Monday, March 14, 2011

Every Child Left Behind

Obama is expected to come out in favor of reauthorizing NCLB for the next school year, heralding it as a great success in American education. Education Secretary Arne Duncan has warned that NCLB needs to be rewritten in order to make it viable and flexible to meet the needs of the wide range of schools in our country.

If anyone has paid attention to our education statistics, it would appears as though NCLB has not been doing well by our children. Working in an education field, I am constantly witnessing what has become, in the words of Diane Ravitch, author of The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education (New York: Basic Books, 2010), "Test mills". Children are pressured to learn factoids, not concepts. They are given the very basic building blocks of information but not the context in which to put them.

In college, I was taught to take what I was learning and apply it. Take the information and turn it around on itself, use reflection and application to turn that into a vastly more complex and useful structure of knowledge that is more flexible. Children in our school's today are not pushed to do this. They are not pushed to ask 'why', to internalize what they were told and fit it into a continually growing network of information.

And the answer is not to privatize schools, to set education as a fiscal luxury rather than a right of all citizens. Things like school consolidation, larger class sizes, more qualified and lesser-paid teachers, and one-size-fits-all standards and testing are designed to save money, to turn education into a "profitable" business. But education is not meant to be profitable. It's like infrastructure and state-based health care. They don't make money, but we need them. Education doesn't make money for anyone except the people who work in the schools.

We need to go back to before NCLB, before national standards, before there were demands for what was taught by what year, and let teachers have the flexibility to make learning fun and easy for our children. We need to teach our children how to process information, how to make an educated decision. Repealing NCLB will undoubtedly help the struggling institutions, will bring a standard of excellence into the classroom that doesn't punish "bad" teachers, but praise the effort that every educator makes each day.

Watch this for a great interview with Ravitch by Jon Stewart.

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