I think Jorge Martinez and Pasi Sahlberg would agree about some fundamental educational values. Who are Jorge and Pasi and what are their values? Jorge is an immigrant from Mexico and a junior at Renaissance High School, an alternative high school in Watsonville. He is also a talented rap artist. This blog features an essay he wrote about his educational experiences here in Santa Cruz County. Pasi Sahlberg is currently a Finnish guest professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. He was a schoolteacher, teacher educator and policy advisor in Finland, the country that is usually cited as having the best school system in the world.
I know Jorge would appreciate the banner slogans at the top of Pasi Sahlberg’s blog, Pasi Sahlberg . They capture Jorge’s personal experiences. The provocative banners say, “The worst enemy of creativity is standardization” and “To prepare young people for a more competitive economy, our school systems must have less competition.” In the first banner, Sahlberg is pointedly referring to the controversial standardized tests in K-12 that are infecting our public education system, the newest version of which are the Common Core tests. In the second, he challenges the highly competitive environment that seems to characterize our schools more and more.
Jorge moved to Santa Cruz County from Mexico when he was five. He did well throughout elementary and middle school, working hard and making steady progress. Key to his success were the English Language Development (ELD) classes available to him in the early years. Nonetheless, he suffered under the regimen of standardized testing. And in his sophomore year, when ELD classes were suddenly dropped, his steady progress was slowed. Forced to go to an alternative school, he is now a passionate advocate of the school’s alternative approach. According to Kim Sakamoto, one of Jorge’s teachers at Renaissance, the school emphasizes cooperation, exploration, dialogue, small groups, choice, trust and community. It de-emphasizes standardized tests. Jorge says, “We are family here. We help each other.” Jorge might easily have been a drop out. He is now determined to realize his dream of becoming a police officer.
You can read Jorge’s full essay below. Here is what he has to say about standardized testing.
“The STAR tests were a big thing. Every year we had to take them. They would show how smart or dumb you were. My mom would tell me that in reality it doesn’t show how smart you are. But each year my score was ‘below basic’. I felt really sad, letting my mom see those scores. You do all your homework. You attend class every day. And still you don’t do well. It’s not that the teachers are not teaching me right. But the tests didn’t test what I had learned. Also, when you take the tests, everybody has to stay in the room for two hours. Nobody can talk until the last student is finished. Since I was usually the last one working on my test, it was very embarrassing. All the other kids were just waiting for me to finish. Sometimes it was so embarrassing that I just hurried to fill in all the bubbles without even reading the questions. Lots of us in ELD, we would begin to think that school was not our thing. People would say, ‘maybe the field is your thing’. I had friends who felt that school was not their thing and they dropped out.” Continue reading