A national standardized test for all kids?

This was something being tossed around back when Bill Clinton was president. Now, after the U.S. Department of Education released a study today (NY Times) illustrating the lack of an equivalent standard of assessment across states -- with one state setting its "standards" at a level of its choice, perhaps lower, and another state setting its "standards" where it pleases, perhaps higher.

The question arises once again, should there be a national standard that all kids must reach? Or should one state be able to lower the bar for its kids while another state is able to raise the bar?

Aside from that immediate question it also presents an identical one in theory at the local level -- should different schools be able to raise and lower the bar according to the special needs of their students? Should different communities be able to set different standards for their kids? Or should there be one bar for everyone? Or perhaps there can be one bar, but one that is also culturally conscious? -- Harold Cruse might like that as an ideal. I guess you'd have to imagine a situation where cities or states were able to recognize equivalents without actually having identical curricula. (Sorta like how colleges allow you to take a course in another country and still give you the credit for the class when you get back... but alas, they aren't the ones paying for it, you are! lol.) But I don't see that happening. I can't see any state (MAYBE a city, and that's a big maybe) in America accepting a standardized writing test in Spanish (say from the schools in Spanish Harlem) as an equivalent for a standardized writing assessment test in English (say, from the schools in upper class Brooklyn Heights). I guess Math and Science would be somewhat easier, although cultural/language issues are often why kids perform poorly in these subjects as well, which is why English Language Arts (English class) is being pushed as the fundamental key to most of our kids' achievement problems. The logic goes, that once kids can grasp the standard American English language/culture, they'll be better able to follow the word problems in math and science class and better understand what their science book is trying to teach them.

The thing that complicates these matters, as usual, is money... the fact that the funds that pay for all kids' education come from EVERYONE'S taxes, at least everywhere that I know of. Black leaders spearheaded the creation of the national standard of having public schools for all kids after the civil war, during reconstruction. Their belief was that their government should use its right to levy taxes for the sake of paying for all children's education. Today we find that system of support being slowly dismantled as more and more people are vying to pull their money out of the pot. Parents are leaving urban public school districts in favor of suburban ones, or private schools or charter schools. The question for some is whether to continue to fight for that system as it's being taken apart or to get to work creating private schools independent of the government to avoid being left empty handed.

And yet others find their solution in an odd symbiotic middle ground -- charter schools that are able to take advantage of the government's ability to levy taxes to cover costs, yet also have a degree of independence from the government's standard curriculum. But even this surely cannot be a long term solution. While charter schools might address the issue of cultural learning environment much better than traditional schools do, they are still often insufficient at bringing all of their students up to a level to pass these standardized assessment tests. Because no matter how much a kid improves according to the assessment of the understanding and culturally conscious charter school, that kid still has to hunker down at the end of the school year and take a test that is essentially still foreign.

The ideal is clear, right? -- Kids need to be provided with both (1) a culturally conscious environment and (2) they do in fact need to be held accountable to standards.

But that's the easy part. The questions are how do you do this?

(1) The idea of using the government's ability to levy taxes as a source of funding for education makes it susceptible to the will of the dominant culture (even in charter schools). Therefore the idea of culturally conscious environments is a huge uphill battle. ESL -- English as a Secondary Language -- is a start, but a slow start. What about black kids who speak black English? Currently they don't get the same culturally conscious treatment as ESL students.

(2) And the idea of standards doesn't offend anyone, rather where the struggle comes from is determining whose standards our kids should be striving to meet.

If only the dominant culture could recognize that it's better for the country to fund the education of kids in the most effective way possible, rather than funding the socialization of kids in the most effective way possible, we might make some progress much faster. Then maybe we'd be able to have a well-funded system in which English as a Second Language wouldn't be treated as a problem to be fixed but as a reality to be embraced. And a well-funded system in which communities with kids who don't fit into the cultural standard wouldn't be punished by standardized tests that assess a child's ability to learn the dominant culture. But of course if people are paying for something they want to be able to dictate it. What do you think?

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