When will our Oklahoma politicians and voters finally recognize the “No Child Left Behind” (NCLB) law is fundamentally flawed and was designed primarily to demonize both public schools and public school teachers as “failures” irrespective of academic results? One of the most telling quotations from today’s NewsOK article, “More Oklahoma schools, districts than ever ‘need improvement’,” came from a new state education Board member:

Bill Price, one of several newly appointed members of the state Education Board, remarked that the best school in the state had an overall Academic Performance Index score of 1460. In three years, if the school doesn’t improve, it wouldn’t be able to meet the new benchmarks.

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As anyone with a basic background in statistics could predict reading the required benchmarks for NCLB test scores when the law passed, huge numbers of public schools are now being branded as “failures.” According to the same article today,

Six times more school districts than ever before are on the state’s list of districts in need of improvement based on student performance during the 2010-11 school year, members of the state Education Board learned at their meeting Thursday. And the list of individual schools in need of improvement has grown from 90 schools in the 2009-10 school year to 227 in the 2010-11 school year.

As a state and a nation, we need to reject the high stakes testing fever which has gripped educational politics for years. More pressure and more testing is NOT a panacea which will improve our schools. We DO need to reform and improve our schools and the educational opportunities we provide for students, but that improvement begins with great people instead of a focus on testing. We need to attract AND retain extremely smart, passionate, and dedicated people who can join our EXISTING cadre of outstanding educators in Oklahoma. Do we have some teachers in the classroom today who need to be motivated to improve or change jobs? Of course. But the single most important way we can and will improve education in our state is by recognizing PEOPLE are the solution to our challenges, not testing. We need strong administrators with the backbone to support teachers and focus on engaging instruction. Have you looked at the statistics on administrator turnover at some of our “most challenged” and “failing” schools in Oklahoma? It’s not a pretty picture, for reasons that are NOT addressed simply by firing half the staff or asking the state to take over the school.

We need to confront the challenges of poverty in Oklahoma together, and stop ignoring it as journalists continue to parade test scores in newspapers as if they are complete barometers of academic quality. It ain’t the same to teach kids in Deer Creek and kids in OKCPS at John Marshall or Grant. We need to be spending MORE on teacher salaries and on our schools, not less. If you read The Oklahoman, did you see any irony in Saturday’s article about Deer Creek breaking new ground on new arts and athletic facilities… juxtaposed with today’s article about test scores and failing schools?

As a parent of three children in Oklahoma City Public Schools, I have a slightly better perspective than I did the last few years living in Edmond about the stark inequalities we have in our public schools around the metro. I need to learn even more about this to improve my ability to understand both problems and solutions in and for our schools.

Currently, I don’t hear any politicians in Oklahoma publicly rejecting NCLB and its destructive regime of high stakes testing. High expectations for student achievement shouldn’t correspond to a myopic focus on testing. It should focus on engaging lessons, strong teacher-student relationships, and hard work together.

Articles like this one sadden me but they also give me hope for change, because our shared night of political darkness in education has to turn the corner soon. A big part of turning that corner is publicly (and repeatedly, because as a public we can be slow learners) acknowledging NCLB as a train wreck.

For more of my views on educational politics, read my past posts about NCLB.


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  • Tinamsteele

    Well articulated! As a dedicated Oklahoma teacher who is passionate about learning in the 21st century I find the rhetoric in the media so discouraging. I know many great teachers. I teach every day under the pressures of no subs because we can’t afford it. I signed up to take my students to a journalism workshop but now we may not get to go because we can’t find a bus driver. I have a student who is the only person that is working in his household. I am grateful he is still coming to school every day! Now we are looking at common core standards that is going to focus on even MORE testing! Politicians need a reality check!

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