On the eve of 2007, those of us concerned with education and the reauthorization of No Child Left Behind, might take a good look at a recent article by Richard Rothstein and Rebecca Jocobsen on The Goals of Education that appeared in the December issue of Phi Delta Kappan.
It's time to reexamine the goals of education for 2007 and beyond within a reality-based framework as the nation begins to heal from the past seven years of lies, corruption, greed and mythology that has characterized the policies of this administration and members of Congress on every front.
It's time to take a look on the Goals 2000 established during the Clinton administration used to justify NCLB and the rush to "standards" in the 1990's and ask ourselves how many of these goals have been achieved. It's time for this administration and Margaret Spellings, who is so concerned with measurements, to be held accountable for their own complete failure to measure up and accomplish even one of these goals.
By the Year 2000 -
- All children in America will start school ready to learn.
- The high school graduation rate will increase to at least 90 percent.
- All students will leave grades 4, 8, and 12 having demonstrated competency over challenging subject matter including English, mathematics, science, foreign languages, civics an government, economics, the arts, history, and geography, and every school in America will ensure that all students learn to use their minds well, so they may be prepared for responsible citizenship, further learning, and productive employment in our nation's modern economy.
- The United States students will be first in the world in mathematics and science achievement.
- Every adult American will be literate and will possess the knowledge and skills necessary to compete in a global economy and exercise the rights and responsibilities of citizenship.
- Every school in the United States will be free of drugs, violence, and the unauthorized presence of firearms and alcohol and will offer a disciplined environment conducive to learning.
- The nation's teaching force will have access to programs for the continued improvement of their professional skills and the opportunity to acquire the knowledge and skills needed to instruct and prepare all American students for the next century.
- Every school will promote partnerships that will increase parental involvement and participation in promoting the social, emotional, and academic growth of children."
What do we have instead? Thanks to the work of Rothstein and Jacobsen at the Economic Policy Institute we KNOW what we have:
The shift in curricular coverage is also at odds with the consensus about the goals of public education to which Americans historically have subscribed. More surprisingly, it is also starkly at odds with the apparent intentions of school board members and state legislators, who are responsible for implementing the policy, and with the intentions of the public whom these leaders represent. We will discuss the evidence with regard to these intentions later in this article. For now, let us begin by documenting the goal displacement stimulated by NCLB.
The federal government's periodic national survey of teachers demonstrates the curricular shifts. In 1991, teachers in grades 1 to 4 spent an average of 33% of their classroom instructional time on reading. By 2004, reading was consuming 36% of instructional time. For math, average weekly time went from 15% to 17%. Meanwhile, time for social studies and science decreased. Since 1991, instructional time spent on social studies went from 9% to 8%, and time spent on science went from 8% to 7%.
These seemingly small average changes mask a disproportionate impact on the most disadvantaged students. The Council for Basic Education surveyed school principals in several states in the fall of 2003 and found that principals in schools with high proportions of minorities were more likely to have reduced time for history, civics, geography, the arts, and foreign languages so that they could devote more time to math and reading. In New York, for example, twice as many principals in high-minority schools reported such curricular shifts as did principals in mostly white schools. In high-minority elementary schools, 38% of principals reported decreasing the time devoted to social studies (usually meaning history), but in low-minority schools only 17% reported decreasing such time.
A 2005 survey by the Center on Education Policy (CEP) found that 97% of high-poverty districts had new minimum-time requirements for reading, while only 55% of low-poverty districts had them. The CEP had previously found that, where districts had adopted such minimum-time policies, about half had reduced social studies, 43% had reduced art and music, and 27% had reduced physical education.
Thus, although NCLB aims to narrow the achievement gap in math and reading, its unintended consequence is to widen the gap in other curricular areas. This is how one former teacher describes her changed classroom activities:
From my experience of being an elementary school teacher at a low-performing urban school in Los Angeles, I can say that the pressure became so intense that we had to show how every single lesson we taught connected to a standard that was going to be tested. This meant that art, music, and even science and social studies were not a priority and were hardly ever taught. We were forced to spend ninety percent of the instructional time on reading and math. This made teaching boring for me and was a huge part of why I decided to leave the profession.
Even retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor has joined the chorus of NCLB critics:
O'Connor now co-chairs a "Campaign for the Civic Mission of Schools," which laments that, under NCLB, "as civic learning has been pushed aside, society has neglected a fundamental purpose of American education, putting the health of our democracy at risk."
It is precisely this catch-22 created by NCLB that prevents us from really improving education, closing the achievement gap, and investing in a collective future. Instead, the emphasis on testing and standards with punitive consequences have placed the nation on a dangerous path towards mediocrity and ignorance in a nation that is being left behind.
"Whatever America hopes to bring to pass in the world must first come to pass in the heart of America." -- Dwight David Eisenhower