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NCLB Outrages

Dumbing Down the Teaching Profession

Jerry Weast, the superintendent of schools in Montgomery County, Maryland noted recently that it has become common practice for states to lower standards to increase their odds of meeting NCLB 100% proficiency requirements. The Post reports:

Weast said the state curriculum, the statewide Maryland School Assessment and the High School Assessment all measure a minimal level of academic proficiency. The reason, he said, is that Maryland and most other states have leaders who want their kids “to look good” on such assessments.

This is called “dumbing down” the curriculum, and it drives parents nuts, especially highly educated ones. Many consider it the ruination of public schooling.

But a larger peril to the public school system comes from another kind of test-driven dumbing down - the dumbing down of the teaching profession. Increasingly, schools are responding to NCLB pressure by dictating, down to the word, how teachers teach every day in their classrooms. That creates the kind of work environment that’s pushing the best teachers out of the system.

The Seattle Times reports that teachers in the Bellevue School District must adhere to daily lesson plans designed by a committee, and deviation from the plan by more than a day or two requires committee approval.

The article claims that this level of standardization is rare, but it’s really not - it’s built into many popular scripted reading programs. For a chilling bit of propaganda, watch the video, Why Use Scripts on the Institute for Direct Instruction website. The ditzy but strangely appealing teacher in the video gives her heartfelt testimony:

If you don’t follow the script, I don’t think you’re going to see results as quickly. I think it’s incredibly important that you practice at home before. I remember I took home my manual before we started teaching, and I would hold it up to the mirrorâ€Â¦

This is someone’s twisted vision of teaching, where teachers spend their after-school time practicing a script.

What it all comes down to is a fork in the policy road. Down one path, teachers are low-skilled workers trained to deliver someone else’s words, without deviation, to large numbers of children all taught identically. Down the other path, teachers are highly trained professionals who use their intellect, knowledge, and experience to efficiently and effectively match instruction to child. Path One is cheap, but is that what you want for your child?

And dumbing down the teaching profession leads inevitably to the dumbing down of the curriculum. Teachers who are discouraged from thinking, creating, or making professional judgments will never be able to produce intellectual excitement in the classroom, no matter what the script says, because they are experiencing intellectual death with every moment of teaching.

That would indeed be the ruination of public schools

— Karen Cole
Bigger Learning


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