Bureaucracy is strangling public education as politicians continue to proclaim their concern for students while discussing numbers, not people.
Students are not numbers by default. Grownups turn them into numbers.
How many will be accepted? What is the attendance rate? How many graduated? How many met state guidelines? Who didn’t make the cut?
It’s easy to tally numbers such as test scores, enrollment, and the percentage of students of a certain ethnicity or income level. Measuring the level of content mastery for each individual student is not so simple. Students are young human beings and cannot be measured on a scale of 1 to 100. They can’t be stacked up like cordwood so journalists and politicians can compare one stack of kids to another.
Elementary and middle school students in Georgia are required to take the Criterion-Referenced Competency Test (CRCT). Bureaucrats and newspaper editors accept this test score as the measure of student achievement, but it will never be an accurate measure because the test is designed for students to fail. If too many students in a control group answer a question correctly, that question is thrown out. How could it be a good question if everyone knows the answer?
Student achievement is built on shaky ground to begin with because the curricular guidelines that set the baseline for student education–typically set at the state level–shift about every five years. The changes are usually punctuated with the noble goal of increasing rigor. The changes come just about when teachers are comfortable enough with the old curriculum being replaced to help students learn at a profound level.
Elementary teachers and students are expected to wrestle with concepts of algebra recently reserved for high school. Students who may still struggle with spatial physical mathematical concepts are expected to master theoretical concepts like algebraic variables before they reach the sixth grade.
Most “real jobs” like the ones we want all of our college graduates to get have some sort of annual evaluation. Should an employee’s future depend on a single multiple-choice test or an objective review of your performance, achievement, and growth during the year? Forget about imaginary college grads. What about you? Are you ready to take that test? Be sure not to mark outside the bubble and please try not to make a mistake. If you correct an answer we must assume you’re cheating.You have 90 minutes to answer 100 questions.
Fail to meet the standard and you’re fired. Go!
Let teachers teach
State and federal legislators need to stop piling on new rules for teachers. Just as most folks shouldn’t tell their surgeon where to make the first cut, politicians shouldn’t presume they understand the business of education enough to continue cutting funding for public education. If they don’t step aside and let teachers teach, I fear our children are doomed.
For legislators to lead the U.S. back to the head of the class, they must have the courage to get out of the way, to empower school administrators with the authority to terminate bad teachers, and to reallocate resources to help good teachers do their job.
No Child Left Behind
A steady stream of analysis (and nonsense) has been written about the federal No Child Left Behind Act since the bill was introduced in Congress in 2001. Let’s just get this piece out of the way.
- Pro — NCLB exposed some ugly realities about the disregard many educators had for some groups of students including minorities and students with special needs.
- Con — The perverse rise of accountability despite evidence that measures adopted to measure performance are inadequate indicators of student success and miss the boat when it comes to gauging a student’s potential.
I would rather not get any deeper into NCLB without hip waders. Let me know if you want me to elaborate.