Kim Caise drew my attention this evening to the March 26, 2008 article in a San Antonio-based newspaper “Teachers say principal threatened to kill them if TAKS test scores didn’t improve.” Incredibly, the principal was apparently not kidding in issuing this death threat to his teachers. According to the article:

Anita White, who taught at New Braunfels Middle School for 18 years before being transferred this month to the district’s Learning Center, said Principal John Burks made the threat in a Jan. 21 meeting with eighth-grade science teachers. She said Burks was angry that scores on benchmark tests were not better, and the scores on the upcoming Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills tests must show improvement. “He said if the TAKS scores were not as expected he would kill the teachers,” White said. “He said ‘I will kill you all and kill myself.’ He finished the meeting that way and we were in shock. Obviously, we talked about it among ourselves. He just threatened our lives. After he threatened to kill us, he said, ‘You don’t know how ruthless I can be.’ “We walked out of the meeting just totally dumbfounded because it was not a joke,” White said.

We should all be outraged to live in an educational and political culture which has led to a news headline like this. For YEARS in Texas, teachers and administrators have been force-fed a single message from the state legislature:

The lives, interests, goals and dreams of the children with whom you work each day mean nothing. Every child in our schools is simply a test score. Children provide meaning and value to our school districts and our communities based on two things: The test scores which they can provide (which are published in our newspapers as the single barometer of educational excellence) and the cumulative seat-time they generate which provides funds to keep school systems open and operational.

Think I’m exaggerating? I’m not. You won’t read those words in the enabling Texas legislation for TAAS and TEKS exams, but that is the message Texas educators (and others) have received based on what is currently valued in our schools. Please note I am NOT saying all teachers believe the above paraphrase. I know many, many wonderful educators in Texas and other states who patently reject this ridiculous focus on test scores and accountability. It is sad to see, however, that MANY educators (including many administrators, like the one described in this article) have drank the kool-aid of educational accountability and attempt to coerce others to do the same.

I am personally FED UP with the harmful, destructive, and immoral focus which our legislators and educational leaders continue to champion in focusing myopically on standardized test scores. Kim asked a rhetorical question with the title of her post, “Has Testing in Texas Gone too Far?” There is a simple and obvious answer to this question: YES. High stakes accountability has not only gone too far in Texas, it has gone too far in our nation via NCLB. I am reminded of Gandalf’s words in the crypt of Minas Tirith when Denethor was about to kill his son and himself on a funeral pyre. Gandalf (Sir Ian McKellen) said:

Stay this madness!

Who will “stay the madness” of high-stakes accountability in our U.S. schools? YES, testing has “gone too far” in our schools and society more generally.

For more elaboration on WHY this answer is yes, refer to my previous post “Paying teachers for high student test scores is BAD policy,” my February 2008 podcast, “Pedagogic Crimes Against Students,” Dr. David Berliner’s April 2006 presentation “High Stakes Testing is the Enemy,” and my February 2008 post “A contrary view of education and NCLB.”

Is this story of a New Braunfels principal threatening teachers with DEATH if their students don’t score high on state mandated tests an anomaly? Of course. The CULTURE of high stakes testing and accountability in our schools however, not only in Texas but increasingly across our entire nation, is sadly NOT.

It is time to END the madness. Why can’t we elect governmental leaders who are actually intelligent and well informed when it comes to educational policy?

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  • Greg Pruett

    I agree with you, to a point. The idea of education is to EDUCATE our population so that we have a more intelligent and skilled workforce. I definitely agree that NCLB is a complete and utter failure. We need to educated our children and we need to have standards in doing so. Set the bar high for our young people but keep an eye on them to give them a hand when they need it.

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