Sunday, October 02, 2005

"A purely punitive improvement strategy will eventually have negative results"

Thanks to Tim at Assorted Stuff for pointing out this article (subs. req'd) by Julia Steiny of the Providence Journal.

Steiny, like most critics of NCLB, understands that testing has its place. It's important, even vital. But it's not everything. When it becomes everything, kids -- and teachers -- drop out. And who can blame them? Tests aren't exciting or motivating. Important yes, interesting no.

From Steiny's editorial:

The intensely myopic focus on testing inherent in the No Child Left Behind law is having the unintended (we hope) consequence of driving civic and social goals right out of the curriculum and school culture. This is happening despite the fact that for many of the original advocates of universal public education the goal was to have an educated citizenry, individuals equipped to take part in democracy.

Whatever the law's virtues -- and it definitely has some -- the copious testing it demands is specifically to identify the deficient. (Forget building on strength.) The law then addresses those found wanting with threats and punishments. As any parent or organizational leader will tell you, a purely punitive improvement strategy will eventually have negative results.

Without saying that testing is important -- I, and just about every other NCLB critic, have conceded this point on mnay occassions-- I'd love to hear an NCLB supporter address this criticism: NCLB is entirely negative, giving no credit to schools that pass the tests, only punishments to those that don't.

And what about civics? Is the purpose of schooling only to teach reading, math, and science? What about community service, democracy, history, geography... I could go on, but you get the point.

No Child Left Behind needs to be -- to borrow the Clinton cliche -- mended, not ended. We need to ensure that every student is proficient in reading and math. But that cannot be achieved entirely by punitive means.

And what's more, proficiency in math and reading should not the ultimate goal of our education system. It's way too confining, narrow, and frankly, uninspiring. Schools do so much more than teach basic skills and somehow (admittedly, I don't know exactly how) the other aspects of a school's mission must be considered in the formula for success.


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