Dear Bill Gates,
High stakes testing is strangling America’s public schools. I have been a teacher for 10 years, all of them in high-poverty schools. Early in my career, when NCLB was just getting started, I knew even then that it was ridiculous to expect 100% of students to reach “rigorous standards,” even when those students have significant disabilities, don’t yet speak English, or don’t have safe home, food to eat, or parents. But, I was optimistic that the stated intent of the law– to make sure that all students were receiving a quality education– would shine a light on the reality that our country needs to do a lot more to fight poverty and provide resources to those who need them.
Ten years later, my optimism about this policy is gone. High stakes testing is being used to label children as failures, label teachers as failures, and shut down schools starting with those that serve the neediest children. High stakes testing is running the best teachers and principals out of the profession, and sending parents with resources fleeing to private schools and “public” charters to escape the testing frenzy that the rest of us are subject to. In high-poverty neighborhoods, the survival of our public schools depends on our students’ test scores, and in fear of being shut down, these schools are becoming test-prep factories. Art, music, PE, even recess, are increasingly rare, chopped from the schedule to make more time to get students to reach an arbitrary passing score.
If you are truly interested in improving education for America’s children, here is what I would recommend: 1. Reverse your stance on high-stakes testing. Publicly acknowledge that high-stakes testing is sucking resources, joy, creativity, deep thinking, and excellent teachers out of school’s that need them most. 2. Ask the experts (teachers! principals, superintendents) what it would take to improve education for all our students. Ask them what they would ask for in RTTT and NCLB waivers didn’t exist. Rather than making up “solutions” to complex problems that you don’t fully understand, your money would have an infinitely more positive impact if you used it to support what real educators are asking for: smaller class sizes, wrap-around services, a full and rich curriculum including arts and physical education.
There may still be people out there who consider the work of your foundation to be true, generous, philanthropy. However, to educators, parents, and other supporters of public education, your “charitable donations” in the field of education smell a lot more like profiteering. High stakes testing does little to help education, and in fact does an enormous amount of harm. However, it is very profitable to the high tech industry, the testing industry, and, as it turns out, the private prison industry. The public is catching on.
Teacher, Portland Public