Sunday, April 1, 2012


(Note:  This post was also published in "The Answer Sheet," The Washington Post, 3/26/2012.)

In an earlier post, a case was presented for a broader perspective about the causes of US school learning challenges than simply focusing on its teachers.  Those arguments appear so obvious that a question that surfaces is why our teachers have been marked with cross-hairs, when there are multiple issues impeding American K-12 achievement?

One answer to the question reflects some cynicism, but it may also be one of the explanations for what appears to challenge American sanity:  Because those teachers, rendered increasingly unprotected by their unions under attack and that have crawled into fox holes, or unsupported by school administrators, are the easiest to target with the fewest places to hide.  A notable exception is a Texas school superintendent who penned a scathing indictment of the present testing binge.

Reflecting on and paraphrasing an old joke, when your only weapon is a standardized test, every student and their teacher look like targets of opportunity.

Responding to an opinion piece on reform by an education professional and activist, one parent offered a barbed addition, proposing some questions for America's parents to assess their true willingness to support a change in K-12 strategies and tactics. That parent’s six questions (the first six below) were supplemented with fourteen more, and a platform for parent self-appraisal was the result.

If you are a parent with a child in our K-12 schools, here is an assessment of points of view that do regularly impact how a local school system might feel either emboldened to make reform moves, or at risk of criticism by their own constituency.

Take the test:  To how many of the following 20 propositions can you honestly and unequivocally say "yes?"
  • Would you like your children to have informed opinions and values that may differ from your own?  Y or N
  • Are you willing to advocate for higher taxes to lower class sizes, raise teacher salaries to attract better candidates to the profession, and buy technology?  Y or N
  • Are you willing to have your children’s performance measured in ways other than standardized test scores?  Y or N
  • Would you support year-round school, classes segregated by ability rather than age, and alternatives to whole-group instruction?  Y or N
  • Are you willing to take a larger share of responsibility in the academic performance of your own children?  Y or N
  • Would you be willing to change the school colors, school mascot or football program?  Y or N
  • Would you be willing to back your child's decision to forego playing football or basketball to take an art class, or take a math course online, or be a volunteer for a social cause?  Y or N
  • Your child comes home arguing that evolution is science, that there is no science in creationism, and that the latter should be taught as history or philosophy – would you applaud and respect the point of view?  Y or N
  • Would you be willing to support consolidation of your present school(s) with those of an adjacent community if the combined system could produce even marginally better learning and greater tax dollar productivity?  Y or N
  • Would you challenge a principal or superintendent who has pretty strong views on education issues, knowing that you could be defamed both by the system, and in the community by other parents for not "going along to get along,” or rocking the boat by challenging authority?  Y or N
  • Are you willing to stand up and demand that your school board's meetings strictly adhere to the open door laws, and that their meetings be put on your cable CATS (Community Access Television Service) channel in real time?  Y or N
  • Would you be willing to “go the mat,” for example, use your state’s open records or freedom of information acts, to find out what is really being taught in your K-12 classrooms, what texts are being used, and whether the teacher is qualified in the subject matter taught (or is this just part of trusting your system)?  Y or N
  • Would you be willing to formally pursue some adult education that is 21st century to be able to properly and contemporarily coach your children on homework and in career preparation (or is that what your taxes are for)?  Y or N
  • Are you willing to run for a school board, advocate a PTA for your system and support it, or step up to volunteer to serve on school committees that are heavy time users?  Y or N
  • Would you be willing occupy your school's parking lot and protest if the system was teaching to the tests, or misrepresenting its financial condition, or was protecting poor or unprepared teachers and teaching, or obscuring bullying by either a teacher or administrator, or producing flawed curricula, or falsifying its true learning performances, or covering up parental complaints (or are those just board problems)?  Y or N
  • Have you, in the last year, read a book on K-12 education or the current reform movement, watched a PBS or other show on the same topics, or read a similar article in a professional journal or in a major national or world news magazine?  Y or N
  • Have you asked your child questions regularly – beyond the prototypical scrutiny of their report cards – that enables you to assess how they are actually being taught, what they believe they are learning, and whether they believe they are missing opportunities to learn or perform (or is this too intrusive)?  Y or N
  • Have you ever opened and fully read one or more of your child’s grade 6-12 textbooks?  Y or N
  • Do you regularly read anything, fiction or non-fiction, together with your child or children in K-5?  Y or N
  • Do you know the names of your school’s superintendent and principal, their degrees and academic origins, your child’s teachers’ names, their academic origins, and whether they are qualified to teach the subjects handled?  Y or N
Count your "yes" votes...

If you haven't answered with yes, or an affirmative position, on at least a majority of the 20 propositions, your child is likely getting the education you paid for and deserve … but they do not.  

America’s parents are as much a part of the "system" that creates real learning in K-12 as our schools.  You can delegate the classroom roles and functions, and even the authority for requiring learning effort, but not the responsibility for your child's or children's learning achievement.

Welcome to why our system of public K-12 education is being beaten with standardized tests, it's teachers denigrated and bullied with VAM assessments (value-added measurement), and its additional culprits for under-achieving learning performances – and perhaps worse downstream – are being given "get-out-of-jail-free" cards.

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