The film suggests that if there are problems in American education, they are largely due to standardized tests, overambitious parents, insufficient funding, and George W. Bush. It also offers possible solutions, which include abandoning testing and grading and giving teachers more autonomy.
. . . The movie’s recurring theme is that American kids are under intense pressure to succeed, forced to complete up to six hours of homework each night and therefore increasingly driven to mental illness. The movie is promoted with the tagline, “The Dark Side of America’s Achievement Culture.”
While movie highlights fierce college competition and a girl’s suicide after a bad grade, “the achievement is tougher to spot,” Freeman writes. Many of those hard-working students need remedial classes in college, the movie reports.
Abeles believes No Child Left Behind forces schools — even schools in upper-middle-class communities — to focus on prepping students for state exams instead of teaching critical thinking skills. Kids “memorize and regurgitate,” Abeles says.
(When my daughter started ninth grade at Palo Alto High School, I told her she needed to change her schedule. “You have to take English,” I said. “And what’s this Critical Thinking class?” Critical Thinking was English, she told me.)
The premise is that state governments have designed standards so poorly that kids must spend time learning useless material, or too much material, which they are then unable to retain.
The problem identified by Race To Nowhere — kids under heavy pressure to succeed — has nothing to do with standards, testing or school funding. The pressure comes from upper-middle-class parents who want their high-performing children to get into very selective colleges. The competition is intense: Students feel they need to take two, three or four AP classes at a time, earn high grades in every subject, excel in sports and extracurriculars, chalk up community service points and maybe cure cancer over the summer vacation. (Perhaps they can start girls’ schools in the mountains of Pakistan!)
These students don’t need test prep to pass the state exams. The test that counts is the SAT and parents pay for their kids to prep for that.
My daughter went through the college admissions frenzy at Paly High. It was crazy. Some kids are harmed by it. But the schools don’t create it, at least not the public schools. It’s the parents.