Education does not work in isolation. Legislative efforts (such as No Child Left Behind, Common Core, and others) focus on high-stakes testing to standardize teaching and educational performance across the nation. While schools should deliver a guaranteed minimum of education, in practice these efforts force a “teach for the test” effort. As has been argued many times before (link), tests are not a very good measure of educational attainment. For example:
- Cultural biases creep into the questions themselves
- Increased anxiety hindering the students’ focus
- Multiple choice questions that do not reflect the full range of students’ ability
- Lack of input from educators on the standards and tests themselves
- Not the least, some students simply do not perform well in standardized test environments.
Nevertheless, if a school is consistently “low performing” based on these flawed tests and standards, the district is often encouraged to close the school, sending its students elsewhere. While one can justify this on a fiscal basis with ever tightening budgets, it can have negative effects on the students for a variety of reasons (link).
One key impact is the relationship between students and teachers (link). Teachers’ roles extend beyond teaching and education. As a source of referrals, letters of recommendation, and advice, they are absolutely vital in the students extending their education in college or finding a job in the current economic environment (not to mention being someone the students can turn to during trying times). School closings disrupt these relationships. Students know and contact former teachers by the school in which they work. If that school closes, finding those same teachers again becomes much more difficult. While they can form new relationships with new teachers, if a student is towards the end of their education (e.g. 11th or 12th grade), the challenges are only magnified; new teachers only know the student only for a short while and hence cannot write as strong a recommendation or even get to know the student (particularly in light of the increased class sizes due to school closings).
It is a common refrain in the business world that “it is not what you know, but who you know,” meaning that even if someone is the smartest in the room, without connections he/she will not succeed. Closing schools destroys these connections.
However, that is not to say that standards should not be upheld. If a school is not educating its students or if the students are not succeeding outside the classroom, steps should be made towards higher achievement. But high-stakes testing and its repercussions are not the way. Closing a school as if it is a cancer often does more harm than good — harm will not be seen until years down the line when graduates (particularly in underserved communities) try to enter the work force.
Testing has the allure of adhering to an orthodoxy, a standard that all can be measured against. However, people and communities are not the same. They cannot be swapped out like parts in a factory. Each has a myriad of invaluable connections and relationships that need to be fostered and developed for success in life. High-stakes testing and its repercussions invalidate these unique dynamics and ignore the everyday realities of the students.