I wrote earlier this week about the frightening posdibility that we as a nation might be facing a future in which jobs are scarce, due to globalization (which encourages outsourcing to low-wage countries) and technology (in which computers and robots will replace large numbers of workers).
As it happened, Anthony Cody wrote a complementary post in which he factored in the rigorous Common Core standards and tests as the great sorting mechanism that will determine winners and losers in the new economy. The good test-takers will get the good jobs, and those with low scores will get the scraps or nothing at all.
The middle class is shrinking, he writes. There won’t be enough jobs for all who seek work. Students are crushed by debt.
“A smaller number of Americans will be better off than their parents – even with the advantage of better education. We are looking at a lottery system with fewer and fewer winners, and many more losers. And our educational system is being prepared for this.
“Our schools are the center of a battle for our collective soul.
“Our schools can be laboratories of democracy, controlled by local citizens, connected to the life blood of the community, preparing children to engage with and transform the world they are entering. The documentary series, A Year at Mission Hill shows what such a school looks like, and how it cares for the students, and nurtures their dreams as they grow. Most of us entered teaching with this vision in mind.
“But our schools can also be the place where dreams are squashed. A place where students are sorted into winners and losers based on their test scores. Students who are given academic tasks that are beyond their ability or developmental level become frustrated and discouraged. When I taught 6th grade math in Oakland, one of my greatest challenges was the many students who arrived and would write on my introductory survey, “I am bad at math.” These self images form early, and the scientific precision of our tests creates a false portrait that becomes indelible when reiterated time and again come test time. What we are creating is a system that says “If you are bad at math, and these many other difficult things on our tests, you are not prepared for college or career, and you are worthless…
“Our educational system is being used as a means to rationalize the economic marginalization of a growing number of students. That process will hit those already marginalized by class and race the hardest….
“These are the children that our educational system is being prepared to look in the eye and say “you are not going to be able to attend a good college.” In fact, many of you may not even graduate from high school if plans proceed to use these tests as graduation exams.
“So the students who have been labeled as “not ready for college or career” will be released into society, to join the permanently unemployed or underemployed, the low wage service sector, their jobs vulnerable to computerization.
“And what will the story be that explains why will this is their fate? It will not be because jobs have been sent overseas. Not because technology is increasing productivity and reducing the need for labor. Not because the economy is delivering ever more wealth to an ever smaller number of oligarchs. No. The story will be that they are surplus because they did not achieve the education needed to make themselves indispensable to some company’s bottom line. They are surplus because they are not needed to make the machinery of our society run.”
It doesn’t have to be this way.
“The trends are not positive, so long as we are stuck in our current economic model. Teachers have a role to play. We can cooperate with the system, and validate the tests as accurate indicators of our students’ value as “productive members of society.” That is what we are asked to do when Bill Gates and Arne Duncan implore us to help implement the Common Core. Or we can offer our own vision of the role of education as a catalyst for democratic change. And that change that will increasingly require us to question the imperatives of an economy that no longer serves the majority of Americans, and reject the ranking and sorting of our students into those with and without economic value.”