Friday, April 2, 2010

We're Washing Our Hands of NCLB--and Hoping for Positive Change

Today, Diane Ravitch (one of the original staunch supporters of "No Child Left Behind" or NCLB--now apparently remorseful for applauding the start of the epic, could-be film, "The Ruining of American Ed," and promoting a book about it) has an article in The Washington Post.  

See link:

It is refreshing (in a depressing way) to read that, as Ravitch claims now, the utopian ideals of NCLB actually led to a worsening of many facets of the educational system.  Specifically, Ravitch sees that NCLB's expectations were, as she puts it, "unrealistic;" that standards were actually lowered instead of raised (in order to meet NCLB's ever-rising "adequate yearly progress" requirements); and that "choice is no panacea."

While clearly attempting to atone for believing in NCLB's misguided ideas (which she bought wholesale, as did so many others; was it the name of the program? I have to admit: that was a pretty sweet name, from a marketing perspective), and washing her hands of its terrible effect, Ravitch is now trying to stay in the reform-of-educational-policy game.

She writes now: "To begin with, let's agree that a good education encompasses far more than just basic skills. A good education involves learning history, geography, civics, the arts, science, literature and foreign language. Schools should be expected to teach these subjects even if students are not tested on them."

Sounds great. In retrospect.
(I hate to be negative--but is this comment too little, too late?)

My primary problem with NCLB is how it has led to the cutting of anything other than basic skills test-drilling. Art, music, gym, library time and anything else deemed an "extra" has been cut to the bone to make room for the ultra-high-stakes testing kids must endure several times a year.

My own kids get double doses of reading and math, and art and gym only once a week (and my eldest will likely become a professional artist. Yes, I would be happy to send her to art school...)

Ravitch continues, "Everyone agrees that good education requires good teachers."

Well, did the NCLB designers understand  what makes a good teacher? 

According to NCLB standards, English teachers must show that they know their math, and vice versa.  They don't need to be particularly smart or have earned impressive grades in their teaching subjects; they just need to have basic subject-area courses on their transcripts.

What's even stranger: NCLB puts low-level, pedestrian undergraduate college courses (I would qualify those as from "any old college" but I don't mean to be elitist) in pedagogy--that most teachers never honestly use--far above real-life expertise in a specific subject.

In fact, NCLB ironically bars experts in their fields from teaching school if they didn't take math courses (even total joke math courses) as an undergrad...even if they teach art...however many years ago that was.

As one of my writer friends said to me last night, "First thing I’d change about the education system is make it easier for smart, talented, well-educated people to, you know, actually teach kids."

Well said.

The Obama administration has been trying to morph NCLB into its own potentially-problematic "Race to the Top."  From my engagement with teacher groups on Facebook (see "Teachers' Letters to Obama"), I am witnessing the fact that teachers are still concerned that government interference in educational policy will continue to cause problems for teachers who actually want to teach.

As for students who need to learn so many varied life skills, we saw pretty quickly that NCLB--however well-intentioned--was precisely the wrong prescription. 

Can we fix the problems in educational policy before it's too late? 

We've endured nearly eight years of bad times in American education. What will the next eight be like?


  1. You go, girl! Written like a true intellectual powerhouse.

  2. Ha. Thank you.

    Why do so many of my commenters have no names? Must be a school thing.

    Be well,