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A Private View of the “Test” of Education

The large bold font of the headline of what may have been an advertorial passing as a news story in the “Religious Schools Section” of at least one prominent community newspaper in Queens not long ago caught my attention and wouldn’t let go. Can you read it and break free of its implications?

The headline reads “Why Do Private Schools Not Have To Teach To (the) Test?” The last paragraph is most revelatory.

“Private schools don’t teach to the test. They teach to prepare their students for serious academic work in college. They also balance academics with athletic and extra-curricular activities thereby teaching the whole child.”

That statement is loaded with implicit criticism. But what is their target? It is not public school teachers; it is what public school teachers are reduced to doing in the name of education.  It raises the truth that is obvious to most people but obscure and elusive to some purveyors of so-called reformism: that when test-prep supersedes and becomes a substitute for curriculum, a gaping hole in subject knowledge and skills will result.

The article also highlights the relationship between school systems’ acceptance of public funds and their compulsory adherence to the “standards-based education” laid down in the No Child Left Behind Act.  Most private schools do not accept those funds, so they are free to be ruled by their conscience and the dictates of rational research and tradition.

Some would argue that the observance of a core curriculum is in its way as suffocating as is the total reliance on test preparation as a measure of teaching and learning. Hardly. The “core curriculum” is a living organism, always growing and adaptable. In the private schools, it is often supplemented by religious training or some other specialized focus. Teaching to the test is supplemented by nothing other than teaching to the test. It doesn’t yield anything more any more than a stone grows hair.

The article also touches on the issue of academic achievement as it bears on school reputation. It asks and answers the question: “How can you measure the academic success of a particular private school? Start by asking where last year’s class got accepted. How competitive is the admissions process? While the academic achievement and competitive admissions are not necessarily linked, they do give you an idea of what other parents think about the school.”

That’s a bit simplistic and only a small part of the picture, to be sure.  Education is about more than acing high school or college admission standards, just as it is about more than scoring a score of proficiency on a state test, even one that is not fatally flawed.

Education is a long road leading to a state of grace.  It is filled with complexities and intangibles and rebirths and undying truths.  It is also about the acquired memory of experience and knowledge accrued over a hundred generations. And there’s no escape from the reality that it includes plenty of facts, figures, dates, events and voluminous specificities.

Whatever education is, we know enough to realize that it’s not about “teaching to the test.”

What are your views?



  • 1 Celso Garcia
    · Aug 16, 2010 at 6:41 pm

    Education is a higher call for enlightenment of the self and society. Your article is well received as long as this higher calling is not used for the wrong purposes such as profits or test prep. The mayor and many other cite this higher calling but go about it the wrong way.
    Hopefully one day we can all sit in one table with all the stakeholders to do what is best for the children not test prep but a wide depth of content to build the whole child.
    I have tutored children in private school students and they take classes most nyc school students would loathe. Such as foreign languages , performing arts, advanced classes only certain NYC schools. They participate in extracurricular activities not offered by most schools and outperform many schools. We could accomplish many of these things in public schools if parents are involved more along with teachers and administrators. Attacking each other does not solve any problems just causes a tense environment where students miss out. The last 8 years have been spent by Bloomberg and Klein to fight teachers instead of working with us. Maybe reality will hit the City that there needs to be cooperative learning environments in all schools.

  • 2 Phyllis C. Murray
    · Aug 16, 2010 at 7:30 pm

    Re. A Private View of the “Test” of Education
    By Ron Isaac
    Once teachers have rolled up their sleeves…the process of education begins with commitment, dedication, care, and concern for a human soul. For the students who have found teachers who are there to support them on their educational journey, I say, press on! These students are the fortunate ones because it is their teacher who must dream for them before they can dream for themselves. It is the teacher who prepares children for a future which is not his/her own.

    These exceptional teachers are fortunate because for every ounce of energy that they use to invest in the child, if they remain in that school, they will see the rewards of their investment in the child’s continued growth and development throughout the year.

    “What is a Teacher “was written by seven of our students who benefited from our teachers who were allowed to teach. And not one of the students mentioned the word “test prep.”


    Written by Bibana ~Ashanti ~~Jamal~~Ellenah
    ~~Diana ~~John Henry ~~and Mohammed

    A teacher is a symbol of learning: a leader of learners
    and a miracle to education.

    A teacher is an educational god that leads us to goodness
    while caring for our learning spirits.

    A teacher is the captain of our educational journey; Exact
    about everything.

    A teacher has the courage enough to teach; And knows
    mostly all the answers.

    Teachers become our heroic inspiration.

    Teachers educate us with all of their knowledge. Smart and
    spirited, teachers can make our brains work like computers.
    Yet, our teachers can also hold our hands when we need it.

    Teachers reach to the sky to get what we need; And exit a
    subject just at the right time.

    A teacher possesses the academics and grace that we all
    love. Teachers care for us in every imaginable way.

    Our teacher is the hero in our learning lives.

    Education is the key to success. That is what our teachers
    have taught us.

    Teachers are a class struggle in liberty: Believing in
    kids; Reaching out to kids; And instilling pride within
    all of us.

    Our education is important to our teachers. Therefore our
    teachers struggle hard to teach every student: Checking
    exams after school; explaining things so they are easier;
    And reading to us or teaching us how to read.

    Each one of our praises we give. And for everything our
    teachers do, we will thank them today, tomorrow and always.

    Phyllis C. Murray, Chapter Leader
    P.S. 75X
    District 8 South Bronx