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NCLB Outrages

No Child Left Behind Update

Peter Greene is a teacher in Pennsylvania, and he brings a lot of needed humor to his righteous attack on NCLB.

by Peter Greene

(News-Herald, September 7) Since the start of the school year is approaching, this might be a good time to check the state of governmental meddling with the schools. The answer is either “Wonderful and right on schedule” or “Continuing to be a disaster” depending on where you stand.

No Child Left Behind is still chugging along. To review, just in case you’ve forgotten the broad outlines, the program requires all the states to subject all students to standardized testing, which will be used to prove, theoretically, that every single student in America is above average by 2014.

It’s patterned after the Texas Miracle, where, under then-Governor Bush, school leaders showed exemplary skill in faking, lying, book-cooking and otherwise creating the appearance that students were getting much better at taking standardized tests. The superintendent who did the very best job of faking his numbers (Rod Paige) got to be President Bush’s Secretary of Education.

If you are an optimist, you may believe that this program is well-intentioned but poorly engineered and executed. If you are a cynic, you may believe that this is a clever plot to dismantle public education and redirect tax dollars toward funding rich kids’ private schools. If you believe it’s a great program that’s really going to work-- well, I’ve tried to find a way to finish this sentence that beats around the bush but, really, if you believe that, you’re a dope.

As of this summer, no states had met the deadline for having all “highly qualified” teachers in core subject areas. This will theoretically trigger an assortment of fines. Actually, everything in NCLB triggers fines and punishments, because the core assumption of NCLB is that people working in education could do a perfect job—they just choose not to. So if we threaten them sufficiently, things will improve. I’d rather not imagine a school that approached its students like that.

Across the country, some people are being alarmed to discover that their school is failing. In the face of that alarm, it’s important to remember one simple fact: Eventually, as NCLB is designed, every single school in this country will fail. Every single one. Anything less than 100% will be failing. And no school can achieve 100% success.

But that failure paves the way for federal and state take over of school districts. The feds are already preparing to fine some states because the feds don’t approve of the standardized test developed by the test (or, in the case of Nebraska, the state’s failure to develop a standardized test).

The feds use the testing to drive all education, which means that the government sets the goals for curriculum. Virtually every educator and administrator knows that teaching students to take a test is bad education, but they also know that teaching to the test is the best way to postpone the inevitable. So schools cut time spent on music and art and math and history and English to make room for Test Taking 101.

Meanwhile, the Commonwealth of PA has creatively grabbed districts by the purse strings. When the school districts wouldn’t volunteer to drink Smiling Ed’s “property reform” cool-aid, he got angry and rammed it down their throats. The long-term effect will be to cut the funding stream for districts and make them entirely dependent on state money.

So we’ll get “local” schools whose budgets are set by Harrisburg and whose purpose is to follow Harrisburg’s curriculum so that students can pass Harrisburg’s test, a test that must be designed to meet federal standards. The students produced by this system may or may not be well-educated, but at least they’ll be able to pass a standardized test. Meanwhile, home and cyber schoolers will still be free to learn that the earth revolves around the sun.

Nobody in Harrisburg is going to have the guts to actually legislate away local school districts. But I’ll predict that Jim Greenfield is not going to be the last Pennsylvania school board member to resign because he feels that the state has made his job undoable.

Why keep teaching if I think this is the future? Because in spite of all this, perhaps even because of all this, I still believe that education is really, really important. And despite our American education-for-everyone ideals, the ed biz has never been all sunshine and fluffy bunnies-- there have always been obstacles both to getting an education and to providing one.

The success of teachers and students has never depended on educational utopia—it depends on finding ways to navigate the obstacles. That never changes, even when the obstacles do.

— Peter Greene
Venangoland blog


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