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The Education Wars: A Prescription for Peace

Most observers of the educational landscape would agree that intractable conflicts between two opposing camps have roiled the educational conversation in this country. The rhetoric is fierce, the stakes are high and the warriors uncompromising.
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"K-12 education is an exhausted, blood-soaked battlefield 1."
~Nicolas Kristoff

Most observers of the educational landscape would agree that intractable conflicts between two opposing camps have roiled the educational conversation in this country. The rhetoric is fierce, the stakes are high and the warriors uncompromising. What can be done to move the needle forward?

A new approach may contain the seeds of a negotiated peace. This new stratagem, with its emphasis on a balanced message, offers an olive branch from the likes of Bill Gates to the third grader who is wetting his pants on exam day. Once and for all a united polity will get down to the business of improving a system that is in need of repair.

Borrowing liberally from the big pharma model of advertising prescription medications, the new ed message will be presented in two parts. Herewith, a submission for consideration:

The treatment...

Suffering from educational dysfunction is no laughing matter. Just when the time is right to advance seamlessly from third grade to fourth, your child cries that he has, once again, failed the test and that he is stupid. That's when preparation materials -- published by the same company which manufactured the test -- are a parent's best friend. Materials are readily available on-line or can be shipped -- for a nominal shipping charge -- to those families who cannot afford an in-home computer. These indispensable tools will turn a dull, lifeless child into a thriving -- and more importantly -- obedient young man or woman.

One dose of "go to your room and go over the preparation exercises and don't come out until you have done every last one," will have your child up and at it again in no time. Even those youngsters who insist that studying for standardized testing is a waste of time, will soon find the error of their ways. They will have a change of heart when mom and dad pull out the candy contained in the test prep packet, timed to release upon completion of a battery of exercise questions. And, best of all, the formerly obdurate, now reformed, youngster will feel renewed confidence that he can easily answer a multiple choice question about the difference between a minotaur and a monitor.

Back at school little Bobby will be radiant, knowing that he is prepared for the state tests. As he plays with other children, Bobby is not upset when the principal of his school determines that recess will be canceled for the rest of the year, to be replaced by more test prep time, a decision applauded by many from the ed business community. In the words of Eva Moskowitz, founder of Success Academy Charter Schools in NYC, when describing the message her schools give to their students: "Kids, you got to get it right the first time, and we're not playing."3 Obedience to a no nonsense approach will help a child get it right the first time with no excuses -- except, of course, for children with disabilities who will need to double the drill time to get it right ... and poor Thomas Edison who took 1,000 tries to get his light bulb right.

As we stroll through the schoolhouse we observe children writing in workbooks, sitting silently as the teacher goes round the room to watch over them, ensuring they are bubbling in the correct answers. Soon we come upon a pep rally where inspiring songs about passing the tests are sung by students, backed up by the school band and chorus. A superintendent congratulates the principal for a job well done as they await the arrival of the governor who is scheduled to make a speech honoring the school that has made the greatest improvement in test scores in the entire state. In the stands, representatives from the business community applaud and cheer, thrilled that the fun and games have been removed from schools so students can get back to the serious business of becoming college and career ready.

No pain on Sesame Street, no gain on main street.

It is certain that with these tough-love regimes, the test score results that return from the state several months later will be celebrated by all. The student will finally get it -- intimidation is the most powerful force on earth. The teacher will sigh with relief, no longer threatened with termination. And, the community will delight in the knowledge that their property values will remain intact.

Cut to happy children/proud parents montage.

The Cautions.

Standardized testing protocols should not be used with children who are sensitive to threats. Do not use the standardized testing approach if a child seems developmentally fragile. Warning signs include tantrums, especially use of foul language when discussing school personnel. Profound depression has been noticed in children who were considered spirited and imaginative before third grade.

If child is prone to wetting pants during stressful events, a change of clothes is recommended in school knapsack. Developmental psychologists have warned of permanent damage to self-esteem if school related feedback is negative and constant. Cramps, spasms and twitches are common during prolonged test prep sessions. Numbness in the extremities and a general lethargy, often observed in children who were once active and playful, can sometimes be cured with light electric stimulation. Signs of nausea should be expected anytime during the pre and post testing phases. During the days of testing vomitous episodes are common. Redness in the complexion and swelling in the limbs may be the sign of childhood hypertension, which may be an indication of more serious disease in adulthood. Constipation and diarrhea have been observed in both student and teacher subjects during the week of testing. Unpredictable urination and bowel discharges are to be expected at any time during remainder of childhood.

These are not all the side effects of testing preparation and administration impacting children. Ask your doctor or psychologist for more information or call the FDA high stakes testing hotline, available weekends, 9-5, during July and August.

Parents of school-aged children can expect a full range of emotional reactions to standardized measurement of their youngsters, including overwhelming anxiety coupled with intense anger which can lead to irrational behavior and impaired judgement. Consult a doctor for distress lasting more than four hours. Psychiatric medications may be indicated. Alcoholic beverages should be kept out of the home while children attend grades 3-8.

The teaching profession is likely to experience a severe and perhaps fatal reaction with the introduction of standardized testing. Those educators who live in states which evaluate teachers using a numbering system are particularly vulnerable. Consult the federal department of education if you think your state has accepted Race to the Top funding.

Long term consequences for the local community are uncertain. Supportive, loving relationships, patience, tolerance for mistakes, miscellaneous gestures of kindness and a general appreciation for healthy human development are contraindicated while using standardized testing measurement. Confusion and disorientation may occur. Creativity, innovation and originality may be reduced to dangerously low levels, threatening the viability of the nation as a whole.

Cut to forlorn teenager sucking thumb.

So there you have it. The presentation of a framework for academic success from those who are rich and powerful followed by warnings from those who are willing to question authority.

The education wars may be over.

Or, maybe not.


1. Kristoff, N. (2015, April 23). Beyond Education Wars. New York Times, Op-Ed

2. Taylor, K. (2015, April 7). At Charters, High Scores and Polarizing Tactics, New York Times