2016 Eastern Washington Legislative Conference
Educator reviews history of public schools and current issues affecting them
Jonas Cox gives overview of education
Jonas Cox, associate professor in Gonzaga University’s School of Education, reminded participants at the Eastern Washington Legislative Conference workshop about the roots of public education in one-room schoolhouses in rural communities.
In the early years, family farmers survived on 40 acres, so there were many rural people. Today wheat farmers need thousands of acres to make a living, so many people have left rural areas to find jobs elsewhere.
“With the demographic shift, schools changed,” Jonas said. “During the Industrial Revolution, communities made schools like factories, as if children were raw materials coming to have knowledge attached as they moved on through the grades.
If students dropped out during the industrial era, there were jobs, but today everyone is expected to graduate before working.
In the production model, a teacher becomes like a factory worker, but the education system is not a production line, Jonas said.
“The standards/accountability movement arguably began in the Reagan era. Educational standards were very high because we believed that we simply had to raise standards, and students would hit them,” he said.
“Then came President George W. Bush and the standards became grade level expectations. Bush claimed that everyone should be at grade level,” Jonas said. “Federal funding became tied to test performance with the No Child Left Behind legislation.
“In the last 10 years, if students did not perform to grade levels on tests, the schools lost funding,” Jonas said. “Every category of student had to reach the standards, and teachers had to meet performance evaluations. Schools had to be accountable. That approach has not served students of color or poor students well.”
As schools failed, they risked the loss of federal funds, and the pressure on school systems mounted so states asked for waivers of No Child Left Behind standards, Jonas said.
Now accountability is even tracked to teacher training at universities.
“Gonzaga wants to train students to teach in communities with people of color and poor people, but those settings are hard,” he said. “There’s a scarcity of teachers in poor communities. Few stay at under-performing schools more than five years.”
Jonas also attributes the accountability movement with driving a shortage of teachers, because of the focus on assessments.
He said new guidelines limit testing, but it’s not enough. There is still a crisis to find qualified, quality teachers. Some schools have to hire emergency substitute teachers without credentials, or have principals cover classes.
Now there is demand for more elementary school teachers, because fewer are trained.
Children who are either beyond or below the standard often don’t have the attention they need, said Jonas.
“We have taken the accountability movement too far and left behind students and teachers,” he said.
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