Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

The 12th Bracey Report on the Condition of Public Education

Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

The 12th Bracey Report on the Condition of Public Education

Article excerpt

What profit it a child to pass the MCAS, FCAT, TAKS, or CASE, if he lose his Epicurean aesthetic? Mr. Bracey asks.

THE BASIC technology of the Bracey Reports is the drawer. Each year after my August deadline, I empty the contents of a four-inch-deep drawer and then start filling it again until the following June. In June I dump the contents on the dining room table to be categorized. This year, there were actually 21/2 drawers of collected articles, which means, since the Kappan editors will not give me the whole issue, that some material must perforce be omitted. Important as these issues are, what follows says little or nothing about the reading wars, the vagaries of various state testing programs, the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), dropouts, charter schools, or, especially, preschool education, which I hope to treat separately at some time. A report on PISA (Program of International Student Assessment) was dropped because of space limits and will occupy the November Research column.

Testing

Just when you thought there was nothing bizarre left to say about testing come these reports from Georgia. Actually, the Georgia stories are continuations of past travesties in the Peach State. Readers may recall that Gwinnett County sent one of its school police officers all the way to Vermont to harass and threaten Susan Ohanian over her alleged sabotaging of the Gwinnett County Gateway Test. Gwinnett also tried to fire and revoke the certification of a teacher who had posted online six items that he deemed invalid after the test was given. The Georgia Professional Standards Commission decided the act merited no more than a six-month suspension, and the teacher has appealed to the superior court in Atlanta.

The Gwinnett School Police, who come off as the Gestapo, badgered parent Terry Knight and her husband even worse than they did Ohanian. Officer Jim Keinard (who also visited Ohanian and interviewed me by phone) interrogated Knight at length. According to the Atlanta Journal- Constitution, which obtained a tape of the interview, Keinard repeatedly told Knight that "fellow parents in the Concerned Parents of Gwinnett were going to jail, and if she didn't cooperate, she would go to jail as well." The officer said he had "ironclad evidence" against her. (He has yet to produce it in the ensuing two years.) He even told her that, if she didn't cooperate, her children would be taken from her.1

Funny thing was, Terry Knight wasn't even the right person. There was another Terry somebody who was the "guilty" party. The Knights said Keinard had lied to them, and they asked, If a police officer is willing to lie, what else might he be willing to do? Not comfortable waiting for an answer to that question, the Knights moved to Pennsylvania.

According to the Journal-Constitution, the real culprit behind the intimidation is J. Alvin Wilbanks, the superintendent of the Gwinnett County Schools and a person "intent on using Gateway to establish himself as a leader in the nationwide standardized testing movement." To some extent, Wilbanks has succeeded. Secretary of Education Rod Paige appointed him to the committee that drafted the federal regulations for the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act.

For comic relief, let us now turn to a story that the New York Times ran under the headline "The Elderly Man and the Sea?" In New York, a Brooklyn mother with a master's degree in English, Jeanne Heifetz, noticed that a New York Regents test had modified a passage from a book. At first, she thought it was just a glitch of some kind. Then she saw another passage that was altered even more. Two accidents? Heifetz didn't think so, and she was right.

It turns out that the New York Department of Education has "sensitivity review guidelines" to ensure that no child feels uncomfortable taking the test -- as if the test's importance didn't already guarantee butterflies (recall that the SAT 9 now comes with instructions on what to do if a child vomits on the answer sheet). …

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