It was just a few years ago when I couldn’t get to school early enough. Excitement about my newly chosen profession as an educator made me confident about my decision to leave the business world where everything was justified by one criterion: was it good for the bottom line (e.g. money).
Little did I know that after two decades in the classroom I would have a serious case of deja vu when suddenly the only thing that really mattered was another bottom line (e.g. test scores).
Pondering this remarkable irony, I began to piece together the events that had turned my energy and enthusiasm for education into the chore of driving students to better answer inane questions. In the past I had my students write bills, contact elected officials to carry them, and act as lobbyists to pass them through the legislature. That empowered them and they learned a lot about the real world and making a difference. They wrote letters to the editor, pressured publishers to support their cause, evaluated primary resources, anticipated arguments, and raised money to fly to Sacramento to testify. They were learning how the political system really works.
Today this type of learning takes up too much time, as I must cover the State mandated curriculum that the State mandated tests are based upon and which the State mandated guidelines for success are printed, as are the results.
I used to educate my students, have them learn by doing, and enjoy seeing them actually improve society by applying what they learned to solve real problems. I don’t have time to do that now.
Two Days per Section
I must teach 12 major concepts in less than 36 weeks and herd my students through 70 social studies oriented subgroups. Since the State tests are given several weeks before the end of the school year, I really have about 150 days to accomplish this - not allowing for school assemblies, emergency drills, student absences, and any number of disturbances.
Just so the governor and other elected State officials understand why I no longer have time to educate my students, here is just one of 12 major standards in the State mandated history and social studies curriculum for eighth graders:
List the original aims of Reconstruction and describe its effects on the political and social structures of different regions.
Identify the push-pull factors in the movement of former slaves to the cities in the North and to the West and their differing experiences in those regions (e.g. the experiences of Buffalo Soldiers).
Understand the effects of the Freedmen's Bureau and the restrictions placed on the rights and opportunities of freedmen, including racial segregation and "Jim Crow" laws.
Trace the rise of the Ku Klux Klan and describe the Klan's effects.
Understand the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments to the Constitution and analyze their connection to Reconstruction.
That does not seem so impossible. However, given California’s mandated school calendar I have approximately ten days to cover this data. So that gives me two days to help the students grasp the concept of the Reconstruction, implications for the geo/political/social structures that were impacted, review the geography and how these past events caused future events. Trust me, it gets more impossible. Lawyers spend years studying the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments and the many ramifications they represent. Due process, civil rights, and suffrage are all terms that need to be explained and understood. I have two days to accomplish this feat.
Realizing that it is unlikely that 13-year-olds will master this in less than at least a week, I have modified, integrated, and decided to short some topics while hoping that the State mandated test does not decide that the area I neglect is going to be an area of interest to them. One thing is for certain: I never shortchange any religious topics as the State mandated tests are weighted with questions about that topic.
You might find it of interest that the standard, “Enumerate the advantages of a common market among the states as foreseen in and protected by the Constitution's clauses on interstate commerce, common coinage, and full-faith and credit,” is listed under the major heading, “Students understand the foundation of the American political system and the ways in which citizens participate in it.”
What my students used to learn by doing - by their supporting and having passed real legislation - has now been replaced by the State mandated need for them to understand common coinage and full-faith and credit.
I’ll teach, but I am not sure they will learn. Sadly, for many, their grasp will exceed their reach.
Only Half the Story
I used to educate my students, have them learn by doing, and enjoy seeing them actually improve society by applying what they learned to solve real problems. I don’t have time to do that now. You see, I have only told you half the story. The State social studies test covers what the students learned in grade six, seven, and eight. So I also have to help them review the major events that have occurred in the last 3000 years as 50 percent of the State mandated test is based on what they covered one and two years ago. In case you forgot, and as any parent knows, these students don’t always remember what they learned yesterday. So I’ll play by the rules and follow the State mandated curriculum and prepare the students for the State mandated test. I’ll teach, but I am not sure they will learn. Sadly, for many, their grasp will exceed their reach.
Alan Haskvitz teaches at Suzanne Middle School in Walnut, Calif., and makes staff development presentations nationwide. In addition, he serves as an audio-visual evaluator and design consultant for his county department of education; a tutor to multi-cultural students in English and art; and an Internet consultant.
Haskvitz's career spans more than 20 years. He has taught every grade level and core subject, has been recognized repeatedly for innovative teaching and has received the following honors, among many:
USA Today All Star Teacher
100 Most Influential Educators
Reader's Digest Hero in Education
Learning Magazine's Professional Best
National Middle Level Teacher of the Year
National Exemplary Teacher
Christa McAuliffe National Award
Robert Cherry International Award for Great Teachers
In addition, Haskvitz publishes articles on successful educational practices and speaks at conferences. He has served on seven national committees and boards.
Haskvitz maintains credentials and training in special and gifted education, history, administration, bilingual education, journalism, English, social studies, art, business, computers, museumology and Asian studies. He holds these credentials for Canada, New York and California. His experience also includes staff development, gifted curriculum design, administration, community relations and motivation. His background includes 10 years of university education.
As a teacher, Haskvitz's curriculum increased CAP/CLAS test scores from the 22nd percentile to the 94th percentile, the largest gain in California history. In addition, Haskvitz and his students work continuously to improve their school and community. His students' work is often selected for awards in competitions in several subject areas. For more details about Alan and his students' work, visit his page on the Educational Cyber Playground.