No Child Left Behind Flogs the Wrong Horse

A couple weeks back, the Washington Post ran one of those holier-than-thou editorials about the sad state of primary education.

A couple weeks back, the Washington Post ran one of those holier-than-thou editorials about the sad state of primary education.
They opened with

EDUCATORS who are successful
in turning around troubled schools say the first step is collecting
reliable data. A true measure of performance is the only way to
identify problems and map improvement. Yet, five years into the No
Child Left Behind Act and its mandate for accountability, too many
states are still gaming the system by administering weak tests. They
boast about high scores, but their claims are as phony as the
performance of their students.

You don’t need a scorecard to know that a losing team has taken the
field. In the half century since I left high school, it’s been hard to
hear past the constant flushing of the toilet that has become our
schools. A teacher from the majority of our urban school systems who
demands respect (or even elementary attention) from students had better
be able to take them on physically and then take on their parents in a
Small wonder that over 50% of ‘educators’ are in the administrative rather than the teaching end of the business. What is that all about?
Administration is the Dunkirk of the American experiment at ‘gaming the
system’ on behalf of teachers, administrators and politicians,
The blame is so widespread as to be unaccountable. It’s a national joke that brings no laughter. The 60-year modernization by which we lost control has as many culprits as specific local circumstances care to finger.
But culprits, blame and scores amount to the same as Cactus Jack
Garner’s opinion of the Vice Presidency of the United States (which he
was occupying at the time)—“not worth a bucket of warm spit.”

No Child Left Behind,
politics’ latest (and perhaps last) assault on the non-education of
America’s children before evacuating the beaches, is simply flogging
the wrong horse.
Seeking to justify all those educators who do not teach, to sell the benefit of self-esteem over the ability to read and write, to absolve themselves from a discussion of rocketing property-taxes and ramshackle schools, the Washington Post editorial hounds are hard on the scent. They self-importantly proclaim that

“All students, no matter where they live, should have to show proficiency in certain skills and knowledge.”

Nice rhetoric, but I doubt if any member of the editorial board at the Post
has ever set foot in an urban school, much less sat down to talk with
the beleaguered principal or sat in on a week’s worth of classes. Sit down and sit in, those of you who would measure and evaluate, suppose and propose.
Children, be they from Lake Forest Academy or Chicago’s inner city
public schools, have one predominant social and intellectual
commonality—the thirst to learn. Bear with me before you look elsewhere, eyes rolling. I didn’t say they had the same
thirst for Shakespeare and trigonometry. But watch any child reach from
its mother’s arms, clutch shiny objects, adventure itself into
impossibly complicated circumstances and then grin at you or howl in
frustration. Blame circumstances or environment, care or neglect,
expectations, nutrition, drugs, or a whole litany of societal ills—but
as for thirst, it’s there for all kids.
Our failure is not to count the grade-point averages, but to quench the thirst.
What is not there for all kids, and you can make a case that it’s not there for any kids, be they wealthy or poor, advantaged or impoverished—is a delivery system for Shakespeare or trigonometry. Today’s youngsters are the product of MTV and the iPod. Our message is the text and theirs is the text-message. Cell-phones are doing a better job of teaching literacy than schools.
The educated will (eventually) read books, because they have learned
the pleasure of reading. But trying to teach European history with required reading assignments is to look through the wrong end of the telescope.
Schlindler’s List. Teach you anything memorable about Hitler and the Jews? Learn anything worthwhile about black America from watching The Color Purple?
Both of them powerful movies, both of them by Steven Spielberg. My own
age takes me back to a poignant memory of our American Civil War I
still carry from watching Gone With the Wind.
I can but wonder if Spielberg (or his like) wouldn’t be able to dramatize the world of triangles that is trigonometry and make it—if not number one on my Hit Parade—at least understandable and interesting because it was
understood. The world is a fascinating place, full of absorbing events
and captivating people—chock-a-block intrigue and opportunity. Kids know about what is interesting to them, precisely because it is interesting to them.
Britney Spears and the principles of flight—on an equal footing at last.
If you ever had access to the engine room of a ship or the press
room of a major newspaper, I hope you were lucky enough to have a kid
along. Both places are indescribably dry and uninteresting in written
description and more fun than Disneyland to actually visit.
The process by which education is driven down our throats
hasn’t changed in a couple hundred years. Yet the way in which
advertising and entertainment dominates our everyday choices and
decisions tells me there’s something amiss beyond our ability to count
the dead on the national battlefield of schools.
Everyone involved with education, from the President of the United
States to the newest hired teacher, is motivated to cover their ass.
We’ve been lied to, that there is not enough money, classrooms are out
of control and the scorecard is the meaning, rather than the game. The result doesn’t begin to be measureable by national test scores.
Flogging its stance in favor of national tests, the Post asks

reading in the third grade be the same in Mississippi as in Maryland?
Even more urgent, given the competition the United States faces in a
global economy, shouldn’t an eighth-grader from Georgia or Pennsylvania
have the same math skills as any counterpart in Singapore or Denmark?

Maybe the better question is, shouldn’t an eighth-grader from Georgia
or Pennsylvania be motivated to learn and retain scholastic skills by
the preferred (and obvious) methods of what everyone likes to describe
as the information age? A society should hardly hold less effective standards in the education of its children than it allocates to the advertising of iPods or the next blockbuster movie.
They are—after all–aimed at the same audience.
Media comment;

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