Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Monkeying Around With Education

While we all were waiting for the inevitable shutdown to begin last night, we thought we might actually try to be more effective than the idiots in Congress - a low standard, we know. Still, we began by looking back through some recent news, and came across more stories about the ever-failing No Child Left Behind law. The law - also known as NCLB - now appears to be reaching critical levels of failure in our home state of Nebraska.

As Margaret Reist detailed in the Lincoln Journal-Star last week, sixty-five percent of Nebraska's schools failed to meet the Bush-era NCLB academic target last year. That failure is in part due either to a stubbornness to change or simple stupidity by both Nebraska's Governor and legislature to formally request a waiver from the Federal government on the NCLB standards, as other states have done.

As Joe Dejka outlined in the Omaha World Herald, even some Nebraska schools well-known for high academic standards, like the Omaha-area Millard North and Millard West high schools, have now run into some well-known problems with the NCLB - namely, the bananas requirement that schools be nearly perfect in their testing results. Those unrealistic standards, in fact, are a big part of why 42 other states have applied for waivers from the Obama administration on the NCLB standards and have been granted those waivers.

Many educators say the problem is simply that so-called educational "experts" keep insisting on more and more testing - the kind of nutty educational policy that's often the hallmark of educational standards efforts.

Some educators even say the Obama administration's attempt to do something similar, Common Core, is equally bad.

We hit on this issue just a month and a half ago, and we still believe one of the biggest problems remains, as we pointed it out at that time: Billion dollar for-profit educational testing companies, who have a vested interest in pushing ever-greater numbers of tests, for which they'll charge districts every-greater amounts of money.

We're not saying all standards testing is bad. Tests do have a place - but that place should not be a place that crowds out all other learning opportunities.

Whether the standard is Common Core or NCLB, standards testing must be completed and do need to be implemented wisely, in part because of the kind of fluid economic format we've chosen in America, at this time. Americans go where the jobs are today. If a parent moves from one state to another, their children will come with them. Therefore, what Eighth-graders learn in one state should be same for those children in all states. Unfortunately, it is not, currently.

Each child, school, and teacher should be given the leeway to actually teach. Broad standards are also good - but they need to be implemented carefully and given time to work. Amanda Ripley's great piece published online over the weekend, and in this week's edition of Time magazine, shows that Kentucky of all states, has been doing this - applying the Common Core standards broadly, with small individual exceptions. After three years of implementation, the Kentucky experience with Common Core seems to be going amazingly well.

Whatever the final solution to our academic standards problems may be, as the failures of No Child Left Behind have proven, hard, unrealistic standards don't work - and neither do ever-growing piles of testing. As the refusal by Nebraska's government to do anything about those failed standards has also shown, doing nothing is also bananas.