Friday, October 29, 1999
Those who believe that civil discourse has gone the way of the dinosaur need only look at the past month's letters-to-the-editor concerning the Conant Land and affordable housing to discover otherwise. The debate being waged in print has been conducted with restraint and respect, and, consequently, the letters have been informative, not inflammatory. Those writers representing all sides of this issue, proponent and opponent alike, are to be commended.
Now it is time to transform our words into deeds. At next Tuesday's Special Town Meeting, several issues will be presented to the voters that can only benefit from following the example set forth recently in the Mosquito. Dispassionate, reasoned discussion, seasoned with respect for our fellow townspeople, will lead us to the best solutions possible.
On another topic, though adults may think of this week as Town Meeting week, our children know that the really important upcoming event is Halloween. Here are two Halloween wishes. One: let's follow Terry Golson's suggestion from last week's paper and drop a bag or two of candy off at Daisy's Market this Saturday to help out those besieged folks who live in the town center. What with the Daltons gone, the library building empty and the Carlisle Witch retiring, they can use all the support we can give them. And two: I hope that whoever spirited away little Evan Carpenito's pumpkins (see letter below) will return them, proving to us all that the Great Pumpkin really does exist.
As those who know me can attest, the Massachusetts Science & Technology/Engineering Curriculum Frameworks and the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) testing program will trigger a tirade that's uncharacteristic of my otherwise affable nature.
The most recent public comment draft of these frameworks fails abysmally as a statement of appropriate expectations for K-12 science and technology/engineering instruction. For example, the learning standards for high school chemistry fail to address key concepts such as the mole, equilibrium, or entropy. Yet, they require that students be erroneously taught that metallic and ionic bonding lead to the formation of molecules.
The learning standards for high school physics instruction state that students should be taught that " to see an object, light must enter the eye." Then teachers are urged to " use a series of activities that help students realize that light must enter the eye in order to see." In case this isn't lame enough, the accompanying Teachers' Notes caution that "This is an extremely difficult concept and some students will not master this understanding at this level."
Meanwhile, the technology/engineering standards specify that students must be able to "Observe, explore, and analyze the processes and systems used in construction as foundations are placed, superstructures are erected, and utilities are installed." They also require that students "Use electronic and graphic media to explore and analyze telecommunications processes and systems, including source, encoder, transmitter, signal, channel, receiver, decoder, and destination."
These standards range from incomplete, erroneous, and pathetic to ridiculously technical. Yet, they will become the foundation of the MCAS exam if they survive. And that summons forth my next jolt of adrenaline the MCAS itself. This examination requires more time to administer than the law boards. It truncates the school year in May. It contains faulty questions. And its 1999 state-level development and administration costs were approximately $105 per student. For comparison, this year's Concord Carlisle High School science budget includes only $24 per student for texts, instructional/lab supplies, and lab equipment.
The State Board of Education has selected the MCAS exam as the sole device for denying diplomas to students and ranking the quality of the state's public schools. Given the faulty curriculum standards and the fact that this test has yet to be validated as an evaluative instrument, the arrogance of this action defies reason unless, of course, the goal is to undermine confidence in public education.
Four members of the State Board of Education, including its chairman, James Peyser, are members or advisers of The Pioneer Institute (www.pioneerinstitute.org) which is a major force for privatizing public education. Two board members are affiliated with a "for profit" charter school company, Advantage Schools, Inc., that was awarded two school charters this past year. Are the wolves guarding our sheep?
Educational practices can always be improved. Any educator who concludes otherwise should leave the profession. But let's identify what's good and build upon it at the local level rather than allow ourselves to be manipulated by corporate interests and state officials whose objectives are not necessarily in the best interests of all students. I urge those interested in ed reform to check out the Assessment Reform Network's website (www.fairtest.org).
My professional life is dedicated to enhancing the science literacy of our youth. When I see my profession inappropriately bashed when I'm being told what to teach by sources who clearly are not competent to do so and, especially when I see young people being harmed I become very, very angry.
© 1999 The Carlisle Mosquito