straw man


Let’s look at stories from Britain and the United States about the concerning behavior/emotional health of children.  What similarities do they share?

First story from Mirror News in Britain: Generation Stress: Scandal of our depressed kids as thousands of under-10s are treated for mental health problems

Thousands of children aged 10 and under are being treated for depression, stress and anxiety, an investigation by the Daily Mirror has revealed.

Tormented by bullies, under ­pressure to fit in and bombarded with school assessments, many youngsters today find themselves struggling to cope.

Savage Coalition cuts to the network of support for affected youngsters means many end up needing hospital treatment because their psychological problems have spiralled out of control – piling more ­pressure on NHS budgets.

A worrying 4,391 children aged 10 or under have received treatment for stress, anxiety or depression in the last five years, according to figures from two of Britain’s biggest NHS mental health trusts. But the total number of primary school pupils affected is likely to be far higher.

Yet two-thirds of local authorities have had to slash their budgets for early ­intervention schemes such as educational ­psychologists, social workers and parenting, programmes services, since the Tory-led Coalition came to power in 2010.

The YoungMinds mental health charity urged the Government to stop cutting vital funding to support networks in a bid to prevent a child psychology crisis.

Campaigns chief Lucie Russell said: “An increase in under-11s needing mental health services is a sad and very worrying indictment of the society we live in and the pressures children face.

“Every day we hear about the ­unprecedented toxic climate young people face in a 24/7 online culture where they can never switch off, where they ­experience constant assessments at school, bullying, ­sexualisation, consumerism and pressure to have the perfect body at a young age.

The article goes on to recommend more mental health spending for these students, not the cessation of “constant assessments”.  It’s not that the assessments are the problem apparently, it’s the lack of the mental health services needed because of the assessments and other social factors.  (Here is a report encouraging international standards/assessments for countries to share so what happens in Britain should be a concern to Americans).

Read more here.
Second story from The Washington Post A very scary headline about kindergarteners:

A working paper called “Is Kindergarten the New First Grade? The Changing Nature of Kindergarten in the Age of Accountability,” by Daphna Bassok and Anna Rorem of the University of Virginia’s EdPolicyWorks, a center on education policy and competitiveness, notes that kindergarten has been transformed over the last decade, with academic skill-being taking center stage.

For some kids, learning to read in kindergarten is just fine. For many others, it isn’t. They just aren’t ready. In years gone by, kids were given time to develop and learn to read in the early grades without being seen as failures. Even kids who took time learning how to read were able to excel.
Today kids aren’t given time and space to learn at their own speed.
Writer Alfie Kohn wrote in this post about concerns he has about the new calls for universal early childhood education. Why? Because when people talk about “high-quality programs,” they often mean academic programs, meaning the academic focus is being pushed down to younger and younger kids.
Very few people are talking about the kind of education that would be offered — other than declaring it should be “high quality.” And that phrase is often interpreted to mean “high intensity”: an accelerated version of skills-based teaching that most early-childhood experts regard as terrible. Poor children, as usual, tend to get the worst of this….

… The top-down, test-driven regimen of Bush’s “No Child Left Behind” and Obama’s “Race to the Top” initiatives in K-12 education is now in the process of being nationalized with those Common Core standards championed by the Times — an enterprise largely funded, and relentlessly promoted, by corporate groups. That same version of school reform, driven by an emphasis on global competitiveness and a determination to teach future workers as much as possible as soon as possible, would now be expanded to children who are barely out of diapers.

The article goes on to tell the readers how to minimize this assessment crazy version of kindergarten expectations:  review program practices, alter assessment expectations, parents must provide play at home that the kindergartners don’t get at school.  In other words, the academic program is here to stay, it just needs to implemented in a better manner.

Read more here.

Third story from The Washington Post NY principals: Why new Common Core tests failed:

Even if these tests were assessing students’ performance on tasks aligned with the Common Core Standards, the testing sessions—two weeks of three consecutive days of 90-minute (and longer for some) periods—were unnecessarily long, requiring more stamina for a 10-year-old special education student than of a high school student taking an SAT exam. Yet, for some sections of the exams, the time was insufficient for the length of the test. When groups of parents, teachers and principals recently shared students’ experiences in their schools, especially during the ELA exams with misjudged timing expectations, we learned that frustration, despondency, and even crying were common reactions among students. The extremes were  unprecedented: vomiting, nosebleeds, suicidal ideation, and even hospitalization.

There were more multiple-choice questions than ever before, a significant number of which, we understand, were embedded field-test questions that do not factor into a child’s score but do take time to answer and thus prevent students from spending adequate time on the more authentic sections like the writing assessment. In English, the standards themselves and everything we as pedagogues know to be true about reading and writing say that multiple interpretations of a text are not only possible but necessary when reading deeply. However, for several multiple choice questions the distinction between the right answer and the next best right answer was paltry at best. The fact that teachers report disagreeing about which multiple-choice answer is correct in several places on the ELA exams indicates that this format is unfair to students. Further, the directions for at least one of the English Language Arts sessions were confusing and tended to misdirect students’ energies from the more authentic writing sections. The math tests contained 68 multiple-choice problems often repeatedly assessing the same skills. The language of these math questions was often unnecessarily confusing. These questions should not be assessing our students’ ability to decipher convoluted language. Instead, they should be assessing deep understanding of core concepts.

….we respectfully request a conversation about the direction of New York’s Common Core State Exams. As the state is in its early phases of Common Core assessment, we have a wonderful opportunity to align our efforts towards learning that best prepares our children for their future lives. We believe we can do better – and we are committed to helping New York realize the full promises of Common Core.

The underlying theme in this letter is that the assessments are skewed because of Pearson errors. Read the headline again on this article, NY principals: Why new Common Core tests failed.   It’s not that the CCSS inherently is flawed and a circumvention of political process to sign states into agreements with private organizations, it’s that the assessments are not valid and do not correlate to the standards.

Read more here.

We have been giving several speeches to folks around the state about Common Core.  It’s not the standards themselves we talk about, it’s that these standards are controlled by private organizations with no accountability measures.  It’s the fact that the standards’ adoption/implementation have violated several Missouri state statutes (and probably in your state as well).  That matter of not following the law has been ignored by the Common Core apologists.  Do you see how the argument is being shaped by the proponents into it’s a problem of:

  • implementation
  • faulty assessments
  • not enough parental support
  • not enough money for administrative/mental health support
It’s a classic example of the straw man argument:
A straw man, also known in the UK as an Aunt Sally, is a common type of argument and is an informal fallacy based on misrepresentation of the topic of argument.
Don’t be fooled.  The basic problem causing students to implode, self-mutilate, suggest suicide, etc is not from poor implementation, lack of parental support, lack of federal money, privatization, etc.  It is the

same version of school reform (NCLB and Race to the Top), driven by an emphasis on global competitiveness and a determination to teach future workers as much as possible as soon as possible, would now be expanded to children who are barely out of diapers.

When education demands children be viewed as human capital and future global workers, and what the capital should know and how the capital should behave, I expect we will see more stories of suffering children.  Don’t believe the calls for more money, better implementation, better assessments, more parental support will “fix” nationalized standards/assessments and decrease the violent reactions of kids because of this increased testing.

The root problem IS nationalized standards/assessments and the tracking of the results to determine the human capital’s effectiveness for the global workforce.  Don’t try to save a rotten system.  Get rid of it and start over.  Stop the nonsense of it’s implementation, it’s the teacher’s fault, it’s the parent’s fault, it’s the kid’s fault.  The fault lies squarely on the shoulders of the private organizations, the political bureaucrats, the politicians who planned and pushed these standards/assessments and remade the direction/development of public education.






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