Rhode Island Massacre…What is the Lesson?

Central Falls High School principal and staff were the latest victims in the high stakes testing war being waged across the nation. The shock waves have traveled throughout our nation’s schools and are the topic of conversation amongst teachers. What are we all to take away from this news?

Many staff will hit the professional fetal position and will scale back on anything but that which will pass the test – lots of reading and math, placing more and more emphasis on passing the test, passing along the stress they have internalized onto their students. This at a time when many parents are pulling their kids out of public schools because they are not providing the enriching education that they are seeking for their children.

How Shocking!

Although it is a bit of hyperbole, the famous Milgram shock experiments come to mind, wherein the researchers placed one person (the teacher) in a booth with what they thought was the means to shock another person (the student) on the other side of the glass. They were coached by a well dressed and mannered professional to apply shocks to the other person for incorrect responses. Over time, many of the “teachers” applied the maximum shock to the students, even though the latter were screaming and writhing in pain.

No, teachers are not applying painful jolts of electricity to students, nor making them scream in agony. What is occuring is that many district and school administrators are at the control of the button, which is applying a high voltage of fear to teachers, and cannot help but conduct to students. Of course we want to improve education, and to reform schools. How dare we question the party that our unions helped to bring to office, even though they have taken NCLB, which used to be despised and reviled openly, and made it far more menacing than it was under the Republicans, yet the protests have become muted, the new course of action is to get along and play the game. So if Rhode Island is the professional looking over our shoulder, telling us to apply the next jolt to staff, administrators need to buck the trend and politely refuse to do so.

Selling Out

If schools are to become true factories of drill and kill instruction, where every possibility to maximize test scores is taken, and every effort to have passing subgroups exploited, the effect cannot be healthy for students, nor staff. I do believe that inspired teaching, with relevant project based learning mixed in with a coherent and cohesive curriculum, can lead to inspired students that will do their best on the state tests. I believe that a school can have a culture of respect and celebration, and not fear. I believe that state tests should not be the focus of our conversations, but a byproduct of what great things we do.

Will the kind of administrators and teachers that acquiesce to the pressure to drill and kill be the only ones remaining in a few years? At what point do good educators, who have a liveliehood that depends upon their job, refuse to apply the next jolt? Will they leave the profession, if they cannot change the culture of fear and shelter their students from it, or will they replicate the Milgram results, where most of the test subjects kept presing the button becasue the students could not get it right…….

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