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Thompson: NPR's Discussion of How Testing Is Driving Great Teachers Out of the Classroom

Logo2To paraphrase the Reagan administration’s A Nation at Risk (which triggered this mess) if a foreign power tried to destroy the teaching profession, we would call it a war on public education. Data-driven reformers are driving much of the joy out of the greatest job I can imagine.

NPR’s On Point guest host, Art Donovan, in Teachers Tell Us Why They’ve Left the Classroom, interviewed, “three dedicated teachers [who] walked away from jobs they loved.” The discussion featured two veteran educators, a former TFA teacher, and an incoming rookie, and it prompted numerous teachers to call in.

Not surprisingly, testing was blamed for most of the damage being done to the profession. The same phrases kept being repeated by the show's participants, with the only good news being that many teachers are “sticking it out” and remaining in the classroom “despite of the disrespect.”

Problems such as cultural insensitivity, disciplinary challenges, and a top-down curriculum that kills creativity were cited, but the same story kept repeating itself – testing is destroying our public schools.

Interestingly, not one teacher or caller defended test-driven accountability.

Private school kindergarten teacher Suzie Sluyter explained that she left the public schools due to “the focus on testing, data collection and academic push that was inappropriate for the age.” She “was being forced to teach in a way I did not believe in.” Sluyter concluded, “I was actually harming children by pressuring them to do things they weren’t ready for.”

Sluyter further explained that kindergarten “ramped up academics appropriate for 1st grade,” so much of the fun and joy of learning was crowded out.  She thus told the same sad tale that my inner city high school students would report to me about their lost educations, “Children were being seen more in terms of deficits, and what we need to teach them rather than being seen through their strengths and helping them to cultivate those strengths and grow in all areas through those strengths at their own pace.”

The show prompted more than 250 comments. Their contributions touched all bases, except for one. Although teacher-bashers were represented, not one teacher/commenter defended test-driven accountability. The closest thing to an educator who attempted such an argument was a psychometrician who said that one part of testing is identifying bad tests and misuse of tests.

My favorite comment came from “Creaker.” He or she noted wryly, “You could put an award winning master chef in a McDonalds and you'd get the same tired burger and fries. Why? Because that is what they are required to make.”-JT(@drjohnthompson) Image via.

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