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

Friday, August 03, 2007

Kennedy on NCLB: Tragically Fanatical

From Dan Brown at Huffington Post:

In an administration where the Business Roundtable -- a consortium of CEOs and moguls -- has the president's ear more than the National Education Association in making education policy, warning bells should be going off.

While President Bush has lost the confidence of most of the country (his disapproval rate is right about where Nixon's was at resignation time), for some reason his No Child Left Behind education policy still has credibility for discussion. Perhaps Edward Kennedy's tragically fanatical support for NCLB has protected the suffocating law from being swept into Bush's ever-expanding garbage bin of failed policy.

And so we have to deal with the consequences. Eight-hundred-pound money gorillas like the CEOs of State Farm, Intel, and Prudential meet privately with President Bush to talk turkey on reauthorizing NCLB, but teachers and parents-- the ones living with the draconian mandates of the law--are left to sift through the propaganda.

The first line of the Department of Education's policy blueprint reads with such stunning condescension, it's clear that its Bush loyalist authors have no experience working on the ground with real students. It reads:

"Five years ago, Americans united behind a revolutionary idea: Every child can learn."

I hate to break it to them, but that's actually the most un-revolutionary idea there could be in a democracy. Millions of Americans trapped in the system are desperate for a whiff of reality from Washington.

When House Education and Labor Committee Chairman Miller spoke out this week that NCLB definitely needs changes, it was a breath of almost-fresh air, a recognition that the screaming out of students, teachers, and families had finally reached the ears of Congress. In his July 30 speech, Chairman Miller cut to the heart of the issue: "Many Americans do not believe that the success of our students or our schools can be measured by one test administered on one day. I agree with them. This is not fair." He's right. However, he maddeningly goes on to recommend artificial solutions for achieving success like looking at graduation rates and teacher merit pay for higher test scores. There is no mention of incorporating an array of classroom-based assessments--the kind that can actually tell a true story about a student's achievement. Under this barely-altered sort of statistics-worshipping "accountability" regime, we will be left with empty numbers and disillusioned children.

No Child Left Behind hunts down failure rather than promoting success. Trapped under this framing, all boats sink. Perhaps test score graphs show a few hills here and there, but there is no graph to measure how NCLB has ruined any possibility of many children associating learning and school with stimulation and empowerment. You can't calibrate with a test or a dubious graduation rate chart how NCLB has stolen teachers' and schools' creative spirits, or how it has widely denied to student a rich, interdisciplinary curriculum because of the harsh mandates of test preparation.

We need to snap out of the haze that has permitted people like the State Farm CEO to shape public opinion on how American schools should run. The voices of teachers and students' families must be heard to make good education policy.

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