Warning: Political rant about education ahead!
Education was a major theme of the “State of the Union Address” shared by the current U.S President this past Monday night. Unfortunately, many of the assertions made during the speech are contradicted by the experiences and observations I’ve made working in our midwest schools during the past 13 years. Although my blog is NOT explicitly a political blog, I will not hide nor make excuses for my personal and professional advocacy agenda which involves working to transform our schools into learning environments which serve the interests of both our students as well as our nation in the 21st century, rather than the narrow interests of politicians and a political party seeking to advance a contrary agenda. (For more about my views on including or not including political and religious issues in this blog, see my comment from January 11th in response to commenter “Vet.”)
In starting the section of his speech which addressed education, our current President stated:
On education, we must trust students to learn if given the chance, and empower parents to demand results from our schools. In neighborhoods across our country, there are boys and girls with dreams — and a decent education is their only hope of achieving them.
NCLB has nothing to do with empowering parents. Instead, it is all about discrediting teachers and schools, and encouraging parents to distrust public schools and the educators which serve children within them. It is, of course, absolutely true our schools are filled with “boys and girls with dreams.” Sadly, the fear-dominated environment encouraged by high-stakes accountability achieves the OPPOSITE effect of providing “a decent education” for our students.
Before analyzing in further detail comments made by our President to the nation about the status of public education, it is worthwhile to reflect on how many of the children and grandchildren of our elected representatives are currently enrolled in public schools. What is this statistic? I do not know, but I am inclined to believe the percentage is very small. Even in the state of Texas, where “school accountability” rose to new heights of intellectual destructiveness, how many legislators have their own children and grandchildren in private schools rather than public schools myopically focused on raising test scores? I’m not sure.
Would those parents and grandparents (our elected officials) want to send their own offspring to schools where recess has been cancelled after second grade, because there is no time for recess amidst the constant environment of test preparation? Do our elected representatives send their own precious children and grandchildren into classrooms where students have been normatively valued predominantly by the test scores which they can or cannot produce for the school’s aggregate statistical rating, rather than for the ideas and unique contributions which they can and want to make to their communities? We are living in an increasingly immoral educational and political culture, and the assumptions which are presented as “facts” by our political leaders regarding a “quality education” should both offend and enrage our population.
Our President asserted next in his speech:
Six years ago, we came together to pass the No Child Left Behind Act, and today no one can deny its results. Last year, fourth and eighth graders achieved the highest math scores on record. Reading scores are on the rise. African American and Hispanic students posted all-time highs. (Applause.) Now we must work together to increase accountability, add flexibility for states and districts, reduce the number of high school dropouts, provide extra help for struggling schools.
This is WRONG. I, personally, deny its results as being positive and constructive. And I am not alone. Rather than look to the results of widely variable state test scores, we should look to NAEP scores. It is ridiculous to claim in the context of NCLB that “no one can deny its results.” While the very name of the initiative was crafted to try and prevent opposition (since someone against it seems to be supporting the untenable position of “leaving children behind”) it is patently false to claim that the alleged positive results of NCLB are undeniable.
The testing regime of NCLB, like the testing regime of TAAS and the TEKS exams in Texas which our President established while the governor of Texas, were created to achieve two primary goals:
- To discredit schools and educators, to demonize the status quo and establish “an enemy” which could be attacked and allegedly “fixed” through political mandates.
- To create standardized assessments which could be instituted and emphasized in such a way that gradual progress could be demonstrated and “success” therefore declared.
To find out what students know and what they are learning, you need to talk to them. NCLB has advanced a destructive agenda which feeds into the same tendencies Neil Postman detailed in his book “Technopoly,” where the general public comes to believe an idea because it is visually represented with charts and graphs in the newspaper. Is educational quality adequately indicated and represented by test scores? Absolutely not. More than anything, numerous research reports have validated the contention that test scores represent the socio-economic status of parents more than any other factor. Is this mentioned by our President in his most important speech of the year? Of course not. The purpose of this speech was not to share insights into the truth about the state of public education in our nation, rather, the purpose of this speech was to justify the actions and policies of a misdirected and destructive political regime which has done far more to HURT the causes of authentic assessment, project based learning, differentiated learning, and the encouragement of educational cultures of creativity and experimentation than it has HELPED the educational needs of learners in our nation.
It is wholly disingenuous to claim NCLB and the political direction of the high-stakes accountability movement can “add flexibility for states and districts.” NCLB has done exactly the opposite: It has forced the states of our nation to impose high-stakes tests upon learners as well as educators, irrespective of the lessons of their prior professional training or experiences.
I vehemently disagree with the proposition that “we must work together to increase accountability.” If you own or have invested in an educational testing company, perhaps I can understand your support of this proposal. Just as times have never been better for our oil and gas industry as well as our military-industrial complex during our current administration, times have never been better for commercial interests dedicated to creating standardized test materials for schools and states. If you happen to be a parent interested in a worthwhile education for your own children, however, or a moral educator committed to the cause of doing what is right for children rather than what is politically expedient for elected leaders principally concerned with the maintenance of their own power, understanding support for this proposal becomes much more difficult. Rather than work together to increase accountability as it has been understood under NCLB, we need to work to dismantle this destructive political movement which has done immeasurable harm (gasp, you mean something could actually DEFY measurement in our era of technopoly?) to our students and our educational culture.
Our President continued to reveal his agenda of discrediting public schools and working to open the coffers of public education to private, commercial interests by stating:
Thanks to the D.C. Opportunity Scholarships you approved, more than 2,600 of the poorest children in our Nation’s Capital have found new hope at a faith-based or other non-public school. Sadly, these schools are disappearing at an alarming rate in many of America’s inner cities… Now let us apply that same spirit to help liberate poor children trapped in failing public schools.
Our “failing public schools” are not failing because they have not been threatened enough with harsh punishments and closure. They are not failing because they need a stronger emphasis on “accountability.” Our educational system DOES need reform and change, but the solution is not to privatize public education and set groups whose focus is profit and the bottom line loose amidst our public education dollars. The path we have followed under NCLB is the WRONG path, and I have not yet heard ANY of our current political leaders or aspiring presidential candidates articulate a vision for U.S. schools which breaks with the failed patterns of the past and charts the visionary course for the future which our learners and communities so desperately need.
Following his statements about education, our current President referenced the global nature of our economy and the environment for which our schools are ostensibly preparing students to enter after graduation by stating:
On trade, we must trust American workers to compete with anyone in the world and empower them by opening up new markets overseas.
Unfortunately, as he has in the past, our President failed to acknowledge the basic disconnect which exists between the skills and dispositions emphasized in our schools dominated by the mania inspired by high-stakes testing, and the workforce skills required in the 21st century:
Let’s not mince words. NCLB has been a destructive failure, and we desperately need leadership in our nation which recognizes this situation and stops pretending that the interests of learners or the interests of the nation are served by creating classrooms filled with fearful teachers, students, and administrators. I am sick of fear-driven politics. Of course we have enemies abroad and must maintain a vigilant military to protect our interests, but the idea that our domestic as well as foreign policy agenda should be dominated by the rhetoric of fear is ridiculous as well as counterproductive.
Let’s hope the next State of the Union address we hear will include tidings of great joy, rather than disingenuous, misleading, and unsupported assertions based on fear and the selfish politics of misinformed and misdirected leaders.
Is my attitude OK here?
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- First MIT, now Core Knowledge - Free, High Quality Curriculum Abounds - 2010
- eTechOhio, School Reform Ideas and Smaller PDF Files - 2009
- Podcast122: The Case for 1:1 and School 2.0 (DRAFT) - 2007
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