Improving test scores will lead to school massacres, according to a Washington Post column by Margaret McKenna, president of Lesley University, on the anniversary of Columbine.
Education Gadfly annihilates the argument, citing Dave Cullen’s reporting in Slate on the FBI’s diagnosis of the Columbine killers: Eric Harris was a psychopath who hated everyone; Dylan Klebold was his depressed tool. Neither was a victim of bullying. Justin Torres writes on Gadfly:
As FBI investigators have concluded, there was no “Trench Coat Mafia,” there was no dark history of abuse by jocks and preps, there was no sick social structure at Columbine High that drove Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris to kill. In fact, while Klebold was a sad and troubled loner under the sway of a stronger personality, Harris, we now know, was a textbook psychopath, drunk with a sense of his own grandeur. He had contempt for the lower beings around him and expressed pleasure at the thought of their suffering and death.
Such troubling moral realities — the reality, indeed, of evil — are far too stark for Ms. McKenna, who mouths psychobabble platitudes about “regimentation,” “student alienation,” “anonymity,” and “supporting and developing human beings.” (Platitudes that, by the way, would have driven Eric Harris crazy with rage, and which he was extremely adept at manipulating.) And, like those who think that the jocks bullied Harris and Klebold into murder, she has her own novel theory about what’s to blame for Columbine — none other than George W. Bush and Uncle Sam!
“[S]ome of the most important lessons of Columbine,” she writes, “have been all but forgotten — left behind, so to speak, in no small measure because of another educational development of recent years: the No Child Left Behind Act. As class time becomes more regimented and tight budgets create larger class sizes, schools are becoming environments even less conducive to teachers knowing their students well. [The law] forces communities to focus more on raising test scores than on raising kids.” A fevered McKenna delivers what she apparently imagines to be the coup de grace: “The growing belief that rising test scores alone equate to successful schools is false, and it can breed a deadly complacency. The test scores at Columbine High were among the highest in Colorado.”
The logic is as tortured as the notion is repulsive. Never mind that, as McKenna notes, “statistics on school violence have shown a continuing decline since 1995” or that the reports she cites showing a rise in school bullying are routinely scoffed at by serious social scientists. Never mind that schools, high- or low-achieving, are in fact significantly safer than malls, public parks, private homes, and other places that children congregate. Never mind that, sadly enough, serious school violence, when it occurs, disproportionately does so in low-achieving schools. Never mind that there is not one shred of serious evidence linking school violence to high academic standards, and quite a bit indicating that a focused and serious curriculum can help create a disciplined learning environment.
Indeed, never mind that on every factual point, McKenna is grievously, irretrievably wrong. Let us state her central contention baldly: Those who advocate for high standards and accountability are pursuing a policy that leads, in due course, to mass murder. Such a contention is outside the bounds of civilized discourse; to use a massacre like Columbine as an excuse to score debating points about testing is despicable.
The No Child Left Behind Act, passed in 2001, gets the blame for the Columbine massacre, which occurred in 1999. It’s a powerful law indeed.