Tuesday, April 25, 2006
We don't need no education
What we need, apparently, is tests. Lots and lots and lots of tests. Standardized tests. So we know where everyone "stands", as it were. I am speaking, of course, of NCLB--No Child Left Behind. Accountability is the catchphrase. Standards is the watchword. Let's have national standards! Let's make sure the kids are all edumacated! Let's make sure we don't fall behind! How do we do this? Well, since we don't have a national curriculum, let's test the kiddos to be sure they're reaching The Standards. Let's take away money from schools that are having trouble! That'll solve the problem! Woohoo! Soooo. What is the result of this? What you get is "teaching to the test". What you get is kids regularly subjected to weeks of practice tests before the test to see how they'll do on the Real Test. Then, of course, you get the Real Test, to see how well the kids have learned. Get that? So what do the kids end up learning? Really. What do they end up learning? They end up learning that Tests Are Important. They end up learning bits and pieces of this and that that will help them Pass The Test. The kids who have support at home, who are (like OmegaMom) superb test-takers, or who can figure things out on the fly, will do well on the Real Test. The kids who really need help, who could use the weeks of practice tests to, say, practice the learning instead, they won't do well. Usually, the schools that have students from families that are willing to work at home to help the kid actually learn the concepts (what a concept!) will be rewarded with school funding (the carrot), while the schools that have students with families that either don't give a hoot about education, or think it's all up to the schools, or are working their butts off at two and a half heavy physical jobs (that would be a large portion of the folks in my department) so that they're too tired to keep on top of things--those schools have their funding decreased (the stick). At the same time, school districts scrambling to keep their heads above the water--for whatever reason, whether it's overspending on administration, or dealing with students who regularly bring guns, knives, drugs, etc. to school, or coping with kids whose only regular meals are at school--flounder around, seeking new and innovative curricula to teach the kids or grab at the golden hoop of well-marketed, poorly-proofed computer-aided learning systems. On the one hand, you've got parents who think that the schools aren't teaching. On the other hand, you've got teachers who have to deal with thirty students of wildly varying learning abilities who end up spending their personal hard-earned money on extra supplies for the classroom because the school district can't afford (for whatever reason) the basics. Kids who have to share textbooks. School districts that are cutting out science and history and music and sports because these have no bearing on NCLB-mandated testing. I have buds on the boards who are parents. They seem to be constantly dealing with their children being in the "practice testing" phase. I have buds on the boards who are teachers in non-mandated areas who are seeing their programs being pared to the bones or completely deleted. The parents report that their kids are bored to tears by the constant testing. The teachers report that their peers are demoralized and the better teachers--the ones we want teaching--are leaving the profession because they can't stand the constant NCLB drumbeat. Where's the "education" in all of this?