Wednesday, January 24, 2007

NCLB: Proceed with Caution

Take out all the clapping and standing, standing and clapping, and President Bush's State of the Union address Tuesday night can be read in minutes.

Early on in the proceedings, after he and Madame Speaker Nancy Palosi had finished their delicate dance and compliment session (in opposition to the stark words they've bandied about in the press), Bush began to air his laundry list of changes.

Among them, he urged Congress to re-authorize the No Child Left Behind law, which has proven to be one of the largest unfunded mandates in the history of education.

While Bush cited rising test scores as proof that NCLB works, I have a different take. Test scores are going up because schools are teaching to the test, keenly aware that failure to do so will result in loss of funding and severe sanctions that will make the job of educating America's schoolchildren even more difficult.

It would be different if everything a child needed to know for future success was included on these tests. But it isn't. What America's teachers (I am one) are doing is creating a generation of kids who know how to take pencil and paper exams, but who are just as woefully unprepared for the challenges of higher education and the workforce, where creative thinking and independent problem solving are requirements, as past generations.

What the tests have "proven" is what any thinking person already knew: Students in affluent school districts outperform students in poorer districts. There are many reasons why this is so, and they, like the results, are self-evident.

And while Bush never uttered the word "vouchers," his call to make it easier for kids to transfer out of low-performing schools and districts is exactly that: the voucher program, similar if not identical to the one Ohio legislators keep trying to ram down our throats, despite overwhelming evidence that our kids and parents don't want it.

Allowing kids to transfer out of these so-called "low performing" buildings means that such schools will operate with even smaller revenues than before, making it that much more difficult for them to reach arbitrary federal goals for improvement.

Bush urged Congress to re-authorize. Let's hope members take a long hard look at modifications that need to be made before forcing kids into further rounds of senseless, high-stakes testing, and districts into another cycle of punitive, unfair sanctions for failing to meet the mark.

For more about how an emphasis on testing is failing our kids, read "In Schools We Trust" by Deborah Meier and "Schools Without Failure" by William Glasser. Too bad our politicians haven't read them.

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