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Letter from a mother: Response to my book press release

3 September 2009 6,321 No Comment

A few days ago, I received an email in response to the press release about my book. This email tells a story that many parents may face and one that illustrates the point I try to make. So I asked for her permission to post it here.

From Jessica Stern:

I just ran across an item about the book you published
about standardized testing and how it is killing education in this country.
I don’t usually write to authors, but I really wanted to say THANK YOU for saying this. I have a wonderfully funny, creative, and bright 9-year-old daughter. We bought our house so that she could go to one of the “best” schools in the area (we live in Kirkland, WA, just outside Seattle).
After 3 years at that school, first through third grades, my daughter was having nightmares every night and fighting me every day on the way to school, and her teacher (a very sweet young woman) admitted at a guidance team meeting that she had “given up” on my daughter. We finally took my daughter in for testing with a neuropsychologist who advised us in no uncertain terms to remove Emma from public school and put her into private school. Emma was confused, frustrated, and worst of all, thought she was stupid – “I’m not good at that school stuff.” But when I talked with her about school and what the problem was, she kept coming back with “it’s boring.” The writing program, for example, she was only allowed to write about one topic – what she does at home. It had to be in a certain format. At home she would write wonderfully fanciful stories (including her own versions of the -ology books), but at school, she could not even complete the assignments. There was nobody within the public school system who had any better suggestions than more and different discipline strategies.
Once we sifted through everything, I realized the basis for everyone calling the school “the best” was test scores. The school had no art program (except a monthly lesson provided by parent volunteers), science is limited in the early grades, and no foreign language. They don’t teach handwriting (we were expected to practice constantly at home – many parents arranged tutoring). Although the district has some “choice” schools that have more interesting curricula, getting into those programs proved to be a nightmare, spaces are limited, chosen via a supposed lottery system, and the bureaucracy is challenging to navigate. There is a gifted child program, but, inevitably, they use standardized testing to qualify children and there are large numbers of parents who drill their kids constantly to get them to qualify (one mother I know of bought a copy of the test on the internet; other parents send their children to private tutoring to qualify them).
I know you didn’t ask for my email and I don’t expect a response, but I am just so grateful that there is someone out there getting the message out that what we are doing in the name of improving our public education is destroying it. We are fortunate that we found someone to help us navigate the system and that we have the financial resources to provide a proper education for Emma. I cannot imagine how badly it would have turned it if we did not, and it breaks my heart to think about all those bright children who are getting lost.
Thank you, thank you.
Jessica Stern
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