Friday, August 27, 2010

NCLB and the New School Year

(News-Herald, August 26) It’s time for school to start.
This fall many school districts will kick off the year with their own individual adventures, whether it’s a technological upgrade or continued attempts to settle a contract. But every school district in the country will have one challenge in common—further tightening of the anti-education vice that is No Child Left Behind.
Remember—every school district in the country has about three and a half years left to make sure that every last student is above average. Or to be more accurate, that every last student can get a high score on a single multiple-choice, bureaucrat-designed high-stakes test.
A change in administrations has not, so far, blunted the idiotic impact of No School Left Standing. All the Obama folks have offered is Race To The Top, a deal whereby individual states can sell control of their school districts to the feds for big bucks. This makes perfect sense because, clearly, a bureaucrat in DC is the best judge of how, say, third graders at Rockland Elementary should be taught.
NCLB creates a problem in professional ethics for all school districts. On the one hand, school districts in general and the people who lead them in particular face powerful penalties if they do not make their numbers. NCLB is the law, and education is filled with people who respect The Rules. On the other hand, stealing educational opportunities from a child in order to make him spend his days practicing taking a standardized test bears not the slightest resemblance to providing that child with an actual education, and there isn’t a person with an iota of sense who doesn’t know that.
Advocates of the testing will say, “No no no! Don’t teach to the test! Just learn them kids real good and they will naturally do well on the tests.” There isn’t enough room in this entire newspaper to show all the ways that we know that’s wrong.
NCLB creates enormous pressure on school districts to do things that we know are educationally unsound. And as we enter the end stages of this legislative disease, one more nasty side effect becomes apparent.
NCLB has the potential to turn the entire school-student relationship on its head. A student who couldn’t or wouldn’t or chose not to try to learn used to be just a challenge to schools. That student ought to be a customer, but instead that student is a threat.
Across the nation, you’ll still see districts that are led by people with vision and courage who say, “Let’s figure out how to give these students great educations and somehow take care of the test scores.” But you’ll also see districts led by people who simply say, “I don’t care what else you do—get those numbers up.”
The worst districts will simply become processing centers, unconcerned with whether students have been prepared to be citizens in the real world or not. As long as the paperwork is okay, the numbers are acceptable, and the kid finishes (because dropouts also count against a district)—well, what happens to him after school isn’t our problem. It’s just our job to process him on through.
Every school district has administrators, counselors and teachers who will continue to do their damnedest to give their students a quality education, even if there are days when it feels as if they’re working in a hospital run by people who have required that antibiotics be replaced with drano.
Those educators will keep fighting to do the job they signed on for, even though it will become more of a fight over the next few years. If you’re a parent, you’ll want to find these people and make them your allies, and they can use your help as well.
Why am I still in the biz if I think the picture is so grim? Because I love my job. All this NCLB mess reminds me that it’s not a chore, not to be taken for granted, and well worth working and fighting for. Sometimes things of great value cost a little something. Education is powerful, important, valuable, and exciting, and American public education, where everyone can come together and swim in that same exhilarating river, is even more worthwhile. I know there are some people who have forgotten it and others who never knew it. I feel a little bit sad for those folks.
But it’s time for school to start. And I can’t wait.

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