The school my second-grade daughter goes to is right around the
corner from our house. It is red brick, with big picture windows,
and a bell on top. Every day I pick her up at 3 o'clock and see the
flood of children run out onto the playground - a real playground,
with grass and trees and crossing guards who know my child by name.
I've planned for these days for years: Like almost everyone we know,
we bought our house because it was in this school district.
But my husband and I, like many of our friends, are spending this
spring looking at private schools. We're not looking because the
academic scores in our neighborhood school have dropped, or because
there are guns in the cafeteria - we're looking because we fear for
our children's spirits. The doctrine of accountability, which
everyone from President Clinton to Elizabeth Dole seems to be
preaching, with its emphasis on testing and scores and layers of
evaluation, is tearing at the heart of American education.
Accountability, in the broad sense, means that the quality of
teachers and schools is measured by students' performance on
standardized achievement tests. Schools with good scores are
rewarded; schools with bad scores are punished, and in some states,
closed down completely.
Teachers and principals are held accountable for these test scores
- so there's a lot of motivation for kids to do well on standardized
tests. Maybe too much motivation: In Texas, a rising star in
educational accountability, administrators from the Austin City
School District were indicted earlier this month on charges of
tampering with their students' test scores.
The driving force behind the accountability stampede seems to be
mainly legislators. Last year in South Carolina, the General
Assembly passed the Education Accountability Act, mandating a new
statewide test for grades 3 to 8.
When the state's lead newspaper invited the legislators to take
the test, not a single member was willing to take the risk. But
these are the leaders who determine what will be taught in my
daughter's classroom and how it will be taught.
In the current political environment, where control is shifting
from the classroom to the statehouse, or even the White House, the
piece that we are leaving behind is education. Somehow we're
forgetting that this is all about teaching children to use their
minds, to reason, to discover. There's just no time for that anymore
- we're too busy testing.
I was gifted with a child who loves to learn, and if she can hold
on to that, she can learn anything. I know absolutely that a huge
component of teaching is intangible and cannot be measured, no
how much you pay a consultant. This is the piece that keeps the love
of learning alive in my child. …