• Lori Kirkpatrick

Group Think...In My Neighborhood School Feeder Pattern?

As I attended the Zoom PTA meeting last week I was reminded of the concept group think.


Yale social psychologist Irving Janis studied and published about the phenomenon in the early 70's, which is described as:


A mode of thinking people engage in when they are deeply involved in a cohesive in-group, when the members striving for unanimity override their motivation to realistically appraise alternative courses of action.


It's a great thing that this community embraces our neighborhood schools and raises hundreds of thousands of dollars to support them and their staff each year. It's a sad thing that we can't discuss opposing viewpoints on what's in the best interest of our schools.


In this particular meeting, after the principal discussed upcoming in-person STAAR testing logistics, a PTA Board member raised a question and then made this comment with a derogatory tone, "We always have a few who won't take the STAAR."


I'm one of those few. However, there's a very important distinction to make. I'm not opposed to standardized testing. I'm opposed to standardized testing being used inappropriately, for high-stakes, as in our teacher pay for performance system known as TEI and in our state accountability system known as A-F. I'd be happy for my daughter to take an end of year assessment that wasn't used punitively, especially since education research has shown repeatedly that our current standardized tests aren't a good measure of each students' achievement or teachers' quality of instruction.


That's the conversation we should be having.


I've never had one teacher with whom I shared my standardized testing viewpoint disagree with me. That should tell you a whole lot.


A while back I was in a campus Site Based Decision Making (SBDM) meeting where one parent suggested we have a pre-STAAR pep rally - an absurd suggestion by someone who likely had good intentions. I sat there shocked by the question and equally shocked that no one spoke up against the idea. As I raised my hand to speak, the assistant principal in a demure manner stated it's best to avoid putting pressure on students for testing. That was it.


Another time a dad I'd never before seen at an SBDM meeting raised a viewpoint opposite that of the idea being discussed and was completely derided by a couple of other well known community dads. The message was loud and clear, "Your ideas aren't welcome here." I never saw the new dad at another meeting.


Instead of group think we should be supporting the discussion of diverse opinions at our PTA, Early Childhood PTA, SBDM and school board meetings.


My personal experience for disagreeing with group think has meant that I'm usually relegated to menial jobs on the PTAs and SBDMs. When I raise concerns or want to educate the community via the social media platforms the groups censor posts.


School districts are under immense pressure from the Texas Education Agency (TEA) to perform according to set criteria, even though districts know how ill-informed and even destructive the criteria often are.


Districts in turn place strict expectations on their campus staff. I've been told by more than one teacher that public disagreement with central administration and district policies is strongly discouraged.


But as community members, taxpayers, parents and voters we should not only engage in but encourage civil discourse to help ensure education best practices are implemented. We have not only the power but the responsibility to vet the policies being enacted.


In order to do so we will first have to rid ourselves of group think.

If you are interested in better understanding STAAR and standardized testing, today at noon a panel of standardized testing experts will discuss the validity and equity impacts of STAAR. The program is hosted by the Austin Council PTA. Register here: The STAAR: what is it?

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