Smart Change vs. Dumb Change

So, this sequester thing goes into effect today.  You know, that series of deep cuts to the Federal budget everyone agreed to months ago and believed would never actually happen.  Now, I don’t want to go into the politics of all that, but what strikes me is the impatient, arbitrary and unthinking way Congress is going about trying to control spending.  The Federal Government is a big, unwieldy organization, one that affects each and every American on an intimate and daily basis.  And I can’t help but see a parallel between these Draconian financial cuts being inflicted on essential government programs, and the way our children’s education is being wrenched around by people who have little knowledge or concern with the needs of individual school districts.

Let’s look at what’s going on in New York State.  Thanks to policies handed down from the New York State Education Department (NYSED), this year alone, schools are being forced to implement three complex, far-reaching and untested programs:  The Common Core Curriculum, the Annual Professional Performance Review and new systems of local assessment.  Now, I’ve discussed all three in previous posts on this blog, but last night I attended a PTA Parent Workshop on the I-ready test, Ossining’s new system of local assessment for grades K-5.

Now, there’s smart change and there’s dumb change.  And after last night, I’m more convinced than ever that a lot of the mandates coming down from NYSED represent dumb change.  Unthinking change.  Impatient change.  Change that doesn’t take into the account the nuance and subtlety of education.  And, to take an even more cynical view of it all, change that directly benefits multi-national corporations

Take a look at this excellent summary by the group “Rethinking Testing – Mid-Hudson Region.”

Anecdotally, based on my observations and experience, I think we offer a damn good education here in Ossining.   I think we have excellent, inspiring and creative teachers.  If I didn’t think that, I certainly wouldn’t keep my kids in the schools here.  But this year, the district is being forced to twist themselves in knots to meet new requirements mandated by Albany.  And many of the things that are good and unique about Ossining are in danger of falling by the wayside as money and energy is spent to comply with bureaucratic boondoggles instead of focusing on programs that serve and benefit Ossining students.

At last night’s workshop, for example, we learned that the way our children are being evaluated has completely changed in one year.  What I came away with was the notion that instead of allowing the individual teachers to assess the strengths and weaknesses of students through observation, they are now primarily using a computerized system that tests knowledge within certain “domains” or skill areas, and then spits out a “snapshot” of a child’s performance on this test.  We learned that the results of this online test will be used to sort children into appropriate groups for instruction.  We also learned that some children simply clicked through the questions without answering them thoughtfully to get to the games that are embedded within the test.  What sort of validity does this I-ready test really have?

Now, I don’t fault our Administration for all this.  They are, as I’ve said in previous posts, caught between a rock and a hard place.  They were told last January that they could no longer use the DRA to assess a child’s reading ability, but had to choose from a menu of new assessments.  So they had to scramble and quickly pick one, learn about it, implement it, train teachers to use it, and so here we are.

I think it’s time parents get the facts and take action.   In Ossining, we’re looking at a potential budget shortfall of nearly $4 million, thanks in large part to the aforementioned unfunded mandates and bureaucratic boondoggles.

Here is an informational packet that the Ossining PTA Council (of which yours truly is co-President) put together.  Educate yourselves on the changes that are affecting your children.

Here are two letters outlining these concerns, and a list of our local elected representatives.  It may not seem like one person’s opinion, or email or letter really matters, but trust me, if we ALL spoke up, there is great power in numbers.

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