In the spring, outside my classroom, on the window ledges of this hundred year old building, the sparrows call to one another in something of a song. It is idyllic. The morning sun angling through the third floor blinds casts shadows onto the wood floors while I’m seated at my desk prepping the day’s materials. And through this, the sparrows call to claim their territory.
We have reached the end of the school year again, late this time due to our post-Labor Day beginning. The lateness has afforded our students the opportunity, for better or worse, to see their state test scores prior to leaving for the summer. Unfortunately, just like last year, there has been no long term solution established regarding the Graduation Problem, and no short term extension of the additional pathways to graduation for the classes of 2019 & 2020 as recommended by the State School Board.
What this means is that sophomores and juniors have only their assessment scores as a path to graduation, and for many of them (50% or more in the urban districts) this is an unsettling uncertainty.
I’m not sure any of us arguing for a solution are terribly surprised by this lack of action from the Ohio Legislature. After all, a Republican majority in the House took months just to choose a new Speaker. Ohio suffers nearly triple the US average in opioid overdoses, and this same leadership has done little to remedy that situation. Ohio’s poverty rate exceeds the national average, and yet Republican gubernatorial hopeful Mike Dewine supports rolling back Medicaid expansion, potentially stripping poor families of their health care. Meanwhile, the state has as yet been unable to reclaim the 80 million in tax dollars taken fraudulently by ECOT, and some Ohio politicians still celebrate its accomplishments. We have plenty of fish to fry here in Ohio.
Why should I care so much about graduation when students don’t have enough to eat, and issues with addiction tear families apart, while politicians celebrate low unemployment while ignoring poverty, children are being taken from their parents by federal agents, and we’re being encouraged to consider Canada as a threat. The world is filled with absurdity and contradiction, gross inequality, and purposeful ignorance.
Each problem alone is built in this way. The graduation problem is the same, and as a high school teacher this is the issue at which I’ve chosen to take my swings. As I’ve indicated many times before, Ohio is one of only 13 states to require assessments for graduation. Advocates of the system make the dubious claim that the assessments assure that a student is college & career ready. Of course, no proof exists that standardized tests prove either of these things. Ohio leaders insist otherwise with no data to back up their assertion. When questioned on this punitive use of tests, they often become agitated, and suggest I’d hand out diplomas to kids for doing nothing.
In response to that, I suggest that the wealth of coursework taken during a student’s four years in high school (not to mention their efforts PK-8) are sufficient to qualify as achievement, and are certainly not, as they say, “nothing.” So far, Ohio Legislators have not wanted to hear my ideas on this issue, however thoughtful or data driven they may be.
Standardized tests best correlate to economic status. Generations of testing data prove this and yet policy makers refuse to acknowledge reality. For them, the assessment score seems to be the only item of value produced by a student throughout their educational career. This thought process has created in Ohio a situation where leaders believe that we are encouraging our children in poverty by punishing them by withholding diplomas. Again, absurdity, contradiction, gross inequality, and purposeful ignorance.
The consensus in Columbus seems to be that we could possibly allow too many students to graduate. I understand the idea of raising expectations and preparing students for the future, but nothing suggests that assessment based punishment is working to that end. And to be fair, higher expectations are contradictory to the state’s policies on other educational issues.
Ohio wants its students to seek career training, vocational credentials, & college degrees, but legislates in favor of charter schools that can be run by individuals with no experience in education. Districts that face HB 70 style takeovers are riddled with criminal absurdity. In Lorain, an unqualified CEO, a veteran of slapdash training in Teach for America, hires uncertified administrators to lead a severely economically disadvantaged district, promising that all future graduates will either be credentialed or have a degree in addition to their diploma. But the district leaders don’t have the appropriate credentials?!
Asking me to believe that complete deregulation of education in empoverished urban centers, and that often uneducated, unqualified, & uncertified personnel are best suited to encourage students to seek education and certification makes as much sense as asking me to believe that Canada is a threat, or that withholding diplomas due to test scores is in the best interest of students.
I cannot let go of the graduation issue because I see the terrible interconnectedness of many of these things. Poverty correlates to low test scores, and low test scores currently prevent graduation. I believe that preventing 40-50% (maybe more) of students in urban areas from earning a diploma based on a meaningless assessment system will only exacerbate poverty, potentially compound the opioid epidemic, & create more problems.
One of my students this year asked me what I get for all of this. “Like what do you get paid,” she asked, for following legislation, writing articles, communicating with (& getting insulted by) policy-makers, working toward fixing the graduation problem? “Nothing,” I told her. “There’s no, like, extra payment or anything.”
This small interaction really made me wonder why I keep after it. I’m tired, demoralized, and sometimes physically sick over this shit. Leadership in Columbus consistently fails to see my side of the argument. Why bother?
First, I am bemused by the absurdity that is being passed off as education policy.
Second, children are being done wrong, so it is the right thing to do.
And finally, I’m territorial just like these sparrows. My students deserve a better system.