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High expectations have become “the raised bar”

There is nothing wrong with high expectations, or with “raising the bar”. Good teaching includes working towards students having a depth in skills, and the ability to maintain rigor in their studies. It has always been that way. What has been happening through current corporate-driven reforms, though, is a shift away from natural, collaborative and logically scaffolded experiences and assessments. Instead of sound learner development, we are being hit with”the raised bar” of unreal and out of touch expectations and demands.

Like other reform talking points and catch-phrases (“grit”, “rigor”) the word expectations (or “raising the bar”) is something that reformers use to validate what they do to other people’s children. Apparently, those children haven’t been doing well enough, so we need to “raise the bar”. By pressing reform forward from this starting point, and by using impersonal data and formulas, the conditions those children are living in can be avoided. Reformers, approaching carefully and craftily can make sure that those things are not the issue. Instead the focus is on the cost and effectiveness of public servants trying to help those children. “Raising the bar” on these victims and servants distracts from the misdeeds of the very perpetrators pressing for reforms and raised bars. But what about the front-end factors more closely correlated to academic success on the back end? What should do we do about the need to be “ready to learn” before school even begins?

Raising the bar on readiness

Already, today’s kids are coming to school with less of the things that create “school readiness”. Reading time at home ; unstructured, live, active play with peers; a routine of care and responsibility that comes with economic and social stability…These things are being replaced by screen-time: hand-held devices and computer games, being unsupervised outside of school. In urban communities the out-of-school conditions can mean even more detrimental. Poverty, while not an “excuse”, is a factor correlated with many other negative impacts on a developing child and their family. Many (if not all) of these factors intertwine and have an influence over academic achievement and outcomes. In communities that struggle, you often find schools that struggle as well. Play is being diminished as academic demands from above are pushed down to the grades below-even primary grades. As an elementary teacher I have watched as the ability in the upper grades to attend to task and write neatly has washed away along with the finger painting, clay squeezin and group play that once existed below.

Avoiding obligations, placing blame

Much of what is happening in school reform has happened before. The willingness of government to paint schools as unworthy and then bend the direction of education to match the desires of corporate-backed policy-makers and their designs on our nation, the world, and its economy is well documented.

“A Nation at Risk” (1983) portrayed our school system as a threat to the nation then, and that same spirit of accusation has come back. The economy has been gamed by those who already enjoy a disproportionate benefit and the protections that their wealth can buy. The most recent attack on schools has been accompanied by all the tidy little catch phrases that come with such campaigns to win over public opinion. Schools it seems, and teachers-especially public schools and unionized teachers are to blame for everything.
Now, the economy’s precarious situation; the government’s reluctance to meet its obligation to public servants that give up pay to pension and retirement systems; the failure of investors to invest and job creators to create…It’s all not because we need to raise expectations and impose accountability on our leaders: It because teachers (again, it’s public school unionized teachers) aren’t teaching hard enough and can’t be fired easily enough. Remember how, on the heels of the 2008 financial crisis we kept hearing about “shared sacrifice”? The sacrifice became extending retirement age, concessions for public worker wages and benefits, and eliminating employee bargaining rights. Pretty much a middle to below class give was what was being called for and popular news stories revolved around how much money was being paid to greedy public workers. Expectations must have included some give from the most wealthy-right?
Yet banks were bailed out. Bonuses continued to roll. Raises in corporate and finance wages and compensations continued to far outpace anything in the “real world”. Corporate profits continue to break records. How has the sacrifice been shared?

Why is this happening?

There is a distinct difference between heart, soul, mind, and wallet. Unfortunately, wallet wins up front, as it is winning now. Money is making decisions that make other people more money than they are worth. But the tide is beginning to turn. Keep thinking, keep talking, keep writing, and keep voting. We need reform, for sure, but it is on the policy end first, and THEN in schools. It needs to look different than the top down press. It needs to be lifted from within, by the students, communities and teachers that know what they are doing.

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