[Susan notes: What a terrific opening. And the rest is great too. The author makes strong points in strong language. 3 cheers.]
Published in USA Today
War on public schools'
It is very telling that Education Secretary Margaret Spellings wrote a letter to USA TODAY to respond to attacks on the No Child Left Behind Act. Just like the so-called war on terrorism, the war on public schools — NCLB being the primary weapon of mass destruction — requires a vigorous level of spin, distortions and half truths ("No Child Left Behind yields positive results," Letter, March 2).
Spellings' primary proof of NCLB's effectiveness lies in rising test scores. What should we think of this? There are basically two responses:
• First, I would say, "Big deal." There are any number of reasons that test scores go up that have nothing to do with greater academic achievement. Anytime you institute a new standardized exam, the scores go up in years after the first for little reason other than a practice effect. More worrisome, it is more likely that teachers and administrators — whom I do not blame, given that NCLB is little carrot and mostly stick — are cheating the system. They might cheat by holding back children who could bring scores down, or they might cheat by teaching to the test.
• This leads me to my second response: Rising test scores are actually a negative symptom of the disease that is NCLB. It is a symptom of a narrowed curriculum. Teachers across the country have reported how much less time they spend on untested areas such as history, art and music. It is a symptom of a utilitarian curriculum. The utility is in students passing the test, not becoming educated, deep thinkers.
Standardized tests must be efficient. The most efficiently tested material also happens to be the least important.
Spellings points to the fact that parents are transferring their children to different schools as a sign of progress. But, then, what parent in his right mind would want to keep his child in the schools that Spellings is creating?
Given this, the inevitable outcome of NCLB is universally undereducated children, attending increasingly segregated schools — schools segregated along lines of race, socio-economic status and ability.
John E. Petrovic, Ph.D., University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa