Here's a way to dramatically increase classroom teaching time in Chicago and elsewhere while saving a ton of money:
Junk school standardized tests.
If you eliminated all the time that teachers now must prepare for and administer tests, you could recover days of instruction time each school year, according to a 2013 American Federation of Teachers report.
It found that in one Midwest school district, test preparation and testing consumed 19 full school days. In another district, in the East, the tests gobbled up a full month and a half of school days in heavily tested grades.
The burden comes as no surprise to teachers and administrators. Nor to the students who are the victims — yes, victims — of this overload. Or to some parents who are faced with stressed children.
Confronting this scourge, teachers here and in other cities, including New York and Los Angeles, last week conducted a National Day of Action on Testing. I don't often agree with much of what Karen Lewis, president of the Chicago Teachers Union, says, but she hit the bull's-eye when she called the standard test blizzard a "destructive national trend."
"In general, standardized tests are devised from afar, not locally," she said. "It has been documented again and again that these multimillion-dollar, rigidly prescribed, standardized testing programs often aim to judge students against measures that have little or nothing to do with what the classroom teacher has taught or is expected to teach."
What these tests do is fuel the egos and purses of bureaucrats in Springfield and Washington, academics who populate education schools (who seem to escape any blame for today's poor educational attainment) and political ideologues who wish to impose on the world their notion of what kids must learn.
Thanks to them, our schools are afflicted with top-down, one-size-fits all education standards, the latest being something called Common Core State Standards. After all, if you intend to impose uniform and strict standards, you've got to have standardized tests to measure everyone's conformance to those standards. In effect, to out those who fail to conform.
Never mind that it also fuels a multibillion-dollar industry that sets standards, creates tests and feeds off taxpayer-funded grants to further rationalize and reinforce the system.
For this state of affairs, both liberals and conservatives wear the collar. Conservatives latched onto the idea decades ago when their hackles were raised by the use, in some schools, of Ebonics — a nonstandard form of English spoken by some American blacks. Conservatives wanted "basics" taught, not just in English and literature, but also in math and social studies.
That viewpoint softened conservative opposition to centralized government just enough to enable President George W. Bush, with the help of liberals, to pass one of the most intrusive programs in history — No Child Left Behind, a failed pie-in-the-sky boondoggle.
But it didn't take long for the liberals who overpopulate the education industry to hijack the idea for their own purposes — the employment of goofy pedagogy, the conversion of American history into narrow political interpretations that favor "progressive" agendas. And so forth.
But now, opposition to the Common Core standards has created an unlikely alliance between some liberals and conservatives who together are fed up with the reality of failed attempts at central planning and control of our schools. Some liberals even see standardized testing as a tool of a sinister eugenics movement, a "science" that attempts to improve the human "breed" by weeding out the "inferior" stock.
What to do? Anti-testing forces are circulating authorization forms that allow parents to have their children opt out of standardized testing. If enough of you do it, that will screw up the test results to a point of uselessness, although they already are often useless and bogus.
The real dagger would be to deep-six the U.S. Department of Education, or at least plow all of its $70 billion budget directly into classroom instruction.
Then the question will become: Without such "oversight," how will we know if teachers and schools are performing, even if just adequately? It strikes me that the responsibility will fall on parents (or too often, one parent), teachers and principals. Like what it used to be when so many schools weren't so atrocious.
This column also appeared in the Chicago Tribune
Related: Over-tested: Are standardized tests testing your patience?
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