Sunday, October 2, 2016

Pennsylvania legislators just flunked civics – big time.


Once again, instead of offering real solutions to eradicate the ignorance of the coming generation, they clothed themselves in their own.
A bi-partisan group of 47 state lawmakers is proposing forcing all public school students to pass a test on citizenship in order to qualify for a diploma.
House Bill 1858 would require all K-12 schools receiving tax dollars — including charters schools and cybercharters — to give their students the same 100-question test that immigrants seeking U.S. citizenship will have to pass starting in 2020. Any student who doesn’t get a sufficient score will not receive a diploma or GED equivalency.
While it is admirable that legislators are concerned that high school students don’t know enough about civics, it’s unfortunate that they think the solution is another standardized test.
After all, what does being a good citizen have to do with a multiple choice exam?
Citizenship is about political independence. It’s about exercising your rights, not memorizing them. It’s about engaging in the political process, not spitting back facts about what kind of tree George Washington chopped down. It’s about using the principals of self-determination to rise up to the level of personal and community involvement, of individual sovereignty and home rule.
This involves actually teaching civics, a subject that has been cut to the quick in our schools to make room for an increasing amount of test-prep in math and reading. It used to be common for American high schools to offer three civics and government courses. Two of them – “Civics” and “Problems of Democracy” – defined the role of a citizen in relation to current events and issues. However, in most districts now these have been condensed into one “American Government” course that spends hardly any time on how students can and should participate in their government. Moreover, this course isn’t even offered until junior or senior year – far too late to make much of a difference.
Maybe instead of putting a metaphorical gun to kids heads and demanding they care about civics, you could actually provide some resources so teachers could… I don’t know… teach it!
How about actually funding our public schools? You well-meaning dunderheads slashed school budgets by almost $1 billion a year for the last six years, and your only solution to helping kids learn has been to put more hurdles in their way without offering anything to help them achieve.
That is a losing strategy. If you want to have a winning race horse, at some point you have to feed the freakin’ horse!
If lawmakers really want kids in the Keystone state to know something about civics, why not start by making it easier for schools to broaden the curriculum to include robust civics courses?
This means REDUCING the number of standardized tests, not increasing them. Inject some money into the system so schools can hire back some of the 25,000 teachers who have been furloughed. You want kids to learn how to be citizens? Provide them with excellent teachers who actually get to experience some meaningful professional development, teachers not overburdened with meaningless paperwork to justify their jobs at every turn, teachers encouraged with rewards for seeking National Board Certification, etc. And let’s reduce class size so kids actually have the chance to be heard by their teachers and might actually learn something.
Moreover, if you really want to assess if these lessons have been learned, assess whether students are actually participating in their Democracy.
That’s the thing about citizenship. It looks like a noun, but it’s really a verb. It only has meaning if you do it.
Have high school kids registered to vote? Have they volunteered to take part in the political process, to canvass or phone bank for a candidate they believe in? Have they attended a session of the state House or Senate? (Have you provided the funding for appropriate field trips?) Have they attended a rally or protest for a cause close to their hearts?
THESE are the measures of true citizenship. And there are things you can do to make it easier for students to take part.
But no one really wants that. Come on. This is still essentially the same legislature that passed a Voter ID bill a few years back to make it harder for people to participate in our Democracy. And it would still be on the books if the state Supreme Court hadn’t struck it down as Unconstitutional.
You know why children don’t know more about civics? Because they’re so disgusted and demoralized by the example you’ve shown them. When politics is nothing but a show, when hardly anything ever changes or actually gets accomplished in Harrisburg, you expect kids to get excited by citizenship!? HA!
All you know how to do is pretend. That’s what this is. Just throw another standardized test on the fire of our children’s education and you can act like you’ve done something.
May I remind you we’re still dealing with the last smoldering exit exam disaster you fostered on us – the Keystone Exams?
You spent $1.1 billion on these tests since 2008, and they’re a statewide joke! You required all students to pass these assessments in Literature, Algebra and Biology, but they’re so poorly constructed and confusing that only half of our students can pass all three. So you put them on hold for two years until you could decide what to do.
And before you even fix that mess, you actually have the gall to say, “Hey! Let’s make kids take ANOTHER test!?”
I know some of you mean well, but this suggestion is a disgrace.
It’s style over substance.
This isn’t a measure to reduce ignorance. It’s a measure conceived in ignorance that’s guaranteed to proliferate it.

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