Thinking and Linking by Joanne Jacobs
Do we need a basic rewrite of No Child Left Behind? Check out the very lively debate on New Talk.
I know this wouldn’t be popular with either the Left OR the Right, but what we need is to shut down the U.S. Department of Education and get the federal government out of the business of education. If the people of the individual states are willing to force their state governments to be accountable, that has a chance of working in SOME states. Getting the federal government to be accountable AND the state governments to be accountable is an unworkable nightmare. Have schools gotten better or worse since the federal Department of Education was created and started pumping money (and mandates) into the states? I’d say they’re worse. Even if they’re not worse, they’re certainly no better. We have nothing to show for the money spent, and the people of the states have lost a tremendous amount of (relatively) local control.
David — well said!!
Perhaps the solution is to make team sports a perk for those students who are achieving at grade level.
Achievement should be tested by independent agencies, perhaps supervised by the intermural competitors of each school.
David McElroy’s comment reminded me of something that I had forgotten. Ronald Reagan, if I remember correctly, promised to abolish the Department of Education, but failed to deliver. At the time I thought it was a good idea. And I think I would have to agree with David’s view of NCLB. Just get rid of it – totally.
Here’s a parallel to think about. Some parents are not very good. We could pass a law setting minimum performance standards for parents, with sanctions and intervention when parents don’t measure up. Would that be a good idea? I think it would be a very bad idea.
I wonder if trying to make schools and teachers better is as futile as trying to make parents better. We accuse schools, administrators, and teachers of not caring at times, and with some justification at times, but I think in the big picture most administrators, and practically all teachers, are doing the best they can. Improvement is always possible of course, but where will that improvement come from? I wonder if NCLB is like an unskillful teacher acting like a drill sergeant and hoping that makes the kids learn better. My view has always been that improvements in education will come from a better understanding of teaching and learning. That can not be accomplished with either more money or tougher sanctions.
In the discussion over at New Talk, Diane Ravitch suggests that the federal role be limited solely to testing, leaving it entirely up to the states as to what to do with the results. I would agree with that.
We do have minimum performance standards for parents, and sanctions and consequences. A parent can be charged with neglect (or abuse). Some of the things that can lead to charges include curfew violations, truancy, lack of appropriate supervision, or medical care, exposure to things that are generally inappropriate for children’s growth and development (spouse abuse, illegal drug use, pornography, etc). Most parents far exceed the minimums.
I wholeheartedly agree that improvements in education come from a better understanding of teaching and learning–but I don’t know how to get that moving without some serious pushing and pulling from the folks who hold the purse strings. I am endlessly frustrated, as a parent, that I can find research to support better ways of doing things, but cannot get teachers to even entertain a conversation about any of them. To me, the opportunity to focus on outcomes (measured by test scores–and any other empirical data that can be applied) ought to offer maximum opportunity to schools and districts to apply the best that is known about how to educate. The fact that teachers have fought so hard against picking up on this opportunity is a bit frightening. Either they don’t know what to do (in terms of improvement), or they prefer just being told what to do and forgetting about the end result.
Brian, you’re right that Reagan promised (in during his 1980 campaign) to eliminate the Department of Education. Most people don’t remember that the Department of Education wasn’t even created until 1979 (and it was more of a bone to the teacher unions than anything else, IMO). Here’s an article at the Cato Institute web site which discusses the promises that Republicans were making (as late as 1996) to get rid of this bureaucracy. Of course, nobody seems to talk about it anymore, because it’s becoming a more and more accepted “fact” that education is rightfully a federal issue.
Good point, Margo, about minimum acceptable levels of parenting. I think several things can be considered here. Formalism and defaults come to mind.
All states have laws about poor parenting. But in general these laws must be triggered in some way, perhaps by abuse or neglect being reported by a neighbor or a teacher, followed by investigation, followed by legal action when needed. Once this process is underway there may be a lot of formalism. But until there is some cause to intervene, we have no formal system of assessing routine parenting. Parents to not have to file a “state of the family report” every April 15 along with their income tax. There is the default assumption that any given parent is competent until there is some reason to suspect otherwise. Before NCLB it was much the same with schools.
But this does not mean there was no accountability. When I was in the tenth grade it didn’t take me too many months to form the opinion that our world history teacher was no good. A year later he was eased out of his job. I don’t know the details, of course, but it appeared to me that my poor opinion of him was shared by our school administration, and they managed to get rid of him. As another example, in my second year of teaching we had a high school principal who got himself fired for crossing some lines of propriety. I presume such situations happened all the time, and continue to happen all the time. Every school board, I presume, at times has to wrestle with difficult problems of problem teachers and problem administrators. Things were less formal before NCLB, but that does not mean that anything went, that there were no standards at all.
There has also always been some accountability of educational results. Remember “Why Johnny Can’t Read”? Remember when Sputnik went up? Remember “A Nation At Risk”? I’ll admit that plenty of times in my life I lamented that our culture cares more about football and movie stars than about academic achievement, but that doesn’t mean that we didn’t care at all.
Maybe accountability for academic achievement is increased by being formalized in NCLB, or maybe not. Maybe we benefit by making a default presumption of inadequacy until the test results are in and prove adequacy, but I am not convinced.
Maybe parenting would be improved by legislating a lot of formal requirements to prove adequate parenting, and making a default judgment of poor parenting until proven otherwise, (perhaps on an April 15 “state of the family report”), but I don’t think so, and I surely don’t want to find out the hard way.
Anyway, that’s my thinking about NCLB for the moment. It was only last winter that I decided I was against it. Maybe I’ll change my mind again. But at the moment I do think the ideal role of the federal government in education is just as a provider of information.
Either they donâ€™t know what to do (in terms of improvement), or they prefer just being told what to do and forgetting about the end result.
It’s door number two.
After all, other then feeling good about themselves, what’s in it for the teacher? Certainly nothing as contemptible as mere money or much of anything for that matter. In fact, about the only thing I can think of that’s a quantifiable reward for service are retirement benefits and all they require is endurance not teaching skill.
Let’s see. We were not satisfied with educational results. So what did we decide to do? Test. Why, when we already knew we were not satisfied with the results?
Isn’t the problem really that we do not know how to create an environment in which 20 to 30 children of roughly the same age but very different abilities and learning styles can learn together? Name a method – sage on the stage or guide on the side, phonics or balanced language – and you can find good people on all sides claiming what they advocate works. And maybe it does – for them, for some.
The experts who were debating NCLB apparently came to the conclusion that we need a national curriculum. I can’t think of anything more likely to set off a vicious national fight (evolution? creationism? homosexuality? the classics? etc.) but if we ever agree on one, what then? Open the kids skulls and pour it in? Haven’t we proved we don’t know how to do that in our traditional classroom?
Enough about national affairs. My immediate problem is that my granddaughter doesn’t like the reading program I so carefully selected for her. What now? Pick another? Wait a few months for her to mature? Follow her interests? She’s mad for rhyming words and learning to tell time; that’s enough for now.
Oh, and MY test for her learning? The gleam of interest in her eyes.
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