It’s a thing I do. Worry and wonder why. As a grandmother. As a citizen, a Texan, and an American. But mostly as a grandmother, in snatches of conversation between my granddaughter and me, or late at night when she tells me about something due for school the next morning which, when pushed by my panic, she confides was assigned “a couple of weeks ago.”

Maybe it’s an apple to orange comparison – and God knows I hit my mom with a few of those “but it’s due tomorrow” laments – but I believe my high school education has served me well for some 48 years. Hers? Even though she may know more stuff, comparatively, I’m not sure what she’s learned has any real lasting power.

I worry, and worry I should, about what the politicians, who are unaffected and quite far removed, from what our children are being taught in schools.

I’ll guarantee my two years of home ec – which I use some every day, still to this day – will long outlast random things my granddaughter’s picked up in physics. She’s learned enough to pass the tests, but I can’t see her ever applying what she’s learned in her future life.

I wonder how all this on a grander scale is going to play out. Our constitutionally required public education system is taking a huge hit, in our state particularly, but on a national scale too.

We cheat our children when we change the goal from teaching what they need to know and helping them to learn what they need to understand, preparing them for their lives ahead and encouraging them to be lifelong learners to narrowing the scope to unique specifics determined by a one-size fits all (at varying grade levels) standardized tests.

Here’s what I’m talking about, in the last few years education spending has decreased from 67 percent to 38 percent. Just during Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s tenure of the last three and a half years, student spending has decreased $600 a year, per student. Operating budgets of most school districts in the state of Texas run on a budget that is a dollar for dollar equivalent of 1995.

Those figures alone are sobering, especially with consideration to changing demographics, family structure and social/cultural developments. But here’s the staggering number. In the same time frame of decreased spending, spending has increased to $13.4 billion to cover the cost of developing, administering and grading the state standardized tests.

The tests are random, riddled with “gotcha” or trick questions; less of a test of knowledge than a high-stake trivia exam; and tend to be discriminatory to students in lower socio-economic environments. Teachers must tailor their lessons to try and prepare students for the test rather than what would seem a more logical approach, test students on what they’re prepared for.

Here’s the deal. Standardized tests aren’t teachers’ idea. The tests aren’t the brainchild of school administrators. Not at all. The tests are absolutely, 100 percent, the push of politicians, who are directed by the state constitution to provide public education for all children.

So what if? What if the politicians focused efforts on changing the culture in Texas, particularly in education, to include and educate all students? What if the goal were to design policies that foster an inclusive educational environment where every child is afforded an opportunity to learn with his or her peers? What if instead of division, districts were given more opportunities and support for partnering with businesses, the community and faith-based organizations to meet the needs of every child.

It’s springtime here in Texas. The last day of spring break for many. The week before the break, we tested our children on things they will probably never need to know, and weren’t very excited to try and find out. I think it’s time for the pendulum to swing.

I believe we’re making it far more complicated than we need to. Ask teachers what works, not a board of people in Austin who haven’t spent two hours in a classroom in 30 years.

Teachers will tell you, age-appropriate lessons that involve and engage children’s minds and make them curious are the cure for the classroom’s ills, the missing piece of the students’ failure to get it. Spark their imaginations with full portions of music, art and life applicable skills that offer a comfortable environment for discovery learning, better understanding and true knowledge.

More teach. Less test. More learn. Less stress. More of the practical. Less of the guess.

 

Editor’s note: Candace Cooksey Fulton, formerly of Brownwood, is a freelance writer now living in San Angelo. She writes weekly columns for the Brownwood Bulletin and the San Angelo Standard-Times, each unique to the particular paper. She can be reached at ccfulton2002@yahoo.com.