An Open Letter to Margaret Spellings and Congress
This is a repeat, and it definitely bears repeating. Forget Spellings. Alter these questions, as appropriate, and send them to your state and national legislators. Send them to your local school board and your state board of education. Do it tomorrow.
by Marion Brady
"Human history," said H. G. Wells, is "a race between education and catastrophe." If we stay the course with No Child Left Behind, catastrophe is a sure bet.
You'll soon be deciding the fate of this well-meant but appallingly simplistic piece of legislation. Continued failure to answer the legitimate questions of those you expect to carry out your mandates will further erode trust in your leadership.
Here are some of those questions:
1. NCLB reflects the views primarily of leaders of business and industry rather than of active, working educators. Does this make sense?
2. Did at least some of those who originally helped shape NCLB hope to discredit public education as a step toward privatizing the institution?
3. On critical, instruction-related questions, NCLB removes local educators and school boards from the decision-making loop. Does the history of top-down, centralized control of complex institutions suggest this change strategy works?
4. Will manipulating the curriculum to "maintain America's competitive position in world trade" be more likely to ensure America's future well-being than helping the young come to love learning because it allows them to pursue their abilities and interests?
5. Management experts say that poor institutional performance almost always indicates a "system" problem. NCLB blames poor performance not on "the system" but on the people in the system. Are the management experts wrong?
6. NCLB relies on market forces to improve schools. Does this mean that learning is unnatural and won't take place unless teachers and students are threatened or bribed?
7. Do NCLB-mandated subject-matter standards, based as they are on an 1892 curriculum design, adequately address present and future individual and societal needs?
8. If there are problems with the present, same-thing-for-every-student curriculum, don't "raising the bar" and "rigor" make them worse?
9. NCLB is rapidly pushing "frills" out of the curriculum. Has research now established that art, music, physical activity and so on have nothing to do with scientific and mathematical reasoning ability and workforce skills?
10. Nationwide, hundreds of thousands of students are being held back because of poor reading and math skills. Is the ability to interpret written symbols the only way the young learn, and therefore sufficient reason to retain them in grade?
11. Education is supposed to teach kids to think for themselves, not merely recall what they've been ordered to remember. Are the centerpieces of NCLB (corporately produced, machine-scored tests) able to judge the quality of complex thought processes?
12. Should life-changing decisions for the young hinge on the results of a single test?
13. Attempting to avoid the "failing" label, schools use myriad strategies to "game" the system. For example, knowing which students are likely to fail and which will succeed on high-stakes tests, schools give "marginals" the most attention. Is it possible to anticipate and counter all such strategies?
14. Has provision been made for coping with NCLB's unintended consequences - increased drop-out rate, loss of teacher autonomy and professionalism, negative student reaction to excessive rote instruction and drill, increased costs of testing and test-related materials, the destructiveness of the "failure" label - (just to begin a list)?
15. Are NCLB-related contracts entirely free of conflicts of interest?
INDEX OF NCLB OUTRAGES