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Recently I asked a friend about her children. “My oldest just got a job as a data analyst at an elementary school,” she said. “He loves it.”

I was happy her son found a job he loved, but as I walked away I couldn’t help thinking that of all the pressing needs our public schools face today, to spend precious resources on hiring a data analyst seemed pretty outrageous.

It also didn’t surprise me. Districts spend limited taxpayer dollars on coaches and mentors, analysts and test prep tutors, on administering and analyzing tests. They spend thousands on hiring educational consulting firms to do professional development about how to "unpack the standards." Those same consultants then tell teachers to “make your lessons student-focused while meeting the guidelines and following the scripts.”

In the meantime, money is being taken away from what is really needed: more teachers, more resources, infrastructure upgrades.

For every coach hired in a school, class size increases. For every mentor hired, class size increases. For every test prep tutor and data analyst hired, class size increases. Numbers are climbing every year with some elementary classes having as many as thirty students.

How can a teacher get to know each student personally and meet their academic as well as their social and emotional needs with that many students in the classroom? How can teachers make their lessons truly student-focused with so many students with differing personalities and academic strengths and challenges?

Almost two billion dollars a year is being allocated for testing. Imagine what that money could be used for particularly in our poorest districts. Great libraries, maps, globes, art supplies, pencils, books, paper, scientific equipment, sports equipment, field trips.

We have school buildings that are falling apart, bathrooms that don’t work, gymnasiums that share space with auditoriums and cafeterias, broken windows, inadequate security systems.

Money is being taken from where it is most needed in our education system because of an obsessive focus on high-stakes testing. But it’s not just about the money. In addition to not having enough teachers or resources, many teachers are often required, mandated, and forced to teach skills necessary to pass the test, and to focus on those students who are “on the bubble.” Many elementary schools have cut social studies and science out of their curriculum so they can focus on “the test.” I even heard of a district that took art and music out of the pre-school curriculum because teachers needed to prepare students for college and careers.

We need more teachers, more resources, more infrastructure changes. But more importantly we need a rich curriculum. We need to teach reading not so that students can pass a test but so they can have access to the thoughts and ideas of thousands of authors. Writing not so students can pass a test but to help students express their deepest understandings and emotions. Science so that students can learn to understand how the world works and to think critically about how to solve the problems of the world. Social Studies so students can understand the roots of their democracy, so they learn they have a voice, that their voice matters and is listened to. The Arts to transform lives, bring students beauty and offer them new ways to look at the world. Physical Education so that students learn to listen to and respect their bodies. A social/emotional curriculum that helps students feel valued and value those around them

When any part of that rich curriculum is missing, children grow up without the skills necessary to think about things from diverse perspectives. They grow up without a passion and love for learning new things, without the creative or critical thinking skills and disposition to solve the problems of the world. More importantly a non-thinking population may be the first step towards the death of our democracy.

Give me a student who feels like a failure because they can’t pass a test. That’s the student who may end up as a statistic in the opioid epidemic. Give me a child who is bullied in a class with so many students that the teacher is unaware. That’s the student who becomes part of the suicide statistic. Give me a student who hates reading because he or she has to analyze every word out of context to learn to pass a test. That’s the student who will never read a book or newspaper after they graduate and will make all decisions by listening to and believing sound bites. Give me high-stakes testing and a Secretary of Education who probably has never stepped into a public school classroom. That’s an education system that will graduate a non-thinking population.

There are over three million public school teachers in this country. Despite district mandates, testing, lack of resources, schools that are falling apart and a scripted curriculum, they do their best to love, support and teach their students. Despite their love for their students they are forced to “unpack standards” when they should be unpacking each student and then taking those students where they never thought they could go.

The crisis isn’t on our borders. It’s in every school in every city in this country.

$5 billion for a wall? Give me $5 billion to help our teachers.

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