Jorge (hor-hay)“, despite the gallons of ‘queso‘ she has consumed in her lifetime, so be honest! We know there are better ways to increase bilingualism and yet we stick to the outdated methods that have never worked.

The Educational system is failing my kids. It’s failing your kids, and these kids are the future!

We know classrooms aren’t designed for all kinds of learners, but we don’t revamp them; we know high stakes tests don’t enhance education but we administer them.  We know the truth about language acquisition but we ignore it. It’s like trying to bake a cake with a broken mixer… it just doesn’t work! 

I spent years as the President of the PTO because I wanted to be involved in what my kids learned. In the end, the only thing I was involved in was fundraising. I want a say in what my kids study. I want a voice in how much homework is administered and whether they have enough opportunities to master the subjects at hand, but at the end of the day, all those decisions are made by the government. That needs to change. We need to take back our schools and get involved again. Yes – I could home school them. Yes, there are private schools. But not every kid can afford private education and not every parent could home school, so that can’t be the answer. The answer has to save public education. And I have a few ideas that could help. But so do many of the amazing educators I know, and those ideas are sitting idle, completely untapped, because the broken system we have just doesn’t make room for improvements. When we have an education system that doesn’t expand for what we’ve learned, well my friends, we’re failing the test!

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