Sounds like NCLB (No Child Left Behind) will be reauthorized by the Obama administration and it sounds like the teachers unions will be duking it out with him. The plan is to set firmer standards for “success” you know, the old winners and losers approach to measurement. Sometimes I wonder if standardize tests by themselves  get in the way of true education. They measure what you can remember  and not so much on how much you understand. I have been a critic of the A.P. testing for years, so nothing new here. The idea of pushing college courses down to the high school level doesn’t sit right. Advanced Placement tests and courses in high school are misplaced and do not constitute true learning. I take that back, the kids are learning how to take the AP test. They are graded on how much of the information they can parrot back to the test instrument. Although some do and some don’t as a rule teachers should not be teaching to a test and high schools, like the one I went to and taught in, should not be in the business of saving kids money in college because they took a test in high school. This whole approach misses the boat. I’ll get back to NCLB in a minute.

Hope

The most formative years in a youngsters life happen in high school, not elementary and not college, high school. After they learn times tables in elementary school, the kids begin to learn the education game. Gone are the days when learning was for its own sake, not soley for a grade. They learn for example, what you can get away with, what assignments can you put off until a later time, how much study time is required to pass tomorrow’s test and so forth. This style of “learning” is reinforced on the secondary school level. But what is really being learned? True, the mind is not just colors and crayons, much of the exercise of the mind needs to take place in language,math,history and English classes. But it seems the bulk of the grade rests on the mastery of the instrument of measurement…testing. Skill learning requires the objective test to see if the student comprehends the methodology of problem solving. Well and good. But this is only one part, and the part that has become the focus of SAT’s ACTs and NCLB. An additional test, using the same principles of lets say, math, needs to be devised to measure the logistical skills the student has mastered. It need not be a battle of affect vs intellect, it is a combination of both. This combo profiles someone who is well-rounded. This particular approach is messy and doesn’t yield clean-cut statistics, with which we seem to be enamored, and of course, takes more time.

Many of the standardize test results can give schools talking points and statistics and money. “93% of our students who took the A.P. government class scored 4 or better.” And that says what? How do you measure what they learned? How do you measure what they have assimilated? Most of our schools are still set up using a 19th century approach operating on an agrarian calendar. Classes are compartmentalized and distinct. Each of the classes a kid takes is tested separately as if the other courses do not equate. We turn out students, not necessarily learners.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan said Monday morning about NCLB,

“there will be shared responsibility. Not just with teachers, but principles(sic), school systems, and even states. Everyone’s going to be accountable for driving better results.”

There is one big equation missing from this formula of accountability and that is the parent, the primary teacher of children. Where is their collective responsibility to be co-operatively involved with the formal instruction of their kids? Nothing will change, nor get better without involvement from the primary teachers, mom and dad, or dad and dad, or mom and mom or dad or mom. We can go ballistic over low test,reading,math,English etc. scores and turn around and point a finger at the school system. Unless the parent gets involved in their child’s education, we are all lost.

Oh look, Federal Money!

Someone, no doubt, will draw up the necessary criteria for NCLB (usually the standardized test creator) for success and numbers will be tossed out and people will cheer or moan because we are the best or the worst. I hope NCLB is a stop gap to a major overhaul of the way we teach kids stuff. I can understand the reasoning behind the National Education Association being a little skeptical over this plan. This is about competition between schools, between states for the dollar funding. The prize. Then what? Well next year it starts all over again.

Don’t get me wrong, I feel strong competitive education can be a good thing as long as the students are learning and not just knowing stuff. I want doctors and lawyers to be great at their craft as well as engineers and airplane pilots. But the love of learning, which is stifled after 3rd grade needs to make a return appearance. One of the flaws of NCLB was it’s focus on reading and math:

Published: March 26, 2006
By Sam Dillon in the New York Times.

Thousands of schools across the nation are responding to the reading and math testing requirements laid out in No Child Left Behind, President Bush’s signature education law, by reducing class time spent on other subjects and, for some low-proficiency students, eliminating it.

We need to produce people of vision and imagination with strong moral and ethical principles to take over and recreate a better civilization. These elements are hard to measure in high school or elementary school with standardized tests. True success is to ask a kid, “what did you learn today in school?” Not just, “wadjuget on the reading or math test?”