DARRELL HUCKABY: Education at the mercy of misguided legislation

It’s the silly season again in U.S. education — although I am not sure there is any other kind these days. Students from elementary school to high school will be under tremendous pressure as they face battery after battery of standardized tests — tests upon which so much weight is placed by parents, politicians and the uninformed public that pupils panic, professional educators are brought to tears and people are imprisoned over the taking of the tests and the results.

Now tell me that isn’t silly. Tell me that anyone can devise a test that is so credible that the results can measure the success or failure of a student’s school year or, when the collective data is gathered and analyzed, of a school’s adequacy or inadequacy.

Principals are routinely hired and fired because they produce — or fail to produce — test scores that are deemed acceptable by the folks who sit in the proverbial ivory towers of education and are also hired or fired — or paid bonuses — because of their ability to drive and cajole and pressure administrators to drive and cajole and pressure teachers to drive and cajole and pressure students to peak out on a given day or across a given week of the school year — the school year, by the way, which has been shamefully shortened by bad weather and altered calendars and furlough days, pressed upon them by a Legislature that doesn’t understand the importance of instruction time or is simply too cheap to fully fund education — or one that just doesn’t give a damn.

Now that same Legislature wants to pay teachers according to students’ performance on these same test scores. What a batch of bull feathers. You know, of course, that I didn’t mean feathers. I wish we could pay our legislatures according to their so-called performance. They would all owe us big bucks.

I taught for 39 years. I wish I had been paid according to my students’ test scores. If I had I wouldn’t have to work five or six jobs today, in “retirement.” I never had a student fail to pass any of the graduation tests or end-of-course tests or any of the other measurements the state of Georgia instituted during my career. No, not one. You can look it up.

But that doesn’t mean I worked harder or deserved more pay than other teachers. To the asinine people who think every student can achieve if the teacher will just coach them up — you are wrong. You are so wrong. You are even more wrong when you imply — by your asinine laws and regulations — that success for all students can be measured by having all students master the same standards.

Every student comes from a different environment. They learn different things at different times in different ways and for different reasons. Because of this, those people who speak educational jargon for a living blather on and on about differentiation of instruction and authentic assessment and whatever the word-of-the-week is — do we still talk about stakeholders at every single meeting? — are the same people who put the most stock in standardized test scores and everything — and I mean everything — they do is driven by those scores. Don’t tell me it isn’t because I have lived it and I know. Every teacher you know would say basically the same thing if he or she didn’t fear for his or her job.

Don’t hear something I am not saying. I am not condemning our local school boards or our local administrations — not in the least. I am not.

I am blaming the educational system and a state leadership that is afraid not to bow down to the current customs that drive educational data on a nationwide level. The people in our local system are simply doing what they are required to do in an effort to achieve the test scores for which they will be held accountable. Until the system changes, until leadership at the state level says that in Georgia we are going back to having school — all day every day — and that we are going to hire and pay professional educators and encourage them to teach children instead of tests — nothing will change.

But nobody wants to hear the ranting of an over-the-hill, washed up old history teacher. I have been told for years that my opinions are just negativism and that there is no place for them in modern education.

Big sigh, here.

Maybe not. Maybe standardized testing is the Holy Grail of our educational future. Maybe the scores the state handed out to every single public school are accurate indicators of the job the teachers and administrators in that school and in each system are doing. If that is the case, we need to get some richer parents if we really want to improve our schools because there is an almost perfect correlation between the scores the state handed out and socioeconomic status.

Imagine that.

I got vision and the rest of the world is wearing bifocals. (Butch Cassidy)