"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Friday, August 26, 2005

Why Schools Matter

As I sit here writing my last post for the week, my daughter is in the next room packing for college. She will be a freshman at Brandeis University, a small liberal arts college located in a suburb of Boston.

One of the reasons I decided to go back to school to become a high school history and social studies teacher was because I wanted to share my love for the subject and inspire my students to become active, engaged citizens so maybe one day they would make a difference. After spending many years in the corporate world, I was looking forward to having autonomy and control over what I would be doing every day and over how and what I would teach.

Much to my surprise, I soon realized that the relentless push to raise test scores and to use standardized tests as the sole measure of the quality of education would have a great impact on what I might be able to do in the classroom. After spending nearly a year researching No Child Left Behind, it soon became clear that this country is in the midst of a war. The war being waged over education and the aims and purposes of schooling. The relentless push for more testing, privatization and accountability for teachers with virtually no discussion in the public discourse over the common good, the effects of poverty, health care, housing and the environment on student learning is outrageous. These issues must be addressed if there is going to be any chance of ever closing the achievement gap.

I hope that Schools Matter can become a place for that discussion to take place so that maybe one day real education reform will take the whole child into consideration. My daughter, along with the millions of other students who have hopes and dreams, who want to be educated and have opportunities, are much more than a test score. Children are not specimens in a petri dish to be measured. The politicians and business leaders who have hijacked education and who are profiting financially from this empty, meaningless reform, are stealing something very precious-- our collective future. It is time to hold them accountable for their failure to address the real problems in education.


  1. Thank youfor your blog. It's interesting.

    Congratulations to your daughter for preparing herself as an eligible applicant for Brandeis University. It's a great school. I appreciate the many fine people I met there while completing research contracts through the Heller School. Bob Heiny

    I take it you don't like NCLB. I agree it seem to have some awkward parts.

    It also allows states not to participate in the program. And, it offers minimum thresholds for participating states to meet in exchange for Federal funds.

    Many teachers fly with students way above these minimums. Since standardized test scores are used, that means, by definition, at least one half of all students score at or above "average." And, test results can prompt teachers and administrators where to consider changing instructional content or processes.

    Do you find these options objectionable?

    Keep up the good work.

  2. I don't think anyone's against the public goals of NCLB - to reduce (and eventually eliminate) the achievement gap, to make sure that 100% of America's children are 100% educated. How can we not be for those things?

    The problem for me, as Judy says it is for her, lies in the implementation: it reduces "education" to a spreadsheet. A very narrow spreadsheet. And the only thing that matters to the educational bureaucracy (from the department chair to the Commander in Chief) seems to be the numbers in that spreadsheet. That focus distracts attention and energy that would be better devoted to the issues Judy mentioned: "the common good, the effects of poverty, health care, housing and the environment on student learning."

    To suggest that participation is optional strikes me as disengenuous - federal highway funds are optional too, but every single state complies with the requirements to avoid losing them.

  3. Anonymous7:14 PM

    Thanks, Judy! I really enjoy this blog. It's one of the few on education that something to say.

    I share your corporate background and the thing that galls me the most is how corporate interests champion NCLB and yet they would never implement such a rigid, one-size-fits-all policy in a business situation without major modification. The reasons why have nothing to do with altruism. NCLB would be recognized as inflexible, counter-productive, overly bureaucratic and not likely to increase productivity or profit. They would also recognize that such a move would result in personal “gaming the system” and causing skewed metrics (and you know what corporations think about metrics). It might be kept in some miserable form—and corporate polices are often very unfair--but it would be severely amended.

    Nevertheless, government and corporations ignore the fact that they themselves would NEVER tolerate a system like NCLB and endorse it as though it is a viable means to compensate for extreme poverty and to close the achievement gap.

    You have to wonder what they really think.