By: Lorri Gumanow
Having a child attending public school in New York City is a very different school experience from the one I had growing up as a child on suburban Long Island. My parents picked the community we lived in primarily on the quality of the public schools. And they were great schools! I participated in accelerated academic classes, and music and drama were part of the school curriculum. The majority of families that lived in the community shared similar values, and enjoyed a similar socio-economic status. Yes, there was school board politics, and budget battles to save the football team vs. the band. But the bottom line was that we went to our local public schools and they were excellent. My parents made their school choice by signing the mortgage documents with the real estate agent.
My husband and I live, by choice, in a very diverse urban community in Brooklyn, NY. We are white, middle-class retired educators. We love living in the city, with its cultural institutions instantly available, and the vibrant 24/7 culture we could not have in the suburbs. But, a trade-off is that we don’t have a neighborhood middle school or high school that we can just send our child to. We have “school choice.” We have to research schools in a huge directory, visit school review websites, go on school tours, and ask a lot of questions. As parents, we feel compelled to choose schools that mesh with our philosophy of education and child-rearing, and so there is a lot of “shopping” for the perfect school at each transition point where we can make a choice (Kindergarten, middle school and high school). Schools that don’t quite “fit,” don’t make our list. In addition, the schools get to go “shopping” for students that would be a good fit for them, and many of the schools that we would choose use test scores on state tests to select the students they would like in their school. Choosing high scoring students vs. low-scoring students, students with disabilities, and/or English Language Learners keeps a school’s overall test scores and ratings high. The “desirable” schools on our list choose children with higher test scores, good attendance, good report card grades, and low suspension rates.Isn’t this what most parents would want for their children: A good public school that provides a structured, warm environment, with strong academics, balanced with arts and student supports? (And of course, underlying the choice are all of the –isms that we try to pretend don’t exist for us – race, class, social and cultural norms, and socio-economic status, to name a few. You know, the “elephant” in the room?) So as children approach the next transition point, the scores a child achieves on the standardized tests are of utmost importance to parents who “must” have their child gain entrance to one of the “desirable” schools. If they don’t get in, what will their friends and other parents think? Or, my child needs to be in a “safe” school. Higher test scores could make the difference between attending a great, supportive, academically challenging school vs. one with a metal detector and a high dropout rate. Families are pitted against each other, in competition for the “best” seats. Parents provide expensive tutoring, audition prep - anything to give their child an advantage for admission, and to avoid a placement in an undesirable school. And sadly, our children are observing us, their parents, getting caught up in all of this competitive and discriminatory behavior.
Children will also interpret test scores from their point of view. “If I score a 4, then I am better and smarter than those other kids and will get into a better school.” It tells them that their classmates who score poorly are stupid, and will go to a “bad” school. It teaches them that to get ahead they have to score the highest. It teaches them that academic talent is the only thing valued in school. It teaches them to only be friends with the smart kids. This is what the tests are teaching our children. If they don’t score well, they feel stupid, pitied, rejected, depressed, they let down their parents, and their teacher will get fired. Is this what we want our children to learn? Is this how we want our children to treat others? Is this world really only about a Race to the Top? Do we want our children to learn that competition and winning are everything? Winners and losers – is that what is most important in life?
Unfortunately, my loving, amazing, talented child scores poorly on tests.Unfortunately, my child has a disability that affects him academically.
Inclusion in elementary school was great, but now that he is older - no one cares anymore if he fails! And he is now failing a subject for the first time, as an 8th grader. From my son’s perspective, it’s no longer worth it for him to keep trying, have a good work ethic, or complete his homework – because he will still fail and no one cares. The saddest part of this scenario is that my son’s newfound failure is exactly what the corporate reformers are looking for. It is what they have created for most of our children and our schools. This is their vision for school, not ours. Their goal is to have most of our schools fail for their economic gain. Their goals do not involve the success of our children at all!
So, in this testing season, if you are on the fence about opting out/refusing, especially if your kids would have no problem doing well on the test, do it for the 70% of children in New York state, and across our country, who have been set up to fail ON PURPOSE. Do it for your child's teachers who work so hard to have children succeed, but then get blamed for being bad teachers because most of their students "fail" these inappropriate tests. Do it for the parents who are watching the bright lights go out in their children at an early age because they are not "gifted" enough to get that 4. Think beyond your own child's situation to see what is really going on here. We are teaching our children that 70% of the children in this state are failures, and they might as well give up. Trying harder on these tests will not help them pass! The questions are written for high-achieving students to get right, and everyone else to get wrong. Please send messages to our elected officials that we will not allow this discrimination and bullying to be acceptable for our children, for corporate profit and exploitation. Opting out/refusing sends the strongest message, in addition to voting elected officials out of office. Please use your parent power and opt out/refuse, if not for your own child, then for mine. He deserves an education too! And his teachers have more than earned the right to keep their jobs!
Lorri Gumanow, Ed.M. - Special Education