Monday, June 30, 2014

State Board of Education Testimony - May 7th, 2014

Testimony: State Board of Education
Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Good afternoon.

My name is Melissa Katz and I am 18 years old. Currently I am a freshman at The College of New Jersey studying Urban Elementary Education. Testifying here was kind of a last minute thing, but I couldn’t pass up this opportunity to express to you my thoughts on all that is happening in education today. I may not be a teacher with my own classroom yet, but my experience studying education reform over the past year has taught me an immense amount.

We as a nation are selling a false tale of failure. It all began in 1983 with the publication of “A Nation At Risk,” which based on standardized test scores led to the conclusion that our schools were failing, saying that, “We report to the American people that while we can take justifiable pride in what our schools and colleges have historically accomplished and contributed to the United States and the well-being of its people, the educational foundations of our society are presently being eroded by a rising tide of mediocrity that threatens our very future as a Nation and a people.” This was an extremely over the top piece of propaganda that acted as the beginning of a false narrative of the failure of our schools.

Then we are introduced to No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top. Race to the Top has been even worse than No Child Left Behind in that it does the following: “Teachers will be evaluated in relation to their students' test scores. Schools that continue to get low-test scores will be closed or turned into charter schools or handed over to private management. In low-performing schools, principals will be fired, and all or half of the staff will be fired. States are encouraged to create many more privately managed charter schools.”

More and more resources, specifically money, are being thrown into high-stakes standardized testing, and now into computer based testing with PARCC and Common Core. I have worked in the classroom with students on the Chromebooks, and they struggle to even reach the keys on the keyboard, let alone understand and comprehend how to take a standardized test on a computer. I have taken the tests myself and struggled on the third to fifth grade portion. Another issue is tying standardized test scores to teacher evaluations, because this will lead to teaching to the test and more and more class time being spent on test preparation rather than genuine, real learning and exploration.

The public narrative surrounding education is, once again, selling that false tale. Because of people like Bill Gates, Eli Broad, and Michelle Rhee, the public has been convinced that we have horrible teachers who are failing our students. But this is simply not true.

“The reality is that most teachers are accomplishing amazing feats of achievement and motivation with their students every day and what they're able to accomplish is being done despite a "professional environment" of questioning belittling and self-doubt due to accountability measures and evaluation systems we had no stake in even creating. 

...The truth of education policy is that it is written and enforced by people who have spent either little or no time in the classroom with the students these very policies are affecting.

Education is the only industry -- and it's a $750 Billion industry -- that is developing a product without any valid market research from its end users.

Students aren't asked what they want or need. The teachers in the schools aren't asked what would work for their students. The public narrative has to be shifted. The schools and the teachers are not the enemy.

It is the private corporations like Pearson that pay the lobbying groups like ALEC to write these policies and laws that get passed over steak dinners and campaign contributions because of words like "rigor" and "accountability" to perpetuate a bottom line on the heads of our public school children.” 

But none of the things that are happening are by accident. This is a plan by big businesses, corporations, billionaire-philanthropists, and lobbying groups like ALEC to take over what we know as public education and turn it into a for-profit business to benefit companies like Pearson and McGraw Hill.

And to be able to sell all of these falsehoods, we must convince people that education, as it stands, is a failure. The students are failing because they have ineffective teachers in failing schools in failing districts. Now, enter the corporate reformers with their new standards, textbooks, and plans to turn our public schools into charter schools to magically “fix” education.

But the real problem here is not that our students, teachers, or schools are failures. The real problem is that we live in a society where almost 25 percent of students are living in poverty. After the release of the PISA scores, education historian Diane Ravitch reported the following:

“As researchers Michael Rebell and Jessica Wolff of the Campaign for Educational Equity at Teachers College, Columbia University, have noted, there is no general education crisis in the United States. There is a child poverty crisis that is impacting education.

“Here’s one data point worth remembering. When you measure the test scores of American schools with a child poverty rate of less than 20%, our kids not only outperform the Finns, they outperform every nation in the world.

“But here’s the really bad news. Two new studies on education and poverty were reported in Education Week in October. The first from the Southern Education Foundation reveals that nearly half of all U.S. public school students live in poverty. Poverty has risen in every state since President Clinton left office.

“The second study, conducted by the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, reveals that poverty — not race, ethnicity, national origin or where you attend school — is the best predictor of college attendance and completion.

“Here’s the catch-22. While the only long-term solution to poverty might be a good education, a good education is seldom available to children living in poverty.”

I would like to know where in the magic equation that predicts college and career readiness are the factors for poverty. Where in that equation do we include the alarming fact that so many students come to school hungry; that so many students don’t know where there next meal is coming from; that so many students are scared to walk to and from school out of fear that they may be shot during their walk. Where is the proof that the Common Core is going to accomplished all that you’ve presented? Where is the research? Common Core is a one-size fits all approach and non-solution to our education issues solely designed to line the pockets of a select few. Poverty is the elephant in the room that no one wants to address. Rather, it is easier to sell that false tale of education failure we have become so familiar with.

But I have hope, because this is just the beginning. Parents, students, teachers, and community members are starting to wake up. Every day there are more and more reports of families refusing the test because they know these high-stakes standardized tests are only a reflection of socioeconomic status and have nothing to do with knowledge, innovation, creativity, and original thinking. I will not be labeled a failure. My teachers will not be labeled as failures. My schools will not be labeled as failures. Nothing is going to deter me from becoming a teacher. I want to be a teacher who instills in my students a sense of community, social justice, and equity. There is nothing more important, especially in urban districts, than a community school. I will do whatever it takes to protect my schools, our schools, from corporate takeover in any form. It is time we demand the following: We must stop closing neighborhood schools. We must stop attacking and scapegoating our educators. We must stop the high-stakes testing madness. And we must fully fund our schools according to the law.

Thank you for your time.

Melissa Katz 

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