MCAS opposition: Another
Published in the Brookline
September 7, 2000
Despite mounting evidence that the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment
System is bad for kids, state and local school authorities are beginning
another year of dumb-downed preparation for an educationally unjustifiable
test. This year, high school sophomores who fail the English or Math portion
will be told they won't graduate in 2003 unless they take the test again
and pass. MCAS opponents are already mobilizing to stop the political
and pedagogical bullies from doing further harm.
The prospect of thousands of MCAS failures has led to increasingly ludicrous
extremes. Now Governor Paul Cellucci, worried that the no-graduation threat
hasn't done enough to whip schools into shape, has put Lieutenant Governor
Jane Swift in charge and announced a plan for 30,000 volunteers to tutor
Swift's new job immediately brought guffaws. MCAS opponents should be
pleased, though, because she's the perfect MCAS proponent. Who could better
highlight MCAS's educational vacuousness and politically regressive aims
than an ethically obtuse big-business flunky whose only teaching experience
bears zero resemblance to the circumstances faced by teachers who actually
earn their credentials?
Getting thousands of volunteers to provide cover for the state's failure
to properly fund schools is a clever ploy. Volunteers are important in
a decent society. But volunteers can't substitute for needed institutional
change. Although personal attention to individual students is always welcome,
the energy and money spent on training and administering tutors would
be better directed at cutting down classroom size.
Cellucci's latest moves cap other efforts to head off politically disastrous
MCAS results. Yet offering tutors and tinkering with MCAS questions and
exploring exceptions and accommodations and two-tier diploma alternatives
are little more than political and bureaucratic public relations gimmicks
designed to dampen and divide the opposition. We need to be wary of efforts
to give MCAS a superficial facelift.
That's as true here in Brookline as it is across the state. Let's keep
in mind that MCAS is bad policy for the state as a whole as well as for
Brookline, bad for special education and bad for regular education, bad
for excellent students and bad for struggling students, bad for wealthy
students and bad for poor students.
Recognizing this, the primary goal of CARE (the statewide Coalition for
Authentic Reform in Education) is modest and reasonable: getting the legislature
to eliminate the MCAS graduation requirement while strengthening support
for public education in poorly served urban and rural districts.
At BrooklineCARE's summertime Coolidge Corner table, hundreds of passersby
indicated their support, bought buttons, and signed petitions. This fall,
the group will seek stronger anti-MCAS statements from our embarrassingly
cautious School Committee and Selectmen; a similar statement will be on
the November Town Meeting Warrant. (To subscribe to the BrooklineCARE
email discussion list, send a blank email to email@example.com;
to join the statewide group's list, send to firstname.lastname@example.org.)
In addition to BrooklineCARE, I also belong to the separate Brookline
Boycott Support Group, which aids students who boycott MCAS as well as
parents who don't let their fourth-graders take the exam. The boycott
continues this year despite the higher stakes; after all, if the state
doesn't cancel the no-diploma threat, boycotting sophomores can always
take the test later, and some determined sophomores will boycott regardless
of consequences. For eighth- and fourth-graders, the stakes are no higher
than last year.
Unfortunately, Brookline's School Councils and PTOs have been noticeably
missing from the public MCAS debate. Brookline parents should ask their
children's principal how MCAS affects their school and what consequences
there are for refusing to take the test or to participate in year-long
test-prep activities. We should pin them down about the MCAS curriculum
impact: what's been added, what's been simplified, what's been lost?
Some School Committee members claim Brookline's curriculum is not altered
just to meet MCAS demands, but our own children and teachers recognize
the lie. This kind of falsity would be more understandable coming from
the new Education Czar than from those we elect to oversee our schools.