'No Child' law is flunking the test
Ohanian Comment: Of course we cheer every column that points out the evils of NCLB, but it's past time for the media to start discussing why this is happening, i.e., reveal the corporate underpinnings. Otherwise, the argument stays in the we say/they say category. We need to raise the sophistication of the argument, linking the attack on public schools to the attack on the workforce.
Ah, yes, I have written a book: Why is Corporate America Attacking Our Public Schools?
By Cindy Richards
There was a time when those of us who still believe in the potential of
public education worried that the greatest evil spawned by our national
love affair with standardized testing was that it encouraged schools to
"teach to the test."
Who knew "teaching to the test" would become the good ol' days in
But it's happening. As the national No Child Left Behind Act has raised
the stakes of test results, schools are doing something much worse than
altering their curriculum to fit the subjects being tested: They're
teaching about the test.
The tests have been in the news as state administrators wring their
hands over the inadequate performance of Harcourt Assessment, the
private company that got $45 million of our money to produce the tests
Illinois third- through eighth-graders are taking this week and next.
But we ought to be wringing our hands over something much more critical
to the future of our children: the question of whether this testing is
harming these students.
They are losing a week of instruction to testing, which is bad enough.
But the test week comes on top of two or more weeks spent teaching kids
how to take the test effectively -- those now critical education skills
such as how to parcel out your time and how to fill in those blasted
little circles with a No. 2 pencil.
Test prep efforts have intensified this year because schools are running
scared. Last year, one-third of the state's 879 districts failed to make
"adequate yearly progress." And the bar continues to rise, so more
schools are likely to fail this year, no matter how many practice tests
the kids took.
Meanwhile, President Bush has been touring the country talking about his
plan to bolster math and science education -- while my sixth-grade son
was spending his math class taking practice tests, not learning new math
In a meeting with newspaper editors last week, Bush said he takes
umbrage at suggestions his cornerstone education reform law puts too
much emphasis on testing. "My answer to those concerns is that, how do
you know if you don't test?" he said.
My answer to him is: Ask the teacher. It doesn't take a standardized
test for any teacher worth her paycheck to know, exactly, which of her
students is making the grade. And if we want to know how the school is
doing overall, then analyze the report cards the kids bring home every
Stan Karp, a New Jersey high school teacher and critic of No Child Left
Behind, has written extensively about the law for Rethinking Schools, a
Milwaukee-based nonprofit that publishes a journal about school reform.
"This is school reform on the cheap," Karp said. It costs schools about
$20 a kid to develop a test, he said, "a lot less than it costs to have
everybody pass them."
Schools, in their fervor to hurdle the ever-increasing performance bar,
are doing everything they can to help kids test well -- weeks of test
drills, free breakfast on test days, a reorganized curriculum and lower
state benchmarks that allow more kids to pass.
No Child Left Behind is up for reauthorization in 2007, which makes the
November midterm election an especially critical one for public
education. This law, which passed Congress with bipartisan support,
needs some serious retooling.
Its goal may have been to ensure no child was left behind, but its
reality is that no child is left untested while doing little to raise
the level of performance of public schools.
INDEX OF NCLB OUTRAGES