Cook: Education movement will not be TCAP'ed

Cook: Education movement will not be TCAP'ed

August 13th, 2014 by David Cook in Opinion Columns

David Cook

Photo by Ashlee Culverhouse/Times Free Press.

TCAP scores arrived in the mailbox this week, so now I'm doing the only reasonable thing a parent can do.

Mailing them back.

"You can keep these," I scribbled to the Tennessee Department of Education.

After last spring's you-worked-all-year-for-scores-that-didn't-count debacle, the Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program has lost its credibility. It is the steroid scandal of the education world: The biggest and bulkiest thing around is also the fakest and falsest.

"I remember when we didn't even have the TCAP," one retired teacher told me a few days ago.

Ahh, glory days, when teachers were allowed the freedom to use standardized tests as diagnostic tools only, and students weren't entrenched in a fear-based system of education.

Meanwhile, the $20k-a-year private schools are doing the opposite: Some are nixing semester exams, even.

The TCAP represents a larger trickle-down con job.

Despite plenty of research showing why we should start school later in the morning, we continue to require our preteens and teens to wake up hours before they physiologically should.

Despite plenty of research showing why smaller class sizes have a profound effect on learning, we continue to sardine our classrooms with 20 or more students.

Despite the common-sense idea that each classroom should have a full-time reading specialist, and that each student should be exposed on a regular basis to art, music and physical education, we continue to leave such ideas unfunded.

Yes, I'm grumbling.

And will again.

But for now, I'm done.

Because I've got some super-star good news.

If you read the tea leaves the right way, I think we're in the beginning days of the largest education movement this county has seen in years.

Consider:

• There were 19 people running for school board in last week's election.

• A powerful new nonprofit has opened its doors. The new UnifiEd combines educators, thinkers and parents to change education policy through grassroots efforts.

"We are a new kind of community movement," their mission statement reads, "taking bold action to ensure a brilliant future for every student, teacher and public school in Chattanooga."

• More and more conversations are happening about a return to vocational-tech schools.

• This November, folks in East Ridge will vote on some new additions to the city charter; one of those changes would allow the city to create its own school district. If it passes, East Ridge could, theoretically, establish its own school system at some point in the future.

I've heard folks in other nearby towns are considering the same.

• Last spring, one local mother kept her daughter home during the TCAP, creating (as far as I know) the first-ever boycott.

Sandy Calhoun and her then-fifth-grade daughter spent the week doing service.

"The point of boycotting is to demonstrate that TCAP testing is an empty endeavor," Calhoun said.

• Parents in District 9 (Ooltewah, Harrison, Wolftever) have formed a new community foundation. Called the D9 Foundation, it raises money for needs that aren't being met.

Like new playgrounds.

Art teachers.

Science teachers.

"If they say the dollars aren't there, I'm not going to sit back when I know I can do something about it," said Miranda Perez, a mom and former PTA president who began D9.

That right there -- I can do something about it -- is the heartbeat-drumline inside all of this.

This growing education movement is galvanized by two forces: a frustrated dissatisfaction with the way things are, and a get-off-the-couch activism to change and fix it. All of it.

"Did you know that band gets zero tax dollars from the board of education?" Perez said. "Parents have to do everything -- fund-raise, buy instruments -- for their child to be in the band."

On Aug. 23, the D9 Foundation will have a kickoff party. Odds are you'll see similar parties in the future.

"I've had two other school districts ask me to help them do the same thing," Perez said. "It is definitely a county-wide issue."

It all makes me feel two things: a deep embarrassment for our elected county leaders, for PTA moms ought not to be holding car washes to pay for science teachers. (Hint: That's your job.)

But then I feel immensely proud. Few things are as beautifully unstoppable as grassroots action. I'm telling you, if our elected leaders wake up to this, we could accomplish something quite remarkable.

"I want to get the public education level at such a level," Perez said, "that even kids that go to private schools would come."

Contact David Cook at dcook@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6329. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter at DavidCookTFP.