There is mounting opposition to standardized testing and the Common Core, as witnessed by the creation of grassroots groups like Re-Thinking Testing: Mid-Hudson Region, www.classsizematters.org,www.changethestakes.wordpress.org, www.fairtest.org and www.unitedoptout.com. Locally, a slew of speakers have come to SUNY New Paltz to talk about their resistance to the Race to the Top mentality -- most recently Alfie Kohn, author of 12 books, his latest being Feel-Bad Education.
SUNY New Paltz professor and veteran educator Nancy Schniedewind introduced Kohn to a packed lecture hall in the Coykendall Science Building last Thursday afternoon. “Alfie Kohn exhilarated the audience here 20 years ago, and it’s great to have him back at this critical time when one percent of our corporations and education administrators have hijacked our public education system,” she said.
“But there is good news, with 500 students, grades third through eighth, walking out in opposition to high stakes testing,” Schniedewind said. She went on to list a number of student/teacher/administrator walkouts and boycotts of the standardized testing that is being required in almost every state in the country. “Alfie Kohn has spoken truth to power for decades, and we’re very pleased to have him here.”
Kohn thanked Schniedewind and all of the many co-sponsors for inviting him to SUNY New Paltz. He noted that when he was introduced as speaking “truth to power,” he had to reflect on that. To reference a clichéd phrase, he said, he was “preaching to the choir,” yet he would “welcome any and all opportunity to speak truth to power. If governor Andrew Cuomo or president Barack Obama called me and invited me to speak, I’d be there in a heartbeat. But they don’t want to hear what I have to say, because it does not flatter them nor make them look good.”
He went on to say that in his years as an educator and an author, he felt that the US had hit rock bottom in the 2000’s with a president George Bush-inspired No Child Left Behind policy, which Kohn dubbed “Many Children Left Behind.”
Fast-forward, and he noted that “what would come to pass in the next decade-and-a-half was so much more devastating than we could have ever imagined. State standardized tests, which are not ‘state-sponsored’ but ‘federally sponsored,’ with the promise of funding that is not only a false promise but in fact is costing states millions of dollars, have had a devastating impact on minority and lower-economic children.”
The “wreckage,” as Kohn deemed it, is most felt in the lower socioeconomic brackets, where children who did not meet the “grade” were forced out of schools and their dropout rates skyrocketed under these “high-stakes tests.”
“This is the only quantifiable data coming out of the Race to the Top standardized testing and Common Core curriculum that has been force-fed to every state with the promise of funding, when the cost of implementing these tests and teacher/administrator evaluations has cut so deep into our taxpayer dollars that any ‘funding’ is a farce.”
He asked the audience to raise their hands as to how many were public school teachers, to which an estimated 40 percent raised their hands. Asked who were administrators, another 20 percent raised their hands. The rest were made up of future teachers from SUNY-New Paltz, concerned parents and “others.”
Kohn went on to say, backed with detailed research and analysis, that “not only are we losing our lower-economic students, but we’re also losing our greatest teachers! We have Washington telling our teachers what they should teach, what curriculums they should subscribe to, how to best prepare their students for these standardized tests. What do we want? Corporatized [as the standardized tests are farmed out to corporations] teachers, or those with passion and expertise and experience in educating our youth? What they want now is test-prep technicians. How frightening is that?”
He went on to say that this Race to the Top has not only lowered the bar, hindered deep learning and failed to execute any positive impacts on students, but instead has “one goal in mind: to create the best workers for our ‘global economy.’ What does that say? We want docile, non-thinking, non-critical workers to carry out our aims – not that we want to educate and encourage good human beings, with deep understanding and compassion and knowledge of the world and languages and cultures around them.”
Teachers and administrators and attendees alike all applauded Kohn and his research and message, and pledged to go a step farther and become more active in this highly controversial discussion.
by Erin Quinn
New Paltz Times