Friday, December 05, 2008

i walked to school uphill, both ways!

I’ve had some good, long discussions with people about education. Since I have a blog and have read some books, I’m an expert. That’s how it works. Of course, I have no training in education aside from my actual education through secondary school and my desire to enter a Chemistry teaching program at George Mason University in August. My primary concern has always been the primary and secondary public education system – I don’t even have the heart to delve into the insane college and university systems that run rampant all across the country.

I don’t think you need to be an expert to know that No Child Left Behind is a horrible program. It’s difficult to understand why any one believes that standardized testing is the way to measure the education of our children. There might be rumblings from behind the curtain that it’s the only way we know of to sort data, but that doesn’t mean it’s right or needed. Most of us have an understanding that SATs, ACTs, LSATs, GREs, and etc. are used as guides to measure the possibility of success in future endeavors, and somewhat as measures of the past, but they aren’t definers of a person’s actual ability to function in society. Here in Virginia there’s an annual test call the Standards of Learning (the SOLs…what a great acronym…) that I’ve watched both boys prepare for each year. Their classroom work ceases for weeks prior to the testing and the teachers simply teach to the test in order to pad the numbers and freak out. I’m pretty sure a good portion of the SOL results carry into the NCLB data pool. My question is this: If the kids are in school seven hours a day for an entire year, what are they learning? Why the need to for the “test teaching” for two weeks? Shouldn’t the basic math, reading, and writing skills have been covered already? Shouldn’t the test be an actual measure of how well the school – and its teachers – are performing? If you read David Brooks in today’s NYTimes you’ll see what brought about this crazy talk on the blog. I’ve been following the Mayor Fenty / Michelle Rhee doings since he won the mayoral election and I’m generally onboard with Rhee’s burn-and-rebuild ideas. (There are some personal vendettas and asides that bother me about her work, but I think the whole is much stronger than those issues.) Merit pay? Yes. If you do your job better than others; you get paid more. If you stink – you get fired. I don’t want anyone to get the impression that I think a complete educational overhaul is easy or cheap. Like anything else in this World worth fixing it’s going to take time, money, and a consolidated effort from the top. We should pay teachers way more than we do, we should finance the schools, we should either figure out how to better manage the money or we should redistribute revenues (or increase them) to make sure the educational system is truly functional. One more thing on NCLB, and something that made it even more laughable when it came into being: if there are fewer than x number of an ethnic or other NCLB grouping in your school, the program doesn’t even count either a baseline educational standard or any improvement year-to-year. Let’s say you have 12 Native Americans at your school – there’s a very good chance that any educational process under NCLB will be moot or ignored. It’s something I learned about while living in the mixed-bag community of Northern Nevada. I think that would qualify as left behind.

The second thing that triggered this all was X’s parent-kid-teacher conference at the New School today. What they’ve managed to do in their little corner of the educational process is get the kids to understand that there’s a program of learning and the program is owned by them. The teacher had the conference run by H. and he was fully able to discuss where he was having problems, where he wasn’t, and how he could improve – and it was dead-on with what the middle school head had learned from his teachers. Wow. What a concept – getting children to understand that their schooling is important and that they need to crackdown and learn. When you see, or hear, about the success of varying systems – about the parents, the schools, and the kids working together – it become clear why there’s so much failures: our inability as parents and adults to convince the kids that they are going to go school, they are going to learn and work hard, and that the work they do now will come back ten-fold as both young adults, professionals, and parents. That’s something that’s truly missing in society.

Fine. You can leave.

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