Tuesday, October 2, 2012

For schools, 'spring' coming

  You wonder: How possible?

  Some crazed idealist immolates himself in the square. A small, hapless group of protesters makes the case against suffocating oppression. Protests get bigger. A general jumps ship here. A lieutenant jumps ship there. More protests emanate.

  And suddenly, stunningly, "school accountability" as we once knew it, and feared it (though we dutifully fed it), has been stormed and stoned and stomped under freedom's feet. Granite walls tremble.

   All those days as we watched protesters in the streets of Libya, Syria, Iran and Egypt, we wondered: Who could get so riled up?

    We see it now. We see it in the Yemen of the Fed-Up Spring, that being the revolt against educational oppression in the United States.

    It's happening in the place where it all began, and where the end would begin — where people power flowered, or more pertinently, parent power: That would be Texas.

   See it in organizations like Texans Advocating for Meaningful Student Assessment (tamsatx.com) pronouncing: "We see what is happening in our children's classrooms: too much time spent on standardized tests; too little time left for exploring and creating."

   See it in a resolution signed by 520 Texas school boards that couldn't be more blunt: Standardized testing "is strangling our public schools and undermining any chance that educators have to transform a traditional system of schooling into a broad range of learning experiences."

   See it in the defection of former Texas Education Commissioner Robert Scott, calling the increasingly stifling combo of standardization and penalization "a perversion" of school reform's "original intent."

    Add to the dissidents Texas Workforce Commissioner Tom Pauken: "Why should we 'stay the course' of an overly prescriptive curriculum and a high-stakes testing system that haven't delivered on (their) promises since they were first put in place in the mid-1990s?"

    Why? Why? Why, ahem, because that's how we do it, say state lawmakers, tugging at tight knots under their chins.

    Emerges school reform architect Sandy Kress to assure the populace that all is orderly if not well. Kress is known in royal circles as archduke of accountability.

    He's not elected, but as a proxy for authority dating back to the Bush dynasty, his tone is that of a sacred gong. (Of course, his credentials as a lobbyist for testing giant Pearson mean that no door will shut on him in Austin. So, hear ye.)

    Kress trots out an army of easels: test scores that most surely will assure the masses that in fact, on this course we best stay. And now, let's round up the dissidents.

    But wait. The masses ask: While cutting education dollars in every imaginable way, the state has spent $450 million over five years on testing and top-down regimentation. For what? The Institute for Urban Policy Research and Analysis (cloakinginequity.com) says any truth to Kress's claim of "closing of the minority achievement gap" is tempered by the fact that "overall student performance lags."

    Such grand results. Were they worth the cost? Worth the loss of freedom (once known as local control)? Worth the loss of classroom inspiration? Worth the loss of great teachers?

    Yes, say the "accountability" autocrats. Why? Because they say so. 

    It you've followed our narrative, this is the way brutal regimes fall — regimes deaf to the masses and attentive only to their authoritarian itches.

   This is how "school accountability" falls — not just in Yemen, er, Texas, but in state after state (states which by and large want the heck out from under the yoke of the dynastic No Child Left Behind).

    You wonder: How possible?

    Simple. It begins out in the street and ends up shaking granite walls.

    Longtime Texas newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email:jyoungcolumn@gmail.com.

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