August 20, 2015, Chino Valley- I stood outside Mingus Springs Charter School, this morning, and again at lunch recess, and marveled at how sweeping a view there is, in three directions. Bill Williams Mountain is visible to the north, and Granite Mountain, to the south. Eastward, the brown hills of the St. Matthews Range are interspersed with the greenery spreading out from the Verde River watershed. The kids get to see this, four days a week, and, like a child who experienced the green hills and riverbanks of Saugus, MA, some fifty-five to sixty years ago, they probably feel comforted with the scenes, while taking them pretty much for granted.mandatory
My primary task, today, was to oversee another thing that people have come to take for granted, in today’s schools: Mandatory testing. This round of tests, for the latest educational fad: Common Core, is to determine students’ present level of competence, relative to The New Standards. It’s a pre-test, in other words, and has two parts, reading and math. There will be a post-test, in April and May, and the two will, of course, be used to determine a student’s progress, and the school’s efficacy.
I’ve seen a lot of arcane material, and circumlocution, in the presentations of some Common Core advocates. Like any educational flavour-of-the-year, or decade, it has its good points and its drawbacks. Some claim it is pushing a socialist agenda. Others see it more as fascism, a brazen move by the Feds to implement mind control. I wouldn’t go anywhere near that far: It’s a fad, much like No Child Left Behind, and before that, The First Days of School, and before that, A Nation at Risk. Core Learning, Discovery Learning, New Math, Character Counts, Responsible Thinking, Immersion Learning- all have had their time in the sun, and some have managed to stick around, here and there, and do a measure of good.
When I first started working as a school counselor, in the 1980’s, my job partly entailed supporting the Principal’s pet project: Score High on CAT (California Achievement Tests). In the early 2000’s, the heyday of Harry Wong’s “The First Days of School”, there were no fewer than FOUR standardized tests being thrown at the students, in April alone, as part of the build-up to No Child Left Behind.
I was left behind, after that, and fortuitously, as I would spend 2005-11 as Penny’s primary caretaker. More insidiously, though, I feel the children were, and are, being left behind, as their natural curiosity and sense of self- worth are getting squished by the pell-mell Race to The Top (Oops, that is so 2010!) Try as the Big Boys and Girls might, they don’t get it. I had to come down hard on the normally co-operative students, just to get this Assigned Task accomplished. It’s a money game, and we all know it. Without the testing, Federal dollars are withheld. Without the testing, the students would focus on more intensive study of things that actually interest them, and which could be more practical in their lives.
So, how will the trade-off settle? It’ll be another fascinating year, no matter which school(s) in which I find myself.