My fellow senators, I address you today to share what I learned about education in our country.
I knew I didn't have to do this, but it was something I felt I should do. After all, how could I vote on something I know nothing about, especially when these decisions affect so many people? The short answer is I couldn't. Not with a clear conscience, at least. I realize I can't observe the results of every bill passed, but I had to start somewhere.
As it turns out, they wouldn't even let me observe the students actually taking the high-stakes exams. That should have been my first red flag. Instead, I observed the same classroom a number of times right before and after the testing weeks. I wanted to see if there would be a difference in moral. I learned a lot, and felt like I was the one taking an exam. I just hope that I can pass on my "study guide" and that we don't fail this exam.
Leading to the exams, there was a pressure I could almost feel in the classroom. The teachers, administrators, and students all seemed to be nervous. I can't even count the number of times I heard the teachers stress the importance of these exams. They talked about how important it was to have good attendance during the exam weeks, and that they needed to get a good night's rest and eat a good breakfast during testing weeks. Isn't this important every day of the school year? Why the special emphasis on a couple of weeks?
The week before the exam, there were special events to try to get the students excited about the test. Let me repeat that for you. The schools are trying to get the students excited about sitting at their desks for hours on end, for multiple days in a row. Fellow senators, these exams may try to show us that our students are not learning, but they are not that dumb. They know when they are being bribed, led on, and duped. So even amid these special events, any excitement felt fake. After all, it was the teachers and administrators leading these events. The same ones who fear for their jobs if their students don't perform well on the tests.
Why have we placed the burden of proof on the results of one series of exams? What if a student has a bad day or a bad week? Shouldn't we look at more than academic progress and look at things that can't be measured by tests? I fear that we are teaching our students only how to pass tests. Where's the creativity in that? Where's the ingenuity in that? Where's the entertainment and fun in that? Don't we need all those things to make our country run?
I returned to that classroom a week after testing. Do you know what I heard that I didn't before? Laughter. I had students running up to me with their books to tell me about what they had just read. I talked to one student and asked her what she read after she finished her test. She told me she wasn't allowed to read after the test. I checked with the teacher and she confirmed this. Now, I know not all schools have that rule, but what is it about these tests that some schools feel they have to focus on the test so much that even reading for pleasure is banned during testing?
I talked to the teachers and administrators. They were glad the tests were over, but still nervous about the results. They felt their hands were tied and the only option they had was to teach to the test. At least now, one said, she could focus on teaching the subjects the students really needed to learn. Did you hear that? Teachers are skipping what they feel they need to teach for what they feel they have to teach for these tests. Shouldn't we let the teachers determine what should be taught and not the tests?
I urge all of you to observe in a classroom before you make one more vote on an education matter. I hope what I said makes an impression on you, but seeing it first hand will make an even bigger impression.
I don't know the answer to fix our education system, but I do know one thing. This isn't it.
This is fictional. I am not a teacher, but I have a great interest in education. I feel that every member of congress should be required to observe in a classroom before they can vote on education legislation. I realize this will never happen, but I wish it would.
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