New York City’s fascination with test scores is increasingly raising concerns among parents regarding the meaning of education. Lee Solomon, the mother of a first grader at the Brooklyn New School, a sought after school that accepts students only by lottery, received the letter grade of C from accountability experts, expressed her anger by noting, “It really saddens me that this is how the Department of Education thinks that parents are best served, by boiling everything that happens in an entire school to a letter grade.” Since Mayor Bloomberg assumed office as mayor, he has summoned the business community to bring its expertise to the field of education. Of course, most of these people have never taught children nor have they ever been part of the difficult process of working with children from diverse backgrounds. The end result of corporate America’s education program is a dramatic decline in time spent at school learning history or engaging with literature or allowing children to express their emotions and ideas via the means of art and music. A 2006 survey by the Center on Education Policy found that since passage of No Child Left Behind, 71% of the nation’s school districts had reduced time spent in teaching history, music and other subjects.
As one who has taught 12,000 teachers and over 3,000 students, I am appalled by New York’s conclusion learning is measured by a grade. From the presidency of James Monroe to 1900 presidents were not college graduates and that group included such nondescript students like Abraham Lincoln and Andrew Jackson. In the 20th century, Franklin Roosevelt used to boast he had a “gentlemen’s C average,” Harry Truman never went further than high school, and Ronald Reagan was an ordinary student in college but these three individuals are ranked among our greatest presidents.
The recent decision in New York City to evaluate teachers based on student performance is completely anti-intellectual. Teachers who work with college prep students will invariably have different results than those working with children who are struggling in the learning process. If a teacher knows their evaluation and salary depends on student test grades, the only logical result is spending time in test preparation, not enabling students to become critical and creative thinkers. A test score is best understood as providing information to teachers on what students learned so that teachers can alter their teaching or go back over material. A test score is a METHOD of assessing learning, not the goal of teaching.
The beauty and power of literature can not be reduced to a letter grade because its purpose is empowering youth to explore the hidden facets of their persona. The study of history entails learning how to engage in critical thinking, not obtaining letter grades. A modern American tragedy is allowing business people to control how people teach and how children learn. If this educator could evaluate the stock market performance of our leading firms he would have to conclude we should shut them all down based on the letter grade they would receive for their performance the past few months. Tell me Mayor Bloomberg, did you assign letter grades to your top level executives either in business or in education?