By Don Keelan
I am thankful that my wife and I don’t have any of our five children in elementary, middle or high school anymore. How today’s parents keep up with all of the changes in testing, grading and curriculum that keeps coming at them from the state and federal bureaucracy is perplexing — it has to be daunting.
A telling example occurred recently when Vermont’s Secretary of Education, Dan French, gave a presentation in Montpelier in mid-December. Michael Bielawski, reporter for TrueNorth, captured most of what French had to say.
The secretary was not at all pleased with how Vermont’s school test scores have been trending downward. An example was Vermont’s fourth graders. In 2019, only 37% were at the acceptable reading level for their grade. This is six points below what the score was (43%) in 2017. The test was the National Assessment of Educational Progress.
French announced a new program, Lexile and Quantile Frameworks. The program is a creation by a North Carolina firm, MetaMetrics, and according to Bielawski, at a cost of $200,000 per year to the federal government, but free of charge to the Vermont’s school districts.
It was not long ago that Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium was in play, preceded by the New England Common Assessment Program, and used for testing Vermont’s students.
Secretary French also noted that a strong adjunct of the new software will be to give students a boost, with the Personalized Learning Plans, a fairly new Vermont policy.
However, the biggest leap of faith was what was said by Deputy Secretary of Education Heather Bouchey: “The (new) software can also play a role in helping students figure out what they need to do for life after school.” Unless this has been tested and proven with years of experience, how in the world can a senior state official ever make such a statement?
In Arlington, as well as in several other areas, a brand-new concept for dealing with students is being introduced: Conscious Discipline. According to the ASD’s 2019 Annual Report, the concept “offers school-wide, trauma-informed assistance for transformational social emotional learning, discipline and self-regulation.”
How are teachers supposed to teach, and administrators administrate if they are being showered with acronyms — LQF, SBAC, NECAP, NAEP, and CD — representing new programs, coming at them almost annually from Montpelier and Washington?
I am aware that the classroom of 2020 is by no means comparable to the classroom of the 1950s or ’60s. There is more technology to teach, social diversity issues to cover, and student/family trauma to contend with. That notwithstanding, there is still the need to teach science, math, technology, languages, history, English, reading, the arts and civics.
And what an opportune time it is to teach civics. The country is going though an impeachment of the president, issuance of executive orders, imposition of tariffs, a presidential election and the role to be played by the Electoral College.
A similar case can made for the teaching of science and technology, especially when it is a known fact that a substantial amount of the science/technology in use today did not exist 25 years ago.
What would really help is less new acronyms and more days in school. The 180-day school year is not cutting it anymore. What is needed is something closer to 225 days and a 13th year (and college reduced to three years).
Surely, it would be welcoming news if our educators, administrators and school board members utilized the billions of dollars of plant, equipment and furnishings provided to them by the taxpayers for more than just half a year.
Do we really need a North Carolina firm to describe for us how to educate our children? Less testing and more teaching, less classification and more guidance, and more facetime between teacher and student will get the job done. It worked once before.
Don Keelan writes a bi-weekly column and lives in Arlington, Vermont.