Back in college, I had a conversation with a friend about his prospects.
My friend claimed his grades didn't matter; how he looked on paper didn't matter. What mattered was that he could get in front of the decision makers and charm them (state his case). There are many definitions of privilege. To my mind, this is one of them. Privilege is being able to get an audience with decision makers despite not meeting the original qualifications.
I've been involved (more than I ever wanted to be) in recent discussions about education, school structure and test scores. For anyone not intimately involved in this current American educational debate, test scores now define everything in most schools. The scores grade the teacher's performance. The law is called "No Child Left Behind". It means, for better or worse, what I remember from my school days is not longer what most students experience. The students spend more time on math and reading, lots of drills and benchmark tests. They get less for everything else; music, art, p.e. (gym), science and social studies.
The school my children attend is a great school, but they have low test scores. So now they're trying to keep the good things about the school, while raising the scores. I don't know if they will be successful.
One of the arguments for focusing on the test scores is that life is full of tests. (This is the argument an administrator told me). It's true, my school life was full of tests. I had to take a test for college admission. I took a test for post graduate admission. I took a basic math/spelling test to be a temporary secretary back in the 1990s (I got the job despite my spelling errors, more privilege I suppose).
But in my career as an IT professional, I've taken exactly one test. Maybe I took a personality test when applying for jobs (I don't remember), but only one content based multiple choice test. And that one test was a fluke (incredibly rare for my field).
So I disagree that tests are a part of life. They may be a part of academic life, but not a part of life for all fields in the working world. Most companies have yearly evaluations (or some performance system). Schools and teachers need outside evaluation. That's how accountability works. I'm accountable to my boss and my company. If I don't do my job by assessment, I get fired. That's how it works.
I'm not a teacher and I wouldn't dream of being one. It's not my skill set. It's hard work. And I challenge anyone who thinks it's easy to try it. Not everyone can teach successfully. Not everyone can work in IT or as a chef.
Some politicians imply by their statements (or actions) that any businessperson could teach - or could perhaps be a better teacher than trained teachers. In the next few years, that fallacy of that thought will be apparent. Allowing an untrained person to teach (or assuming they can teach without any training) is like allowing an untrained mechanic to work on my car, or an untrained nurse to put together my I.V. What constitutes as training is debatable and something worth discussing. But assuming anyone can teach without having any idea of subject matter, ways of learning, etc. is ignorant.
How do we independently verify schools and teachers without testing the kids? How do we account for a host of factors that need to be accounted for in that evaluation? What about everything that happens outside of school - which the research shows is a bigger predictor of test scores (and academic success)?
I don't have any answers. I know the system is not working currently. And I don't know how well children are learning. Are they being exposed to the wide range of needed skills (in addition to reading and math)? How do they learn what they want to do as an adult?
And do the teacher's unions and administrators have too much power?
A good public education system has been the foundation of U.S. success. I know there are ways to reform the system. But so much seems to hit the law of unintended consequences. With NCLB, lawmakers wanted to ensure that schools were held accountable.
But what happened is schools started teaching to the test, and teaching to the middle (bubble) kids. The kids in the middle who can improve, not the very low or very high performers.
I trust the issues will be resolved soon. I know many kids will succeed no matter what type of education they receive. And success can be defined very differently. This issue is not a simple one, and is much more about what type of society we want to be and create than anything else.