I was talking to a friend the other day and trying to figure out why I am keeping up this blog. Part of me wants to show off my kids, how cute they are, what funny things they say. Part of me wants people to know what I'm going through with my ridiculous, dysfunctional district. But if that's all it is, I don't think I'd continue writing - I have a lot of other things that should be taking up my time. I think my main hope is that people will read this and understand that things are not OK in education in California. And more than that, I want people to get MAD about it.
Most of this is detailed in previous entries, but there is severe inequality in our schools. If you (or anyone else!) doesn't believe me, read my blog, read Jonathan Kozol's books, come visit my school. The inequality is so entrenched that I honestly have no idea what can be done about it at this point, but I do know that nothing that has been done is working.
No Child Left Behind isn't working. I'm willing to bet that politicians, Republicans and Democrats alike, have no idea what daily life is like for children or teachers in these low-performing or "failing" schools. If they did, no one would be suggesting ridiculous strategies, like imposing "sanctions" against schools that are not making progress on the tests. "Sanctions" is not my word - it is the official word used - our sanctions were having our teachers' aides taken away - obviously punishment isn't a successful motivator because we're still a "failing" school. Iraq, North Korea, Cuba, and the children of East Oakland - all the beneficiaries of sanctions by the U.S. government.
"Accountability" isn't working - at least not when accountability means tests, tests, and more tests. Does no one realize that never-ending tests do not motivate students, but do the exact opposite? I have had students cry, scream, throw tests, refuse to take them, throw up... It's hard to explain how heartbreaking it is to see a child - who loves to learn, who loves science and reading and mystery and adventure and computers and her teacher and her class pet and doing well and feeling smart - to see this child put her head down on the test and sob and say, "I'm just too stupid, I'll never pass all these tests." And for me to have to say, "Please don't get the test wet - I have to turn it in?"
I'm doing what I can about the tests. I tell the kids that no one should have to take this many tests, that school should be about learning with occasional tests, not testing with occasional learning. I tell them that the people who make these tests don't know how to make tests, because if they did, there wouldn't be questions that haven't been covered in the curriculum yet. I tell them that the people writing the tests don't know kids so they don't know what to put on the third grade tests and they make it too hard. I tell them that as long as they are thinking and trying and learning and doing their best, I am proud of them and what their teacher thinks is more important than what people who don't know them think. I tell them that it is important to do their best, but that no test, EVER, should make them feel bad about themselves, and that if it does, they need to say, "You silly test, you can't make me feel bad! I'm more important than you'll ever be!"
But I'm fighting a losing battle. Last year I had to teach science secretly - yes, secretly - since I wasn't supposed to be teaching science. (It takes away from No Child Left Behind curriculum). Each year, more tests are added and more pressure is put on us and the children to achieve. And no matter where you go, the schools with more black and Latino students will be in worse areas, with less experienced teachers, less materials, less autonomy, and more ridiculous bureaucratic requirements.
I don't know how it will ever change. But maybe if people know how bad things are, they might begin to.