Songs of the status quo

No Child Left Behind has inspired protest songs, reports USA Today.

At first, Lily Eskelsen’s sparkling alto lends her the air of a latter-day Joan Baez. She’s strumming a guitar softly — how far behind can the songs be about the coal miners? But the former Utah teacher’s subject soon becomes clear:

“A bureaucrat came to our town.
And at first we thought he jested,
He said, “When I get through with you folks,
There’ll be no child left untested.”

She performed the song (with the unforgettable hook “If we have to test their butts off, there’ll be no child’s behind left”) this week at the National Education Association’s annual meeting.

. . . Another CD, released in May, with lyrics by former Fort Collins, Colo., teacher Cheryl Miller Thurston, features more songs from a teacher’s point of view, including one with this refrain: “No child’s left behind, in America. No child’s left behind, guaranteed. No child’s left behind, in America. But, honey, they’re losing me! “

I’m sorry for those poor, pitiful teachers, but even sorrier for students who are way behind, and don’t have teachers willing to face the problem and do something about it.

About Joanne


  1. kum bi ya Lord, kum bi ya……..

  2. I’ve often wondered how my fellow teachers can be so smug as to think that we’re above objective evaluation, and that we alone are the best arbiters of whether or not our students are learning. Hasn’t our pathetic international showing dispelled that myth yet?

    And I’m tired of hearing about teaching to the test and stifling creativity. If you can’t find a creative way to teach necessary content, the solution is *not* to find a creative way to teach fluff and tripe. As for the test–I teach HS math, and if I’m teaching the *content* I’m supposed to then in effect I’m teaching to the test. How is that a bad thing! Don’t our driver’s education courses teach things students need to know to be safe drivers, and isn’t that the information that’s tested by DMV? Maybe we should stop such courses!

    I grow weary, yet I cannot get out of this fight. It means too much to me.

  3. Sigivald says:

    I wonder if the various teachers complaining about this have any idea how they sound to the people who pay their salaries and entrust their kids to their care?

    (“I’ve worked in the private sector – they expect results!”)

  4. Mad Scientist says:

    There is this story about how a student was failed in Physics. He was asked to determine the height of a building using a barometer. His answer: “Go to the roof. Tie a string to the barometer. Lower the barometer to the ground. Measure the string.”

    When he was informed of his failure because he did not use Physics in his answer, he appealed. They agreed to retest him. He gave many answers, such as “drop the barometer from the roof and time how long it takes to fall” and other amusing tidbits. Still the teachers wanted one specific answer, and refused to pass him.

    Finally he said: “Go to the building’s janitor. Offer to give him the barometer in exchange for telling me the height of the building.”

    The student was Neils Bohr.

    Just shows that the close-mindedness of the educational establishment is nothing new.

  5. Mad Scientist says:

    Sigvald: Be very careful. You are spreading the vile philosophy of Ayn Rand.

  6. Bob Diethrich says:

    That Bohr story is probably apocryphal

    Check here:

  7. Particularly because comparing the resolution of a barometer with the fluctuation of local air pressure over time makes calculating the height of a building based on a comparison of pressure at ground level and the roof a dubious process at best.

    The problem with teaching to the test comes when teachers match not only the curriculum, but the format. The final straw for us on the decision to homeschool came when my mother-in-law, an exceptionally bad example of the government school teacher, overheard us telling our son, then four years old, that the time was “a quarter to three” and told us “You have to teach him 2:45 because that is how they tell time on the Iowa test.”

  8. cjstevens says:

    Yes, there are number of critiques (example) of NCLB; oftentimes I hear people talk about different ways schools are trying to move far from accountability, and then say that NCLB is “better than nothing.” Sure, we all have to start somewhere, but where is that place? Does NCLB need tweaking?

  9. Stop singing, start teaching!


    “Modernizing” driver’s ed to be in sync with current e-duh-cational trends means lots of drivers dead.

    I’m out of the fight now. I’m no longer a professor and won’t be one next fall. But best wishes to those of you who still wage war against ignorance.

  10. Why don’t we drop the testing for the Airline Transport Pilot license? Initially, we could do it for just one airline. Passengers would be restricted to members of the NEA, who would not be allowed to fly on any other airlines.

    Then, if everyone is hapy after a couple of years, we could expand the program to include other airlines and professions.

  11. Not only are they singing protest songs, they’re also cheating to help the kids pass the tests:,2933,125003,00.html (“Hundreds of Teachers Caught Cheating”)

    Pathetic. And the even sadder thing is that their ‘leaders’ in the NEA and local unions seems to be encouraging this rather than condemning it.

  12. Steve LaBonne says:

    Marc (Amritas), best wishes to _you_! I hope you will soon join the many who have found that there is not only life but damn _good_ life after academia.

  13. Sigivald says:

    Mad: I sincerely hope not. I’m not actually very fond of Rand, per se. (I am fond of both capitalism and rational self-interest, but Objectivism(tm) tends to leave a bad taste in my mouth.)

    Fortunately, employees being beholden to employers is not limited to Objectivist thought.

  14. Steve,

    Thanks. I’m already feeling better than ever!

  15. Mike in Texas says:

    Man, there is some serious teacher bashing going on in this thread.

    As I have said before, the problem with NCLB and many other touted educational reforms is they are created by politicians, mostly lawyers, who have no idea what sound educational policies are. NCLB DOES take creativity out of teaching and reduce it to learning to take the test. I teach in Texas and if any of you think NCLB is a great thing than you need to examine the Texas school system’s results. Texas ranks among the lowest in nearly every category, including SAT scores and high school and college graduation rates. But yet, the test scores as mandated by Dubya and company have continued to rise.

    People if you are a teacher your test scores are the ONLY thing you a judged by. For those of you who are not teachers this means you will do what you have to do to keep your job, get the test scores up. I would also like to point out that all children are not the same. You can’t compare children who live in a crack house with children who come from a loving, caring home with parents who care about their education.

    Joanne loves to rag on teachers and point out what a great job charter schools are doing. What she doesn’t point out is many of these schools are spending enormous of amounts of money to achieve these results, much more than public schools could afford to spend with the mandate they have to teacher EVERYBODY.

    By the way, the charter school in Texas that has been held up a model for the way it should be done has now been shut down by the state and many of its officials arrested for fraud.

    Joanne, why are you so eager to give money to for profit schools with no accoutability and not willing to give it to the public schools that most educate everyone?

  16. Steve LaBonne says:

    Mike, parents and taxpayers are sick of seeing kids who can’t read or do math because of their teachers’ “creativity”. Deal with it.

  17. I hate to point this out …. no I don’t.

    This is an argument from ignorance. Seriously.

    And not just on this side of the fence, I should add. It seems to me that very few people understand the inescapable fact that teachers and students are variable individuals. In this, I EXPLICITLY include Educators (Those who once taught and now administrate Teachers) and Educationalists (Who have never taught, have no children and either administrate Educators or design curricula.)

    My wife – whom I may justly brag of – has a very very good track record. Occasionally, though, she runs into a student that she, personally, cannot teach.

    Now, admitting this would require that we all admit that teaching is as much art as science and that to achieve a minimum acceptable result (which we MUST insist upon, obviously) we must understand that, and allow for several paths to that goal.

    Instead, curricula come and go. They each work for some, not for all. WHO gets to be the ‘dummy’ changes from year to year, but there are always going to be more failures than necessary.

    Then there’s the other thing that should be observed and never is.

    We currently teach reading without any mandate to explain why you would wish to do it.

    We currently teach math without any examples of why you would need it.

    I understand that there are two sorts of math brains – you will either understand algebra or geometry, but not both. One is always emphasized over the latter when it would make more sense to test to see which is going to be the better track and then teach to that.

    We also ignore solid science about learning in curriculum design. REading currently starts a year or two early for optimum learning. Fact based on brain development.

    And if we wanted good math scores we would be starting out with serious music education in the very earliest grades. Fact backed up by countless studies.

    Finally, there are several identifiable learning styles. I’m an implicit learner, for example. Nothing makes sense to me until I can apply it; otherwise, it’s just so much irritating noise.

    I’m very good as a learner – but the way to “teach” me is to give me something and send me away to play with it. In ten or fifteen minutes I’ll be back with a hundred questions – or be able to search a text for the answers I need to take my play to the next level.

    The challenge to a teacher I present is figuring out an objective for me that will result in me discovering the things I’m supposed to learn.

    I got D’s until I figured out that that was the “game” and then figured out the equally difficult concept for me that there was a point to *demonstrating* my ability to parrot the expected, low-level conclusions.

    Usually I thought those too trivial to be worth mentioning. 🙂 Oh, and I WAS a snot.

    Now, the way my wife’s school works in practice – not on paper, there’s no official policy, it’s simply a commonsense adaptation to reality – is to assign students to teachers based on a “best fit” basis; matching learning style to teaching style.

    This is completely alien to the idea that there can be UNIFORM results.

    Nope. You can definitely, (and probably fairly easily) raise the overall performance of any school. Certainly testing is a valuable tool for finding out what works. But if there is only one curriculum approach, and only one test for that curriculum, and those tests don’t really address the understanding of the issues the curricula are intended to communicate – the data aren’t very useful.

    You see, the curriculum is not JUST about what subject is taught when. It’s HOW it is taught. For instance, phonics comes and goes, competing with other approaches that work about as well for a different slice of kids.

    Special ed – as my wife does it – seems to amount to teaching the same things with a different toolkit. So my wife’s standard set of techniques is everything that was in fashion five years ago, plus hundreds of tricks and approaches for teaching individual, core concepts.

    Including test taking strategies. In a test-driven society, it’s vital to ensure that the problem isn’t that this particular child doesn’t just freeze when presented with one.

    The whole problem with NCLB is that it’s an attempt to resolve a complicated situation by decree. My wife interjects that weighing your cows more often won’t affect how fast they put on weight.

    It’s no different than a legislature proclaiming that Pi will now be equal to 3.5. The only sane response to this helpful legislation is to ignore it whenever possible – and always when designing load-bearing structures.

    There is a fact of life; in a public school that must accept all applicants, there will be some children who will not be able to succeed, due to functional limits, due to family issues, due to sheer unlucky and mis-match between them and the available teachers.

    Two of those things could be addressed if they were admitted; but functional limits are just that; functional limits. So a child with Down’s Syndrome needs to be judged on a different standard; they need to have an education that allows them to be the best functioning and best-equipped person with Down’s Syndrome possible.

    I’ve known several people with Down’s Syndrome – and they will not likely show up debating educational issues – but I happen to know business owner who hired an actually well-educated person with down’s – and said it was the single best hire she ever made. They could read well enough. They could do sums well enough. And they had all kinds of compensatory skills. And they had one more thing that was critical; the overwhelming strength of this “disability;” they loved routine, they were very, very social, and just plain adorable.

    Sure, it took them a week to learn a routine that a “normal” person would master in a day – but they would master it – and not get bored and quit. But they had to be taught to be effectively social and adorable in the same way they had to be taught to use a cash register designed for illiterates.

    The idea is to promote best possible outcomes on an individual basis to the greatest possible extent. That has to be the bottom line. No single mandated approach and no amount of testing will do that, unless the testing gives results that can inform us how a particular individual succeeds and fails.

    The factory farm system is the problem; children are not chickens, and we can’t eat them if they stop laying.

  18. Steve LaBonne says:

    You’re half right. Dealing with the psychology and learning styles of individual students is indeed an art and offers plenty of scope for creativity. But indivudual teachers or schools should NOT be making up their own curricula- to put it bluntly, they are unqualified to do so. We have seen over and over again, eg. whole language and “fuzzy math”, the damage done when people (ed. school professors and curriculum coordinators as well as teachers) who don’t have the required subject-matter expertise and familiarity with real scientific (not “educational psychology”) research findings, exercise their “creativity”.

    Well-designed standardized testing programs (and yes, we often “don’t quite have the tests we need” yet, to paraphrase E.D. Hirsch, and this situation needs to improve) are an absolutely essential part, in any school system anywhere in the world, of making make sure students are learning what they should. This is especially true in two critical areas, where poor performance by schools causes problems that kids may never be able to overcome: early reading instruction, and math (at all levels). Like it or not, the folks who pay the bills are increasingly, and rightly, going to demand objective proof of performance in these areas. Continued whining about this inevitable fact will only cause continued erosion in public support for public education. This is not “teacher bashing”, by the way; I’ve seen a number of teachers around here make this very point quite eloquently.

  19. Darren asks:

    I’ve often wondered how my fellow teachers can be so smug as to think that we’re above objective evaluation, and that we alone are the best arbiters of whether or not our students are learning. Hasn’t our pathetic international showing dispelled that myth yet?

    Seems to me that if you are NOT the first, best, and most capable OF truth-testing your results objectively – you can’t possibly be qualifed to be a teacher in the first place.

    Presented with a teacher that *is not able* to figure out the best approach to teach my child what they should know and that NEEDS an authoritarian babysitter – I’m homeschooling. I at least know my own child well enough, I hope, to manage that.

  20. Steve LaBonne says:

    I have great sympathy for home-schooling, but frankly there are some homeschool parents who worry me a lot, not so much because of their intellectual limitations as beacuse they lack the humility to even acknowledge that they have any. Others (the great majority, I believe), I hasten to add, are quite clear on knowing when they need help and where to go for it. In any case, my sympathy will never extend to conceding that homeschooled kids don’t need the same kind of objective assessment as kids in school. Too many homeschoolers seem to approach this question in an ideological way, but inadequate education damages kids and stunts their opportunities later in life, and that level of risk to chidren (who are unable to defend themselves) amply justifies the quite minimal level of intrusiveness implied by asking homeschooled kids to take standardized tests once a year.

  21. Andy Freeman says:

    > Joanne, why are you so eager to give money to for profit schools with no accoutability and not willing to give it to the public schools that most educate everyone?

    Experience with the public schools as they actually are would be enough.

    BTW – public schools do NOT educate everyone. Disagree? Then explain the horrendous drop-out rates, or argue that the drop-outs were educated also. And, explain why Johnny can’t read that diploma.

  22. Mike in Texas says:


    The public schools do have to educate anyone who shows up and asks for it. Public schools are also responsible for many things not directly related to learning such as transportation and food. Charter schools are usually given a free pass on these obligations and are able to spend more money on actual learning.

    What Joanne and so many others fail to point out are public schools are playing against a stacked deck. I have absolutely no concerns I could run a wonderful charter school. First, steal the best students from the public schools. Second, kick out any students who cause trouble and refuse to accept any kids with a history of causing trouble. Finally, let the kids fend for themselves when it comes to food and transportation.

    People like to extoll the virtues of NCLB as if the most important thing is making those lazy teachers do their jobs. My school recieved the highest ranking Texas gives to public schools. We had a totally ineffective principal who got his job because he had been a coach, a counselor who did absolutely nothings, curriculum people who would insist we use one type of reading program and only that program, and then never bought all of the necessary materials that go with the program. How then did we get the state’s highest rating? We had hardworking caring teachers who knew what the students needed to learn and then taught it to them, all the while ignoring the “educrats” who kept interfering.

  23. Steve LaBonne says:

    So you (collectively) did your job- good for you (I’m not being sarcastic- I mean it), and consequently got the good results from your state’s ranking system that you deserved. Your complaint about that is what, exactly?

  24. Mike in Texas says:

    I wasn’t complaining, I was pointing out that the teachers at our school rose above the inept leadership and meddling by the educrats and did what they knew needed to be done. An earlier post stated teachers shouldn’t be allowed to determine what gets taught.

  25. Andy Freeman says:

    > The public schools do have to educate anyone who shows up and asks for it.

    No, they don’t. They merely have to admit anyone who shows up. As I pointed out, many of those admitted don’t finish and many of those who do finish aren’t educated.

    Note that Mike also misrepresents the data showing that charter schools are succeeding where public schools are failing – kids that were failing in public schools are succeeding in charter schools. That can’t be due to selection.

    But, as long as Mike is ducking and misrepresenting, perhaps he’ll explain why parents shouldn’t be allowed to choose.

  26. Mike in Texas says:

    I’m neither ducking nor midsleading. What I am doing is pointing out that charter schools do not have to work under the same burdens/conditions the public schools do.

    Here in Texas the average dollars spent per student is $6700. The school district I work in spends around $6200. Many school districs in Texas are going broke trying to match the demands of NCLB b/c the feds are not matching their demands with dollars. Charter schools, however, seem to be able to spend enormous amounts of money per student since they don’t have to provide transportation or food to their students. I recently read of a very successful one that has two shifts of teachers to help sutdents, a luxury no public school in this country could afford. By the way, one of the most touted charter school programs, I apologize for not remembering the name, also had a 50% dropout rate.

    Andy, the parents who care enough to choose for their kids are probably the parents of kids who are already doing well. But if you shut down all the public schools then where are all the kids whose parents don’t care going to go?

  27. Andy Freeman says:

    > I’m neither ducking nor midsleading.

    Interestingly enough, the message that Mike is responding to gives a concrete example of what he’s denying. Anyone who looks at the previous messages in this exchange will if that’s an isolated example.

    > What I am doing is pointing out that charter schools do not have to work under the same burdens/conditions the public schools do.

    Since much of that is self-inflicted, let me find my tiny violin.

    Moreover, failure in those conditions is an argument AGAINST continuing them. Charter schools are one way to do that.

    Public school advocates have had decades to make the necessary changes, and things have gotten worse. Maybe we should let them continue to try a while longer, but it’s unreasonable to let them sink the lifeboats that are saving kids that they have failed.

    And, no, I don’t care if it’s “unfair” that public schools can’t make some changes. The current public school system is NOT a goal, it is merely one of many possible means. If it doesn’t work, it should be shut down, by any means necessary.

    > Andy, the parents who care enough to choose for their kids are probably the parents of kids who are already doing well.

    Hint – the fact that you need something to be true to support a “virtuous” argument/conclusion does not make that thing true.

    As I pointed out, kids do BETTER in charter schools than they were doing before. Does Mike want to argue that they were doing “well enough”, so we shouldn’t let them do better?

    Note that the students at Jacobs’ DCP were far more likely to drop out before they made the change and those that got diplomas weren’t much better off. Unlike Mike, I don’t call that “already doing well”.

  28. Mike in Texas says:

    It never ceases to amaze me that no one would dare try to tell engineers how to build a bridge or architects how to design a building EVERYONE thinks they know how to teach and reform America’s schools.

    Andy, let me recommened a writer whose name I believe is Frosty Winters (I think). I will look it up at work to be sure. He rights very convincingly of how the media slants the news to put American schools in a very poor light when it reality its very few school systems, mostly in the big cities where the media in concentrated, that’s really doing the horrible job.

  29. Andy Freeman says:

    > It never ceases to amaze me that no one would dare try to tell engineers how to build a bridge or architects how to design a building EVERYONE thinks they know how to teach and reform America’s schools.

    Nice straw man, and wrong on at least two levels.

    I’m not telling folks how to teach (although I’ve taught at the college level); I’m pointing out that the public schools are failing a lot of kids. I don’t have to be an engineer to notice that a bridge has fallen down.

    Note that engineers don’t blame their materials or the folks paying the bills. And, they’re evaluated and liable.

    Then again, engineers are professionals; teachers are less professional than burger-flippers.

    > its very few school systems, mostly in the big cities where the media in concentrated, that’s really doing the horrible job.

    Of course, that depends on your definition of “horrible”, and your tolerance for it.

    Yes, the stories are concentrated in the big cities, but the failures are nationwide. Take the schools in CA’s Central Valley – graduation rates under 50% are common and it’s unlikely that any lose less than half of the 7th grade class.

    Public schools that are doing well enough don’t have anything to fear from competition. If you’re worried about competition, you’re not doing well enough.