The Creative Life and the Standardization of American Education


I've had a tough few days since returning home. As often happens when away, you sort of forget the things that are happening at home. And then when you do, they hit you right in the face without giving you even a moment to breath. I've been thinking a lot about the state of American education - specifically high-stakes, standardized testing. My background is education. I have a Masters degree in education, I taught and worked in the public schools for nearly a decade before quitting to stay home with my oldest daughter and pursue a creative business full time. I've seen as a teacher how ineffective and detrimental high-stakes testing is. It stresses out parents and teachers, and despite even the best efforts to shield them, that stress often affects the kids as well.

The problem isn't just the tests themselves. If it was, it wouldn't be that big of a deal. It's how they are changing the very landscape of education on a macro level, and how it's effect kids every single day on a micro level. The lack of recess, the pullback from the arts, the lack of autonomy for teachers to plan lessons that go beyond the standards. We're feeling these things on a very personal level this year, and I'm done with dancing along with a system that is so very bad for kids.

I've done a lot of research on the validity and rigor of high-stakes testing. My personal beliefs when I was a teacher, and the beliefs of many teachers I worked with, is that the data on student progress that you get out of the tests isn't remotely worth the stress and time put into prepping for the tests.

Now I'm a parent, and even though my child is just six years old, we are already being threatened by the state with retention in 3rd grade if she doesn't pass the state test. And it's not just my child - as far as I know, every 1st grader in the state of Arizona received a similar letter.

I know it's a form letter. I know I should ignore it and move on. But I can't. Because parents thinking "oh this one thing isn't that big of a deal" is a big reason why we are were we are today.

So I'm making a commitment right now, to refuse all high-stakes testing when they come our way.

I know that's controversial. And that some may accuse me of causing harm to the group as a whole. But with all due respect - my sole concern is my kids. And you should be questioning what's best for your kid, too. And before you get to upset with me, let me re-assure you that this post is NOT about trying to convince you to do the same - although I do think you should consider all your options. Each family needs to research and do what's best for them. Homeschool is an option for some - it's not something I am intersted in for us. Charter and private schools are available to others - we currently don't live where we have access to those. I want my child and the tax dollars associated with her to support our local, public school, because I do think that is what is best for the whole. Community matters to me deeply. But at the end of the day, I have two little girls who matter more.

All I ask is that we not blindly accept what the state tells us at face value. YOU and YOUR child are the stakeholder in education, and YOU are their voice in that education.

I wanted to bring this issue up here, on my blog, because what really kills me about all this is the lack of whole child education - and ironically, since leaving the public education sector, my husband and I have built a life, careers, and my business on creativity, the outdoors, and all the things that fall under "whole child." The art, and physical education, and electives, and play, and time to be a KID is disppearing from our schools. It has been for a long time, but now it's my turn to be a voice speaking up against it. And I do not believe that what is replacing it is preparing kids for the job market that is out there today, much less the one my kids will face in 20 years.

I know you have to walk before you can run. And I know my child has to learn to read before she can be anything she wants to be. But I worry that the creativity-based gaps in her education are the very ones that she will need the most to succeed later in life. And they have nothing to do with being able to read or write at a level higher than what's age appropriate.

The writing skills I use daily have very little to do with the rote, formulaic writing that is being required for high-stakes testing. There is little room for problem solving and communication skills, much less creativity, in something like high-stakes testing. And the reality is that as the tests become more and more pervasive, they are stealing the time that used to be devoted to those things.

It's incredibly incongruent to be supporting my family with a creativity-based business, while watching creativity and whole child education disappear from our child's educational landscape. Nothing about high-stakes testing prepares a child for a future career like mine. And ironically, it is careers like mine, that rely on a human touch - on problem solving, communciation, and creativity - that are least likely to be replaced with automation and computers in the future. So what exactly are we preparing students for, with these high-stakes test? Why the big push to replace age-appropriate learning with standards that are 1, 2, or 3 grade levels too advanced?


I know the answer to that - politics. Lobbyists. Too many hands in the wrong parts of education, making money off these tests, and the curriculums that are often pushed by testmakers on those who fail the tests. It's a neat shell game for the testmakers. But everyone else loses.

When I brought up my concerns to the appropriate channels recently, it was implied that I was undermining "excellent educators." I am not. The fact is that the state and everyone who is making these decisions at a higher level is what is undermining our wonderful educators. These tests and those who advocate for them are keeping teachers from doing what they do best. Nearly every teacher I have ever met or worked with wants to do what's best for kids. Those that don't leave education very quickly. But unfortunatly, many of those who are trying to do what's best for kids are underminded by the system. And they are also leaving our schools in droves. I'm one of those educators.

But I am not the problem.

Speaking up as a parent, exercising your right to be involved in your child's education, is part of the checks and balances in the system. It might be uncomfortable, and it might make waves, but it's your right. And in many situations, the only real voice the teachers, and even the adminstration, have is the parents. Be on their side. Ask them what they need. Invite private conversations with those teachers and LISTEN. And then use your voice as a stakeholder in your school district and state - and as a tax payer - and speak up.


Kate Densmore2 Comments