The Treasure Hunter

A blog by Joanne Yatvin

School Ain’t the Way It Used To be

on November 29, 2017

Although my husband and I returned home last Saturday evening, It took some time to get my head on straight after ten days living out of a suitcases and then spending 13 hours in air ports and planes in order to get home. On top of that the newspapers I read while away were of poor quality and gave me nothing on education I could write about. But, since I’m now slowly returning to reality, I do have an article to review today. It was waiting for me on my computer among 157 other messages. The article was written by Janet Meckstroth Alessi, a long time high school teacher, and published in the Palm Beach Post on November 6, 2017. Since she plans to retire soon she felt free to publically express her views on many of the situations at her school that she believes are destroying quality education.


Janet Meckstroth Alessi has taught English successfully and with pleasure at the same Florida high school for 34 years.  But now she finds her situation-–and that of many of her fellow teachers—intolerable. She believes that the major problem for both teachers and students today is the over-emphasis on testing; not only preparing students for year-end tests, but also constant “teaching to the tests” and having students make up tests they missed. In addition, she thinks it is wrong when the school gymnasium and media center are closed to regular classes without warning because some unscheduled testing must take place there.

From Alessi’s perspective testing is not only unending, it is the heart of today’s concept of education. One thing that has changed drastically at her school is the use of high quality literature as the main focus of classroom study in English classes. More than once she and other teachers have been told to cut back drastically on their use of novels and plays in order to spend more time on the skills and information that will be tested.

Another thing that irritates her deeply is what she sees as coddling of students. More specifically, she feels that students are being spared any strong discipline or expectation of hard work. When a student is suspended, he or she is now allowed to make up missed work assignments. Also, students who are expected to pass the FSA test (Florida Standards Assessment) in order to graduate, may satisfy the school requirements by earning a high enough score on the SAT or ACT, and thus  graduate on time. Because of this possibility teachers are expected to spend a large amount of class time trying to improve students’ SAT, ACT and FSA test scores.

In reading Alessi’s full article it seemed to me that a part of her anger and pain were the results of changes in public education over time. Because teaching, grading, testing, and disciplining students are now so different from what they were twenty years ago, she blames school leaders, students, and parents for destroying education when there is actually another stronger body  actually in control. For the past several years a school’s effectivenessand perhaps its continuing existence, have been determined by public officials’ judgments on students’ test scores and graduation rates.

Although I agree with Alessi that most of the school changes are not in the best interest of students or public education as a whole, I think she is exaggerating their frequency and intensity. I must admit that I, as a former English teacher, would not be pleased with being told how and what to teach or with the amount of test preparation I would be expected to carry out, but I think she is blaming the wrong people when she attacks students and parents, and to some extent, the school administration. The foolishness, cruelty and destruction of school learning are the work of our federal and state governments and the so-called experts who have been given the power to determine what should be taught, when, and how.

 

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