I take issue with Washington Post writer Amy Fagan in her article “Bush-Democrat alliance on education law feared” today:

Mr. Bush is urging Congress this year to renew one of his biggest domestic accomplishments, the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law of 2002, which aims to increase student achievement through more testing and by tracking results of schools and holding them accountable. Democrats, who now control the House and Senate, are demanding some changes to the law, most notably a significant boost in funding levels.

My problem is with the assertion NCLB has been “one of his biggest domestic accomplishments.” I have been a Texas educator for the past eleven years, and my own children were enrolled in Texas public schools for the past three years. High stakes testing and accountability has essentially destroyed constructivist and inquiry-based teaching methods in most Texas schools I’ve worked in and with. (Dr. Monica Beglau confirms this also for Missouri schools.) It has resulted in ridiculous levels of fear and stress for students and teachers alike. It has led educators to make developmentally inappropriate and ridiculous decisions like eliminating recess for third through fifth graders at some elementary schools. It has driven some teachers (I don’t know how many) to leave the teaching profession, because today it offers little opportunity for creative, professional teaching. NCLB and the TAAS standards and tests which now President and then Governor Bush of Texas championed have caused direly needed courses in the arts, music, and computer literacy to be effectively eliminated from the curriculum of some schools. It has caused some Oklahoma schools to completely stop teaching science in elementary school for a month at a time, alternating with social studies, because of a perception that only core subject areas (math, reading and writing) can receive emphasis. High stakes accountability has all but destroyed the practice of project-based learning which usually results in some of the most in-depth, lasting learning experiences and memories for students. Just about every video from GLEF supports this. Yet this political madness goes on.

While Governor and now President Bush has ridden a wave of alleged “success” in improving education through a series of charts and graphs showing increasing performance on summative assessments, daily life in the classrooms of Texas and other U.S. states has increasingly focused on “teaching to the test” and “preparing for the test” instead of preparing for LIFE.

I want my children to remain in public schools. I want them to develop a deep love for learning, for reading, for writing, for science, for inquiry, and for their teachers. NCLB and high stakes testing has been and continues to be a DESTRUCTIVE, rather than constructive influence on the educational system of the United States. This trend of increasing requirements, reducing autonomy, and fixating on summative assessment in our K-12 schools must STOP.

Stop!

Can we PLEASE get some leadership in Washington at the Presidential level, as well as the cabinet level, which understands education, the educational needs of the learners in our nation, and the ways to empower teachers and learners rather than scare and punish them? Let’s emphasize the creation of student content in education. Let’s focus on the development of critical thinking and the REAL ways we learn: Through relationships with mentors and truly differentiated instruction. We need 21st Century education reform, but we don’t need more of the same destructive educational policies which then Governor and now President Bush has championed for years.

It is disappointing to see a mainstream media source, like the Washington Post, present as a FACT (rather than the opinion it is) that NCLB has been a big “domestic accomplishment” for President Bush. NCLB has been a destructive tragedy, not an accomplishment. Yes that is my opinion, but I am not hiding that and presenting my view as objective. As an educator and a parent who has and continues to LIVE the direct effects of these policies, I consider my perspectives to be both valid and worth consideration by others.

Who will have the courage, integrity, vision and leadership ability to communicate this message to the nation? Please let me know, because I’m hoping they’ll run for President in the next election. If they do, I’m pretty sure they’ll have my vote. Reject Rigor: Embrace Differentiation, Flexibility, and High Expectations. NCLB has taken us down a dark road, and it is time to change the course back into the light.

We await the leaders. Who shall guide us forth from this depressing darkness?

Seeing the light

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  • What a beautiful post. Absolutely correct. You get so down, I do, teaching like this you just lift up your voice in silent scream. How can bureaucracy be so removed from the lives and schools of the poor. This I cannot understand.

  • Fantastic! Thank you for stating so clearly the argument made by many. As a teacher I have seen the power of inquiry-based learning (IBL) with my students. Now about 20 months away from a doctorate in education, specializing in IBL, I hope to convince others of its effectiveness. Your post makes a powerful call for effective leadership.

  • Do rigor and differentiated learning have to be mutually exclusive? I feel we can have a rigorous educational process that allows students to learn through the application and acquistion of skill. I understand the point that was made, but I just get the feeling that we are often times stuck in a dichotomy where the scores on standardized tests, because they are easy to quantify, are the sole measure of student achievement, yet we want students to be analytical problem solvers.

    After the events of the past week, I am even more convinced that we are entering a watershed year in education not because of technology per se, but because the fallacy of NCLB is on the brink of being exposed to everyone as a short sided, top down mandate, that does not recognize application, but rewards how well students memorize scripts. In 2007, the catch phrase is going to be ‘transparency.’ All of the things we do in schools will need to be transparent to students, their parents and our community. The one thing that technology does is that it facilitates transparency.

    What does technology do to make the educational proccess transparent?
    – It allows teachers to post their grade books online, so parents and students can work from a common point of reference.
    – It allows students to publish their work online for authentic assessment from all interested parties: teachers, other students, parents and the community as a whole.
    – It allows teachers, students and parents to work as a team to facilitate the academic achievement of each student.
    – It allows the school to take a more active role in the community and the community to take a more active role in the school.

    There are certainly more, but I think the point I am trying to make is that the current educational paradigm is about to be exposed as being short-sided and ineffective. In response, as educators, we need to develop a system that allows parents, teachers and students to work as a team to create structure that allows students to apply their knowledge in a sequential and increasingly complex way. Technology facilitates this process by making the entire educational system more transparent and accessble to all students and families.

    PS: Wesley… Great to be able to meet you face to face on Wednesday!

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