Responding: The House Vote on NCLB

On July 19, the House voted to give states the power of oversight of NCLB.

Critics say that it will never get Senate approval, and certainly that President Obama will never approve it.Image

Some of the argument swirls around the longstanding tradition of federal oversight of education, based on federal funding.

Others are arguing that this will end the supposed  good results of NCLB for inner-city, poverty-stricken, underprivileged children.

If you were to ask just about any administrator and teacher their opinion of NCLB strictures, you would hear strong criticism of high-stakes, summative testing, as well as general dismay at the decline in good teaching and overall education brought about by the pressures of NCLB standards, which for the most part have proven to be onerous to meet. Educators also agree that most teachers end up teaching to the test, which means that they often have to forego the most important aspect of teaching and learning, which is rich context and overall understanding. They will also wryly note that the pressures of having to produce ever-higher scores has caused some teachers to cheat, with their jobs and futures in the balance.

By now, at least 39 states have moved forward with the waivers of NCLB offered by President Obama in 2011, with the provision that they provide commensurate measurements of progress. Probably the reason that more states haven’t done so is the difficult task of providing worthy instruments to measure progress. It is a hard job to come up with these, and I would imagine that what states have brought to the table may not be much better than the federal instruments.

Obama has said that if the House bill passes the Senate, that he will veto it, so probably there’s no hope that education accountability will actually be passed to the states.

But this federal/state tussle neglects the larger problem with NCLB: high-stakes standardized summative annual testing to determine whether teachers are doing a good job.

By now, all of us must realize that while teachers do what they can to help students, it is after all the students who take the tests. I think for the most part, kids have good hearts and want to do their best, but there are so many issues in kids’ lives–family problems, nutrition, lack of education in the home (we could go on all day and every teacher knows it)–that on any particular day in the spring, there will be those who cannot do their best on a test.

At the foundation of this dispute is the simple question: what is school for? We can blithely say, Of course, it’s for educating children, but these days, the answer is not so simple, because we feed them, babysit them, look after them after school, sometimes wash them, look after their health issues, and often provide comfort and security in their frequent times of woe. This is human work; this is important work. All this cannot be measured by a test.

Of course, those who are providing the big education bucks want to be sure their money is being properly spent, which is behind all this drive for accountability. But schools are not businesses. No matter what the standardized tests say, you cannot measure much of the daily essential good that goes on in schools.

It is too easy to say that our schools are failing. I think that for the most part, administrators and teachers are well-qualified and doing a good job every day. It’s time to suggest that maybe our schools are doing far more than drilling a set of facts and procedures into kids’ heads so they can do well on a standardized test.

We are helping parents raise their children. We are doing a decent job of it. Let us go ahead and do this job without threatening us with losing our jobs if our kids don’t keep doing better and better on standardized tests.


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