‘Dad, I don’t have any time for the good stuff.” That’s what my daughter who teaches kindergarten told me recently. She explained that each year, she is feeling more pressure to spend more time on teaching only the reading and math skills that are assessed on state tests and used by the federal government to measure school achievement.
Since class sizes are dramatically increasing, there is even less opportunity to offer other instruction since she is responsible for more students. This means that there is less time for art, music, science, writing, creative projects, performances and many of the other staples of school life that most of us remember and value long after the tests are scored.
There are two causes for this regrettable situation. First is our headlong rush to equate school and teacher accountability with what we can measure on standardized tests. The primary agreement we need is what we really want our students to know, do and understand.
Instead, we started with what we can easily measure. Certainly parents and teachers expect students to be literate in language and math. We also want them to be creative, artistic, compassionate and good thinkers, not to mention a host of other skills for the global marketplace.
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Just because our assessment ability is limited doesn’t mean what is measured is most important. Under the No Child Left Behind Act, schools are ranked by how many students are reaching an increasing target of achievement in only English-language arts and math.
Since the current requirement is that all students score at the B-plus level by 2014, teachers are spending increasing amounts of their valuable classroom time trying to meet this elusive goal to the detriment of some good stuff.
Second, with the shameful disinvestment by California’s legislators and governor in our public schools, the resources available to assist teachers have collapsed even as their responsibilities have increased. Teachers can only address the minimums. Schools in this county have lost more than $40 million in the past two years. The legislature and governor continue to break their promises to repay this money as required by law.
So we need to be clear about what resources our schools have to deliver based on our expectations. We also need to hold those responsible for not investing in our children just as accountable as administrators and classroom teachers. Blaming only teachers for a lack of results is like blaming firefighters for a fire when a city has not invested in fire hydrants and fire engines.
I believe that we can return California’s schools to the greatness we once had. There are no silver bullets, but we do know what to do. It takes skilled teachers and principals who are supported and not blamed. It takes state leaders who know the direct link between an educated population and our economic and civic well-being. It takes all of us making our children our highest priority. Only then will our children have time for the good stuff.
Julian D. Crocker is the county superintendent of schools for the San Luis Obispo County Office of Education.