Monday, December 9, 2013

Dr. Richard O'Malley: Willing Martyr for the Standardized Testing Industry

Edison Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Richard O'Malley and the democratically elected Board of Education (BOE) which hired him, have unanimously embraced a new bureaucratic paradigm for Edison Township. Henceforth, decision making primarily on the basis of high stakes standardized test data is the way of the world. When faced with a petition from more than 400 citizens and a packed auditorium of concerned parents, teachers, and administrators, O'Malley and the Board of Education stood firm, turned away from the basic principles of representative democracy, and refused to acquiesce to the unprecedented demands of the school community.  And you had better get used to it.

O'Malley and the BOE did not say much, but what they did say is eye-opening.  O'Malley  asserted, "I know it is not easy and there are a lot of nonbelievers, and these decisions are not popular. Yet sometimes what is right is not always popular."  O'Malley is asserting that he and the BOE have the moral high ground and they will not give it up easily.  O'Malley wants us to know it is "not easy" to ignore hundreds of members of the Public School Community, but he and the BOE are too strong to allow something as flimsy as the will of the community to get in the way of doing what they consider good work.  One could almost hear O'Malley and the BOE mutter over the poor unknowing Edison residents, "Forgive them Father, they know not what they do..."  Such assertions of moral superiority beg the question: Do O'Malley and the BOE have righteousness on their side here?

If in fact the BOE and O'Malley have the moral high ground it should be persuasive and easily made clear.  O'Malley is correct about one thing - many things which are today considered "right" have been at one point "unpopular."  In this country, the abolition of slavery was very unpopular for decades.  The notion that women should have the right to vote was, for an even longer time, pretty unpopular, too.  So if O'Malley is correct then the question we are faced with is this: In the future, will managing the public schools primarily through the use of standardized test data appear as obviously righteous and morally upstanding as ending slavery or giving women the right to vote?  I believe it is foolish to think that some day in the future educational communities across the nation will press their collective hands to their foreheads and say, "My goodness, how obvious now.  We should only have cared about the Language Arts proficiency rates of grades three through five when determining whether our schools were successful!"  It sounds ridiculous because it is ridiculous.

The truth is, more often than not, things are unpopular because they are wrong.  The decision to remove Principal Schutz from Lindeneau School in the middle of the school year is indefensible and wrong. O'Malley and the BOE have no answer for residents when they ask,"What about her ability to create a safe learning environment?  What about her ability to work with and engage at-risk children?  What about her ability to reach out to the parents of her community and involve them in the learning process?  What about her success in teaching character and responsibility to our children?  What about the personal relationships she has developed with all of the students in her school?"  O'Malley and the BOE refuse to answer those questions because the answer would embarrass them.  The answer is that all of those aforementioned ideals, which should be held in the highest regard, don't matter much to O'Malley and the BOE these days... and they certainly don't matter as much as NJASK Language Arts "proficiency" data.

(I'm paraphrasing without interfering with meaning here) O'Malley says, "In this new age of school reform... test scores do count, and they count more today than they ever have before... and it can no longer be pushed aside or discounted."  O'Malley is right about test scores counting more than ever but whether they can be pushed aside or discounted remains to be seen (and is largely in the hands of American citizens).

By no means have we arrived at a consensus with regard to the value of high stakes testing.  Nonetheless, school officials at every level are pushing an agenda that would allow big stakes testing to dictate personnel decisions and define the success and failure of schools, teachers, and children.  And they don't much care if you agree or disagree.

I chose the Lindeneau School incident for my inaugural post because it offers a window into everything that threatens the American Public School.  This incident will allow me, in future posts, to examine, among other things: 1 - The costs, corruption, and flaws rampant in the standardized testing industry. 2 - The countless experts in the field of education attempting to stem the tide of big stakes testing inherent in the "Common Core." 3 - The inanities involved when we apply broad stroke educational "reforms" to strikingly different communities across our nation, 4 - The questionable motives involved with the private sector's push to make broad stroke national education "reform" a Public School reality 5 - Most importantly, the ways in which citizens can effectively work to combat high stakes testing and have their voices heard when democratically elected leaders turn their back.

Thanks for taking the time to read.  I look forward to hearing reactions and criticisms.  I am always happy to hear from people who can expose flaws in my arguments or my logic.

Yours in education,

Tyler L. Van Pelt

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