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Sunday, February 3, 2013

President Obama, rich kids (including mine) get taught, poor kids (yours) get tested

–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog

In a powerful essay in Education Week, retired educator Alan Jones of Illinois shares his experience accompanying his daughter to look at schools for his grandson.
Jones talks about today’s test-driven education classrooms, codified through No Child Left Behind and incentivized through Race to the Top. He compares schools that measure students almost entirely by test scores to the holistic approach of the Sidwell School attended by President Obama’s girls, saying. “When President Obama talks about good schools, he is talking about schools for other people’s children, not his own.”
Jones makes great points, although comparisons between public and private schools are not necessarily instructive in view of the wide gap in costs. The best private schools in metro Atlanta cost $18,000 to $22,000 a year — and that does not count books and fees — while the average per-pupil spending in public schools in Georgia is around $9,600.
And Atlanta is a bargain compared to private school prices in New York and Washington. Tuition at  Sidwell is more than $32,000 per year. (While quality may certainly be the prime reason that U.S. presidents, including Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton, enroll their children in Sidwell, a desire to keep their kids out of the public eye is probably another. )
But Jones makes searing points about how a daily diet of drill and test has turned school into an uninspired and unappetizing gruel.
Nothing could have prepared me for the mindlessness of the hallways, classrooms, and main offices I observed in the coming weeks. I reviewed curriculum with no art or music and only sporadic attempts at teaching science. I followed a school schedule heavily focused on basic literacy skills. I found kindergarten programs with no recess. I observed classrooms where students were required to repeat state standards written on the chalkboard and spend hours completing mountains of worksheets designed to make children more test-savvy.
The schooling landscape worsened when I questioned administrators and teachers about their schools’ instructional programs. What I heard was a form of pseudo-educational jargon that made no sense. The new foreign language of schooling was an incomprehensible mix of educational alphabet soup (RTI, ELL, AYP, LD, BD, ADHD), business metaphors (data-driven, performance-based, TGM), and an urgent plea for more time to prepare students for the state test in March.
Worn out by what I was observing in schools in my community, I wondered what kind of school the president’s children attended… Sidwell students, it seemed, experienced an instructional program that allocated appropriate time for each discipline to be taught well; engaged in instructional activities that were problem-based and interdisciplinary; participated in a rich extracurricular program; and were supervised by administrators and teachers who place children’s social and emotional development on an equal footing with their intellectual growth.
Under this new government-driven regime of testing and accountability, schools are no longer the schools I attended, taught in, or led. This new breed of accountability-driven schools is more interested in reaching some number at the end of the school year than with my grandson’s deep—and untestable—need to be known, respected, and educated.

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