Thursday, May 16, 2013

Closure of Gordon Parks Elementary Demonstrates Moral Bankruptcy of Standardized Testing

Today, we saw in graphic form the moral bankruptcy of standardized testing in this country. The State of Missouri closed Gordon Parks Elementary, a specialized charter school in Kansas City, for repeatedly failing the standardized state tests that the state administers.

Gordon Parks is a charter school that specializes in catering to the needs of students in the direst poverty. We all agree on the need to hold public schools accountable. But the problem with standardized tests is that they cater to a one size fits all approach. It doesn't matter if you are the best and the brightest or if wondering where your next meal will come from is much more important than getting an education. Everybody has to take the test and everybody is judged the same. If you score 100, you are a success. If you score 50, you are a failure. The corporations that devise these tests walk away with a tidy profit.

The problem with these tests is that they dishonor the men and women in uniform who have fought for our freedoms throughout our country's history. Our country was founded on the notion that all people everywhere were entitled to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, an ideal that we fought a civil war over. After we won the Civil War, we no longer believed that Black lives were only worth a fraction of a White life. So why are we now turning around and assigning a value to human life?

The state's rationale is that only 10-20% of the students were passing the state standardized tests, which have to be given to students no matter what. Well, if these students were to write a test about life in their neighborhood and what they have to go through every day, I'm sure that only 10-20% of us would pass their tests. You see how subjective testing is? All it does is reflect the cultural biases of the corporations who devise these tests.

But when an unholy alliance of politicians, bureaucrats, and corporations come together to profit off the backs of our children, these sorts of travesties of justice happen. The corporations walk away with their profits. The bureaucrats are simply doing their jobs and shutting themselves out from the rest of the world. The politicians say this "proves" that school accountability works. The children are the ones who suffer.

We all agree that schools can and should be held accountable for student performance. The state rightfully has shut down other charter schools that have had gross financial and management issues. But if the schools are on a sound financial footing and they are serving the needs of the students, then they should not be shut down. This sad episode shows that the only people who are properly qualified to determine whether the children are learning properly are the people who actually live and work with the children in question, not some far-off politician or bureaucrat in Jefferson City or Washington and certainly not some corporation in some cozy skyscraper in New York City.

And on top of the fact that hundreds of families are scrambling to find their next meal even more now that the school will no longer be able to feed these kids during the summer, there is the issue of what to do with a building that will now be vacant. In other words, the state is simply creating blight and an eyesore, seeing that there will be one more vacant building that is no longer being used, that will soon (10-15 years) develop leaky roofs and flooding that nobody can afford to fix.

There is a double standard at work here. A few years ago, the state decided to allow Premium Standard Farms, one of the largest CAFO's in the country, to keep operating despite the company having twice submitted to consent judgments in massive environmental lawsuits filed against the company. That is on top of the numerous nuisance lawsuits that the company has lost to neighbors who have to live next to the stink of these hog farms. The rationale was that they were too big to fail and provided thousands of jobs to a blighted region in north Missouri. Furthermore, if they were shut down, nobody knew who would foot the bill for the astronomical cleanup costs that would have followed.

But here, the state is ignoring the economic catastrophe that is sure to follow the closure of Gordon Parks. Hundreds of people will be without jobs; children will be without a place to eat during the summer, and the community will suffer given that schools are the lifeblood of the communities and neighborhoods that they are located in. When hopelessness sets in, that is when the drug dealers move in to sell drugs to our children. And then our politicians wonder why we are not making headway on the so-called "War on Drugs."

Recently, Pope Francis reminded us to be more mindful of the poor living in our midst. It was a powerful call that got a recommended diary at Daily Kos, not normally a friendly platform for the Pope or the Catholic Church. Unfortunately, by its practice of assigning values to human lives, the politicians and bureaucrats and the corporations have done the exact opposite.

 The words of the Prophet Ezekiel are very much relevant to this situation. All it would have taken was one person to "stand in the gap" and take a stand against the moral turpitude that passes for "school accountability" these days. But apparently, nobody in Jefferson City or Washington or Corporate America cares about the kids of Gordon Parks or other such kids around the country.

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