Anthony Cody, a former Oakland, CA, teacher turned advocate for public education, told Clarke County public school parents Thursday that students are tested too much and don't get enough hands-on learning.
Cody toured local schools and spoke at a PTO meeting at Clarke Central High School, a day after giving a speech at the University of Georgia chapel.
He was impressed by the horticulture program at Clarke Central Middle School, saying it will give the students an understanding of science and math that cannot be gained in a traditional classroom setting. Throughout the speech, Cody spoke highly of project-based learning, such as the horticultural program, as opposed to only testing students on knowledge.
“Giving the students the chance to get outdoors, to work with their hands and giving them connection to the food that they eat is fantastic,” he said. “That real world understanding of how things grow will translate into understanding of science and math that you cannot get within the four walls of a classroom.”
Clarke Central High School teachers do feel they are over-testing students, said Lindy Weaver, a media specialist at Clarke Central High School, but they feel unable to change the system.
“I know that 95 percent of the teachers in this school think they were are over testing our students, but we all really feel powerless,” Weaver said.
A catalyst for problems in the education system is income inequality because of the effects poverty has on students, Cody said.
“The first thing we have to do is destroy the fiction that teachers in schools can fix poverty by themselves,” he said.
Athens is no stranger to issues of income inequality. In fact, Athens was ranked eighth-highest in income inequality by Bloomberg News in 2014.
Another issue facing Athens and Georgia schools is that Georgia law requires that teachers’ evaluations be based 50 percent on students’ test scores. This law will be problematic for the state’s education system, Cody said, because test scores do not accurately reflect a students’ knowledge.
“The idea that we are raising the bar by making these tests more and more difficult is nonsense,” Cody said. “If you want to raise the bar, demand that people exhibit original thought and creativity.”
Cody also criticized reforms being made in schools, saying that they were causing an increased amount of teacher resignations.
“We have a reform model that is based on the idea that our existing teachers are not good and we need to weed them out,” Cody said. “In the process we are making our students’ education bankrupt.”
Cody spent 24 years working in Oakland, CA schools. He became a public education activist after No Child Left Behind was instituted, and he began seeing problem in his school.
“I didn’t pick this fight. The fight came into my school,” Cody said. “The corporate reformers came into my school and said that it was failing based on test scores.”
Cody began writing about public education policy from the perspective of an educator after feeling they were not involved in education decisions.
“The voices of educators, especially classroom teachers, were really missing from the decisions that were being made about schools,” Cody said.
Bertis Downs, an organizer for the event, said that while the school has problems, most people believe the school is successful.
“The people that come through the front door [of Clarke Central High School] often once they get in here, realize that we have a thriving school, but with some problems,” Downs said.