Tuesday, December 04, 2007

No Children Really Educated.

WASHINGTON (from Common Dreams) Dec. 3 - Five years after President Bush's signature education program became law, No Child Left Behind is at a crossroads.

Proposals that could drastically alter how children in the nation’s public schools are educated have stalled for months in the Senate and House of Representatives education committees. The wrangling over the law, which demands that every child be “proficient” - working at grade level in reading and math - by 2014, has grown so rancorous that Congress is unlikely to reauthorize or change the program this year. NCLB will renew automatically if Congress fails to act.

But as the 2008 political campaign intensifies, education changes are likely to be eclipsed by debates over the economy, health care and the Iraq war - and by more partisan political posturing.

There’s bipartisan agreement, however, that No Child Left Behind is due for an overhaul.

“All across the country, teachers, school administrators, school board members and parents are voicing their concerns with the law,” said
Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., the chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee. “They don’t think it makes sense to stay the course. They don’t think it makes sense to preserve the status quo. They think the law needs significant improvements, and they are right. Unfortunately, the president couldn’t see it more differently. He thinks the law is nearly perfect.”

Critics charge that NCLB takes a one-size-fits-all approach that ignores different education standards, challenges and practices among the states…

The rest here. This is an excellent and very comprehensive piece on the problems connected to NCLB.

Here’s my personal beef, one of many. I spent last week “teaching” my beloved eighth graders how to construct a writing sample like the one that will be required on the ASK8 test they will all have to take next spring, the test required by The Garden State under NCLB. It’s the test we used to call the dreaded GEPA (and still might: they can’t seem to decide what to call it this year…). This sample is - ugh - a response to a picture prompt. The state supplies a picture - usually a really boring picture, devoid of action and details - and the kids have 25 minutes to present a representative sample of their work. I refuse to call this “writing.” This is not “writing.” Writing is a creative process, whether you are writing a novel, a short story, an essay, a poem, or even an annual report. It involves a series of steps, the most important of which are editing and revision. You can’t do that in 25 minutes. Eighth graders, Lord love ‘em, can barely do anything like writing in 25 minutes, and whatever they can do sure won’t be a truly “representative sample” of what a student can do, for real. But, as we want our kids to do well on the test, we give them little tastes of what they will face throughout the year, along with tips and strategies. We don’t teach to the test, but we do teach about the test. And we do enough so just about all our kids pass a test they’d probably do well enough on already. But this work is something we teachers are expected to do.

It is also a mind-numbing waste of time, and I just hate it. It stymies creative teaching, and it brings the process of learning to a screeching halt while we do it. It’s not education. It’s regurgatation in the name of abitrary numbers on a form in June. And if the wizards from the state’s Department of Education send our kids yet another incredibly BORING picture to work withe this year (featuring yet another white person, by the way… just sayin’), what I do won’t mean anything, because the kids will waste half their 25 minutes just trying to decide what to say as a response.

So this week, now that practice is over (for the moment), we’re doing something fun, and inspiring, and creative. We’re using the “This I Believe” series of essays from National Public Radio as models, and we’re using them to write our own “This I Believe” essays. We just started yesterday, and already the kids are sooooo into it. They will no doubt produce some great stuff.

And it’ll be real writing.

(PS: Some of the samples we’re using can be found here, here, and here (this last one written and read by a 14 year old young man who has Asperger’s Syndrome. Enjoy.)

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