By CTA President David A. Sanchez
I remember the way a classroom felt to me before No Child Left Behind (NCLB), when teaching was about encouraging students to learn rather than requiring them to practice rote memorization. My passion for being a teacher then was driven by the enthusiasm I saw on my fellow teachers' faces and the excitement in the eyes of children learning new, challenging concepts. Today, so much of what is seen in the classroom is stressful and prescribed, and all about the test at the end of the road and very little about the road itself along the way. It's as if politicians are concerned more with handing out ribbons at the finish line than with student growth in the classroom. NCLB has created a testing-focused system that does very little to help produce students with well-rounded, multifaceted learning experiences.
Now, testing is always going to be an integral part of education, and teachers use tests regularly to evaluate what students know and how they have progressed. But educators also know that a single test score never tells the whole story - it is a snapshot in time. It is simply not an effective means by which to completely evaluate the progress of a student or the efficacy of a teacher.
Our current system of high-stakes testing puts pressure on educators to focus on teaching to the test rather than teaching the child. NCLB has promoted a culture of competition that inevitably produces winners and losers - not proficient learners. Add to that the many differences in learning style among our students, and you have a recipe for failure.
A state like California, with such a diverse population of students, needs to account for those differences by offering multiple learning tools and recognizing multiple measures of student achievement. That's one of the reasons why the Obama administration's original guidelines for Race to the Top (RTTT) funding were so problematic, as they continued NCLB's overemphasis on testing as the sole measure of student achievement and as a means of evaluating teachers. CTA and NEA responded immediately, and our members made their voices heard.
The final RTTT regulations were just released. We certainly still have concerns and are reviewing all the details, but there were some improvements. The final guidelines include multiple measures of gauging student growth and, in turn, teacher effectiveness. They also call for teacher involvement in designing evaluation systems and provide a fourth option of assistance for helping lower-performing schools.
Since these new guidelines reflect the Obama administration's views on education reform, we know they will be the basis for the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. The past mistakes made with NCLB need to be erased and rewritten, not built upon. The Obama administration seems poised to bring in new ideas for education with the coming year - some we agree with and some we do not. We're hopeful that the new administration, as it looks toward the future, will want to help rather than hamper the success of our public schools. Teachers need to be treated as the educated professionals they are and given the tools they need to properly educate their students.
With your continued help and with all of us working closely together, we will rebuild the public education system in California. This challenge is something we are ready to face, because in the end the path of education is just as important as the finish line.
¡Sí Se Puede!
¿Por Qué No?
[Yes we can! Why not?], words inspired by César Chávez, encourage us to remember that, together, we can achieve great things.