Education is losing out to corporatism. It is a trend becoming more prevalent every year - the latest move by Gov. Perdue to use student performance as an indicator of teacher effectiveness is just another example of what happens when non-educators legislate education policy.
Before you label me another anti-free market liberal, understand that I am not of the opinion that corporate culture has no place in education. There are certainly corporate practices and ideologies that have improved education and how we fund education (for instance, the principle of corporate competition used as an argument for school choice has merit in the debate on public vs. non-public or partially public-funded education). However, this move by Perdue reeks of ignorance in regard to how we gauge student performance and teacher effectiveness.
This move by Perdue assumes that teachers are the only variable affecting student performance, placing yet another burden on a group of folks already under-the-gun to produce high standardized test scores in order to ensure federal funding for their respective school systems. In the eyes of corporate types like Perdue, students are widgets and their teachers the equivalent of assembly line workers.
As an assistant professor in higher education, I can tell you that over the last decade the quality of this product has declined steadily. Students entering today's college classroom are less prepared in regard to base skills and critical thinking ability than students entering college in the 90s. Sure, they can fill out a scantron with surgical precision, but ask a student to form an independent, educated opinion and ... well, silence is never so quiet.
Are teachers to blame? That's not easy to assess. We're working in a new educational paradigm that begins with No Child Left Behind (NCLB), a national standard established and assessed through a series of standardized tests. The freshman class of 2009 represents a more complete "product" of this system - the first students to negotiate a gauntlet of tests that begin at age six.
The results are less than positive. At the college level, we are seeing more students in need of remedial (learning support) classes and more professors having to rethink their pedagogy to address the deficiencies of these incoming freshmen. Yet, as much as we academics like to vent about the appalling abilities of our freshmen, we have at least retained the creative freedom to develop our own approaches to the courses we teach.
Since NCLB, creativity in elementary, middle and secondary education has been replaced with a universal, standardized curriculum aimed at preparing students to score high on the long list of standardized tests that Georgia's students take beginning in (drumroll) kindergarten! These include the Georgia Kindergarten Assessment Program-Revised (GKAP-R), Criterion-Referenced Competency Test (CRCT), Middle Grades Writing Assessment (MGWA), Iowa Tests of Basic Skills (ITBS/A), End-of-Course Tests (EOCTs), Georgia High School Writing Test (GHSWT), and Georgia High School Graduation Test (GHSGT).
That's seven tests given over the course of every child's scholastic career, every year from kindergarten to graduation. These tests don't adequately consider variables outside of student-teacher interaction. Urban or rural, rich or poor, nuclear family or broken home, every child (with few exceptions) is considered equal in the eyes of the military-industrial educational complex. Teachers aren't granted the freedom to adjust and adapt to their particular student community. They are asked to follow the SOP, never to deviate from this "proven" system. Teachers no longer teach, but facilitate a curriculum passed down the pipe from politicians and administrators who have little-to-no classroom experience.
States are told, "show us improving numbers or the federal dollars will go elsewhere." School systems are told, "increase your scores or risk losing your funding." For their part, teachers are told, "turn out successful scores or risk losing your job." In this hierarchy, the buck stops with the teachers - teachers who are told, "no raises this year," "you will have to buy your own supplies this year," "You are going to have to take three, no, six, no, eight furlough days this year, "you have to find a way to pass them."
Is it any wonder that every year fewer and fewer of our best and brightest are choosing education as a career choice? Is it any wonder that education has become the career of last resort? I'm all for accountability, but who is holding the administrators accountable? To whom do Sonny Perdue and his educational think tank report? In his email to educators in the state, which outlines the new compensation model, Perdue says, "you spoke, and we listened." It would have been more correct of him to say, "you spoke, and we heard what we wanted to hear." Teachers want raises. They want to be rewarded for performance. They don't want to have one assessment tool substituted for another.
Yes, a line has been drawn and I am crossing it, Governor, and challenging you and your staff to be creative, progressive thinkers in regard to education. It is time for Georgia to be a beacon as opposed to a dying bed of coals. Most of us working in education do so for our love for teaching and our commitment to the young people of this state. It is time you demonstrated a commitment to us through a more vigorous, inspired and respectful approach to education and educators. Don't we deserve it?
Tyrie J. Smith
Assistant Professor of English
Georgia Perimeter College