Sunday, February 06, 2005

Honest questions

It's very hard to be reasonable about No Child Left Behind. But that doesn't mean I won't try.

First of all, I love the back and forth happening on Jenny D's blog, and I appreciate Eduwonk's mention of our exchange-- even if one of his readers didn't appreciate it. This is an important debate and this is a perfect place to have it.

OK, now my attempt to be reasonable. Everyone who is opposed to NCLB (and generally I'm with you): don't we have to admit that every child should be able to pass a basic reading and math competency test at some point in their academic career? I honestly don't think that's unreasonable in the slightest.

And don't we have to come to grips with the fact that some schools and some teachers -- by no means all or even a majority -- have consistently failed to teach even basic literacy and numeracy? And further, is it not undeniably true that a great majority of these failed students are minorities?

To answer no to any of those questions is tantamount to absurdity. Period.

Allright, now it's your turn supporters of NCLB. Is it possible to deny that when schools and teachers are judged on the basis of a few tests they will put undue emphasis on them to the exclusion of educational goals not included? Isn't it true that if our sole focus in on outcomes, the process will usually be ignored? And is there any proof -- and please point it out if there is -- that shows that high test scores lead to increased success in college, in the workplace, or any place other than the testing room?

I hate to sound like a centrist -- really I do hate it, I love a good ideological fight -- but isn't there a middle way here? No one seems to have found it yet.

Except for (drum roll please) ... John Dewey. I know it sounds silly but here's a guy who emphasized academic rigor and intellectual curiosity, strong foundations and individual exploration, fluency in basic skills and higher order thinking. These things do not have to be mutually exclusive. The rightful desire for 100% literacy and numeracy can share space with the equally sensible wish for students to be able to explore and follow their interests without limits.


Blogger Jenny D. said...

Hi Brink. I agree that judging an entire educational organization or teacher on a single test is a little crazy. So what would be a better alternative?

As a taxpayer and a parent, I want some evidence that my school is fulfilling its mission to teach kids. Up until recently, all I got were annual platitudes about what a good job they were doing. Now I get scores.

Also, I always suspected that the poor performance of minorities was masked by including their scores in with all the other students'. Now I am certain that minorities are not doing as well (and need more help) because NCLB has forced schools to break out that data.

If educators would have taken these steps long ago, and taken control and responsibility of the efficacy and results of the practice, NCLB wouldn't exist. So we need to do it now, and take control. Unfortunately, NCLB is the mechanism through which we have to do it.

4:06 AM  
Blogger Quo said...

What I dislike about NCLB is the tunnel vision view. Most learning in schools, (at least at the elementary level here in NC), is geared towards NCLB testing. We call it EOG or End of Grade Testing. I can remember in 1978 when my class, (the class of 1980), was given the pilot test for what they called the Competency Test, (basic reading/math skills). We were drilled for about 2 months prior to the test.

Now, my child, (a 5th grader), is drilled day after day on passing the EOG. All learning is based on getting good scores on the EOG. There's a practice EOG prior to the EOG, so of course the earlier part of the school year their preparing for the practice, and the latter part of the school year is spent preparing for the real testing. There are classes for those who don't score well on the practice, (but no extra learning for those who do well).

I am not a fan of NCLB if it leaves well rounded learning behind in favor of getting good test scores. I love the teachers who sneak in extra learning that is not on the EOG. I realize it's a juggling act for them, as they are scrutinized like nobody's business if their students don't test well.


3:53 PM  

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