Friday, October 10, 2008

The Self-Esteem Police Run Amok?

Just when I thought I'd seen it all, here comes another story screaming from the headlines where someone is messing up education: Rewarding students for passing the TAKS test might be against FERPA rules.

Let's talk about FERPA for a second. First of all, the name sounds like a cross between a Furby and a Sherpa; would you really want to climb to the top of Mt. Everest with an annoying little furry creature spouting gibberish? But seriously, it stands for the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, and, according to this article, it's been around since 1974, though people only seem to have been making a big deal out of it for the past decade or so. But how does this relate to recognizing outstanding students? Evidently, this is how:
Pizza parties, field trips and other rewards – including cash – for students who pass the TAKS may be in violation of federal privacy laws for students, the state's education chief has warned.

In a letter to school superintendents that was released Thursday, state Education Commissioner Robert Scott said the Texas Education Agency has received "numerous reports" from across the state that students' confidential test score results may have been directly or indirectly disclosed.

"Specifically, some districts and campuses have distributed or released test scores in a manner that may have inadvertently identified students who did not meet the standard" on the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills, Mr. Scott wrote.

"These reports reflect that rewards are being offered to selected students based on meeting the standard on the test ... consisting of such things as cash, pizza parties, field trips and other varying forms of recognition."

The problem, according to the commissioner, is that typically only a minority of students fail to pass the TAKS at each school. By recognizing those who pass, it is easy to identify by process of elimination the students who fail.
And what's the problem with this? Here's the commissioner's view:
Mr. Scott said that while the motivational efforts are intended to help students by encouraging better performance on the test, they also have a negative effect on those who are not rewarded.
Umm, Mr. Commissioner, don't you think that not passing the test has a negative effect on those students as well? I hope you're not thinking of going all DISD on us and not allow kids to fail the TAKS or something.

Is it just me, or has this whole self-esteem movement just gone totally overboard? Have we really gotten to the point where winners can't be rewarded anymore, simply because it would make the losers feel bad? What's next--doing away with the presentation of the state championship trophy in football because the team that lost in the finals will be jealous? Or not allowing the state honor band/orchestra/choir to perform at TMEA because the kids whose groups didn't get chosen will have their feelings hurt? (OK, I'll shut up now before someone gets any ideas.)

Another educrat has a bone to pick with an even simpler thing:
Debbie Ratcliffe, a spokeswoman for the TEA, said Thursday that even school assemblies at which educators recognize students for passing the TAKS is technically a violation of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act.

"If you have 20 students in a room and single out 15 who passed the test, it's pretty obvious who didn't pass," she said. "Principals aren't intentionally trying to violate the privacy rights of children, they have just not thought through what they're doing."
Or maybe they were just trying to do the normal thing and reward a job well done, unencumbered by the Self-Esteem Police. Is that really so bad?

I read up on FERPA a bit; I honestly thought it only applied to college students, because that's the only area of my teaching where I've ever heard it mentioned. The college portion is actually helpful, because it gives students over 18 control of what information from their educational records may be released--even to the parents. (That means that if a parent of a college student calls a professor and asks how the student is doing, we're not allowed to say anything other than whether or not the student is currently registered for our class--not even whether or not he or she is attending said class. It's a weird transition when a student whom I've been teaching privately in high school continues on with me at the college level, but, honestly, the situation has almost never come up.)

But evidently, FERPA applies to primary and secondary school as well, except that the parents have the rights to request information for their under-18 student offspring. But it never would have occurred to me in a million years that these guidelines included rewarding students who passed the TAKS test, just because it might hurt the feelings of those who didn't. Does everything really have to be dumbed-down like this? Is a Harrison Bergeron world that far away from us?

Read the whole DMN article linked above, especially the comments, where people are having a field day bashing this idea. (Among the questions asked: Do schools need to do away with the A/B honor rolls? Recognition of honor graduates at graduation?) And my favorite comment comes from "temporarilymary," who says, "I believe in public education, but the TEA and the Feds have created this mess; how many of these regulation-makers ever taught in a real classroom?" Amen, sister; I've been asking the the same thing for several years now.

It sure would be nice to even have a week go by without the educrats coming out with ridiculous statements like this one, but I' not holding my breath...

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