Who is Responsible for Child Abuse in Public Schools?

Bill Michaelson's picture

Shit rolls downhill.

Apologies to anyone offended by profanity. But that's just how it is, and that's just what has been happening for fifteen years.

Since the inception of federal law commonly known as No Child Left Behind (NCLB) we have seen our public schools gradually squeezed to comply with a standardized testing regime that imposes punishments on schools for failing to change social conditions over which they have almost no control. But the federal law doesn't recognize the social conditions. The punishment regime is driven by a single indicator: test scores. Predictably, school administrators have been scrambling since then to attain the ratings required to escape punishment. Note that I wrote: Predictably.

Many have noted that Goodhart's Law or it's cousin Campbell's Law of social behavior applies. Or you might recognize it as a case of Perverse Incentives. Here is an example: It was reported by a researcher that under French colonial rule of Indochina, the colonial rulers instituted an incentive in Hanoi to reduce the rat population. They paid a bounty for rat tails. So the population responded by farming rats. Campbell's Law states:

The more any quantitative social indicator (or even some qualitative indicator) is used for social decision-making, the more subject it will be to corruption pressures and the more apt it will be to distort and corrupt the social processes it is intended to monitor.

NCLB was designed like a vise that gradually closed and squeezed harder with more stringent requirements in each successive year. In New Jersey, as in other states, NCLB and successive, related regulation created pressures that perverted the processes of education. Predictably. At first, the effects ranged from subtle in more privileged districts, like some extra test prep, to more profound like the elimination of arts or music programs, particularly in poorer districts, in order to focus on passing the standardized tests. Eventually, we reached the point where substantial numbers of parents have recognized what is happening and they don't like it. They have begun to revolt, and so we are now in the phase of test refusal.

Amazingly, rather than recognize the management failure that has (predictably) been occurring, our political leadership continues to tighten the screws. In New Jersey, we have a State level proposal that will deny diplomas to students who don't take the PARCC tests. They don't have to pass the tests. They have to take them. Consider that. The battle has shifted from educating children to simply making them comply with a scheme to rate them. School administrators in turn have resorted to a range of shenanigans that include threats, lying, bribes and torture.

Interestingly, the promoters of test-and-punish culture typically send their own children to private schools that eschew bribery and threats.

But wait, did I write torture? Yes, yes I did. Here is a description of one form of torture. The quote is from a memo to the CIA from U. S. Department of Justice Office of Legal Counsel (page 15):
Stress positions and wall standing are used to induce muscle fatigue and the attendant discomfort.

Some folks don't like to call that torture, but we know it was part of an array of coercive measures inflicted on suspected terrorists. Call it what you prefer.

Now consider what a school administrator is alleged to have done to young children whose parents' refused to submit to PARCC testing, according to a parent who reported it:

I just sent a furious email to our superintendent! Our district started PARCC testing today and since they had the sit-and-stare punishment last year, we kept our son (3rd grade) and daughter (5th grade) home in the morning, during the hours the test was scheduled for. Unfortunately, due to "unforeseen technical difficulties", the test didn't happen at all in the morning and our kids were still subjected to the sit-and-stare in the afternoon but in a way I was shocked to hear! So, they were told to go to the main office and sit there for the duration of the test- 130 minutes today alone. They were NOT allowed to read a book under any circumstances because they would "disturb other people if they read a book". They were also NOT allowed to lean back in their chairs- they could only sit straight up and not move at all for two hours! My son's back was sore after this cruel and unnecessary punishment! Additionally, they were only allowed to look ahead, they could not turn their heads to the left or to the right, because this is what elementary school children are supposed to do: sit straight up and not move a muscle or make a sound for two hours, just like little soldiers! My daughter "got in trouble" for attempting to tie her hair back in a pony tail! Another kid was yelled at for looking at a monitor screen (the ones showing the visitors by the front entrance). My kids were so traumatized by this experience, I feel like crying right now! I just got finished writing and sending an email to our superintendent describing today's events and asking why our children were treated in such an unnecessarily cruel way, as if they were criminal offenders, just because my husband and I chose to exercise our parental rights to refuse a test for them we believe is fundamentally wrong!

This is due to policy that we have allowed our own government to institute, and programs we have allowed to be constructed. I don't excuse any school employee at any level for any act of child abuse. But I won't point a finger of blame at any individual in order to excuse the rest of us. This was...


This is what State Senator Teresa Ruiz's Education Committee tacitly allowed when they refused to release a bill prohibiting punishments. For money, as she explained here that she was selling our children. When they passed a toothless resolution that resulted in a recommendation from the Commissioner of Education to treat children humanely, the result of this empty gesture was predictable. The evidence is provided by this parent who followed up the incident by meeting with the school superintendent. I recount her report of the meeting, in part:

...I asked him if there is any policy in writing about refusing students and alternate accommodations for them (as I was not aware of one). He said, no, there is no written policy and there WON'T be one either because, again, next year that won't [be] an issue! I showed him the letter issued by Commissioner Hespe in Sept 2015 which recommends that sit and stare be avoided by districts. He answered, "Yes, and the key word here is "recommends". He went on to tell us that he is NOT mandated by the state to provide our children with any alternate accommodations...

Just a recommendation. Predicted.

This is what the parents of hundreds of thousands of children are resisting when they refuse the tests. They feel responsible for protecting children, as contrasted with at least one superintendent ostensibly acting in loco parentis.