The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

Columns

September 28, 2013

Senator proposes seceding from nation of education

From The Back Porch column

State Sen. Daniel Hall from Wyoming County is brilliant; he agrees with me on standardized testing.

He said Wednesday that he favors eliminating standardized testing as reported Thursday in this newspaper. His rationale is that money saved from the expense of testing could be used to increase teacher salaries.

“I think there are ways we can give them the raise they deserve without increasing taxes,” he said to reporter Mannix Porterfield.

“They spend 18 days a year just taking tests,” he said of state students.

“They don’t do science, social studies and civics — all the subjects that should be taught early on. Fifth-graders in some schools are just now being exposed to science and social studies. It’s not the teachers’ fault. They want to teach and they can’t.”

Teachers have told me that testing has removed a lot of the creativity from their classrooms because they are so focused and obsessed on teaching the test.

At the college level, I see students who act as if their worlds will end if they fail a quiz. They have been conditioned to consider themselves failures because of a score. They are focused on a grade, not on learning.

What Hall is proposing is that West Virginia secede from the nation of education. Folks on this side of the mountains aren’t new to the notion; we seceded from Virginia about 150 years ago so we could un-secede from the Union.

Maybe that would get Washington’s attention. After all, the right to an education is in the state constitution, not the federal one.

Arizona has nearly seceded from the Union on immigration. Enough of these mini-revolutions could be the wake-up call the Beltway needs.

But I doubt it. And I doubt Hall’s idea will get very far. What he failed to articulate is state schools’ dependence on federal money.

The feds subsidize the education of special needs students — covered by Public Law 94-142 — and the school lunch program, also a federal law, and the education of at-risk students, which is federal Title I law. There’s no getting around the dependence on federal dollars to provide money for programs, teachers, aides, bus drivers, etc., to serve the populations protected by those federal laws.

And the thing that yells most loudly in the U.S. Department of Education is standardized test scores. It is the biggest tail in the country that wags the smallest dog.

I’d like to believe that one day this country would get out of the testing business that benefits few beyond those who make money from the testing industry. I’d like to believe that teachers could have some academic freedom to emphasize the things they know children will need to know in this world. I’d like to believe those 18 days could be used for fun, creative activities that would be more meaningful to students than learning how to completely fill in ovals on a bubble sheet.

I’ll keep on believing because the alternative is too depressing.

Sen. Hall, if you can find a way to rid the state of standardized testing without doing more damage to schools, I’ll back you all the way to the U.S. Capitol.

May the three R’s be with you.

— Young is a Register-Herald columnist. E-mail: ynerissa@frontier.com.

© 2013 by Nerissa Young

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