Things we often hear:
“So-and-so’s child transferred to the local public school because the classwork there is easier and less challenging.”
“Public school teachers simply “teach to the test” and our kids aren’t being taught how to think for themselves.”
After hearing these things over and over, I decided to find out the answers to these questions: 1)What is being taught in our public school classrooms? and 2)Exactly what types of questions are on these state tests?
I called my good friend Ed Abdella, a History teacher at Meridian High School. Ed holds a Masters in American History and is an Army veteran of the Iraq War. He currently teaches Advanced Placement U.S. History as well as the standard U.S. History class that all Meridian High 11th graders were tested in during the ’10-’11 school year(this year, 9th graders will take the state History test, as well).
“The upcoming state tests are extremely difficult”, he told me. “If all I did was ‘teach to the test’, none of my kids would pass. The questions require a large amount of critical thinking.”
I asked him if I could get a copy of some of the types of questions that would be asked. He agreed. Here’s a few of them — and keep in mind that these are the tests that all public High School students take in Mississippi, not just Honors and AP:
1)The 1920’s are sometimes called “The Roaring Twenties” because:
- the United States assumed a leadership role in world affairs
- political reforms made government more democratic
- widespread social and economic change occurred
- foreign trade prospered after World War I
2)After World War I, which factor was the major cause of the migration of many African-Americans to the North?
- the start of the Harlem Renaissance
- increased job opportunities in Northern Cities
- laws passed in Northern States to end racial discrimination
- Federal Government job-training programs
3) Which events best support the image of the 1920’s as a decade of nativist sentiment?
- the passage of the National Origins Act and the rise of the Ku Klux Klan
- the Scopes Trial and the passage of women’s suffrage
- the Washington Naval Conference and the Kellog-Briand Pact
- the growth of the auto industry and the Teapot Dome Affair
4) The mood of “normalcy” invoked by President Warren G. Harding connoted:
- a return to the Jeffersonian ideal of an agrarian republic
- strict government regulation of business
- turning away from Europe and away from the programs of the Progressive Era
- U.S. assertiveness and leadership in world affairs
- a progressive government that would care for the needs of the common man.
These are just a few, but each and every one of the questions found on the state test have something in common: the requirement of critical thought. In other words, any of these answers look to be correct to the student who has not fully grasped the essential concept of the material. Therefore, “teaching to the test” is not an option.
But what about classroom instruction? Sure, the tests look challenging, but what are public school students actually learning in the classroom? Here’s a sample of a week-in-the-life of the average MHS History student(and this doesn’t even include the other subjects like Math, Science, etc.):
United States History 1877 to Present
Class Schedule January 5 — January 13, 2012
Thursday — Lecture on the Treaty of Versailles and Wilson’s 14 points. Read Chapter 11/ Homework is due Friday January 13.
Friday — Lecture on The Roaring Twenties
Monday — Lecture on The Roaring Twenties/ The Republicans.
Tuesday — Lecture on The Great Migration and Harlem Renaissance
Wednesday — Lecture on Marcus Garvey and his back to Africa movement.
Thursday — Lecture on the rise of the Ku Klux Klan
Friday — Lecture on the Flapper movement
To get even more specific, here is an actual list of the topics that Mr. Abdella and the state test require students to be familiar with as part of the “Roaring Twenties” unit:
- The Treaty of Versailles
- Wilson’s 14 points
- The Age of Prosperity
- Failing Farmers
- The Great Migration
- Marcus Garvey
- Republican Power(President Warren G. Harding)
- President Calvin Coolidge
- Culture of the Roaring Twenties
- The Lost Generation
- Flapper Girls
- Sacco-Venzetti Trial
- The Red Scare
- Mitchell Palmer
- J. Edgar hoover
- The KKK
- Scopes Monkey Trial
- Al Capone
So, you tell me folks: Are public schools “easier”? Are we “dumbing down” our kids?Are public school teachers merely “teaching to the test”?
I’ve presented the evidence. You decide.
Oh, by the way, of the three-hundred-and-eighteen MHS 11th graders who took this test last year, 82% passed. Given the fact that Meridian High is a public school that is required to enroll and administer these tests to all children, regardless of learning disabilities or household situations, I’d say that 82% is a pretty phenomenal number.
Stay tuned for this year’s test results, which will be made public in August.