Sadly, it has taken a worldwide pandemic to do what should have been done by reasonable people years ago, which is to eliminate the federally and state mandated testing for K-12 students and the worthless school report cards they spawn. Even though this cancellation is only temporary, at least for one year students will be spared the travesty of high stakes testing, schools will not be “evaluated” based on voodoo data, and citizens will be spared the superficial and meaningless conversations that inevitably accompany the release of this information.
Governor DeWine’s decision to suspend testing exposes the hypocrisy within politics. Educators have spent years citing scientific research on child development to try to convince politicians that their “accountability” system is a fraud, but they wanted no part of it. They simply dismissed us as whiners who were afraid of being held accountable for our work.
Then, in classic political theatre, with a snap of his fingers, the governor did what child development experts couldn’t do, which was to just make it all go away. Of course, to justify his decision, he assured us he did it based on the best scientific information available.
Interestingly enough, politicians who have told us they have made their decisions about shutting down America based on science have had very little interest in science when it comes to discussing why some children become successful while others don’t. As a result of their disinterest and incompetence, they have saddled school staffs and their students with dozens of laws that do nothing to address that problem.
It would be nice if the folks controlling the narrative at the state and federal level would spend the next few months talking about how single parenthood, poor prenatal care, poverty, abuse, neglect, health problems, violence, drug abuse, stress, diet, heredity, attitude, and parents’ level of education and attitude towards school all impact a child’s ability to learn.
But, they won’t, because they never do.
Frankly, even if they did, history has shown us they have neither the ability nor the interest in helping solve those problems. Their solutions would no doubt be what they have always been, which is to create more school regulations to address non-school problems.
So, on second thought perhaps it’s better if they just keep their solutions to themselves.
What we know for sure is that Governor DeWine’s decision to close schools has guaranteed that the achievement gap that exists between the “haves” and “have nots,” i.e., between those children negatively impacted by the non-school factors listed above and those who aren’t, will continue to grow. This is neither an indictment nor an endorsement of his decision. It is merely a statement of fact.
We know this because research tells us that disadvantaged kids, many of whom enter kindergarten well behind their peers academically, socially, emotionally, and behaviorally benefit most from being in school. Competent, kind, and compassionate teachers who interact with them face to face five days a week give them a fighting chance to close that gap, and now that opportunity is gone.
To his credit, when he closed schools for the rest of the year, Governor DeWine acknowledged that he was concerned “about students with different developmental needs, those with unique health challenges, children with no or limited access to the Internet, and kids without a supportive home life.”
As well he should be.
But, merely being concerned doesn’t help those kids. Neither does authoring more laws regulating schools or pretending as if the aforementioned factors have no impact on a child’s life, which is what state and federal politicians have done repeatedly over the years.
It would be nice if, during this interruption in testing, one politician, just one, would take a stand against the status quo, expose the state’s fraudulent school accountability system for what it is, and demand that meaningful conversations occur about how to best help disadvantaged kids succeed.
Sadly, based on history, I don’t expect that to happen.
Tom Dunn is the former superintendent of the Miami County Educational Service Center.