Thoughts On “The Education Mess” Pt 1

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An essay appeared on Glenn Reynolds’ blog “Instapundit” today, advocating not only the repeal of the mediocre “No Child Left Behind”, but going back to the Reagan idea of scrapping the entire Department Of Education.

As a trained educator, I wholeheartedly agree with the idea. It can be shown that nothing has been gained by the establishment of this bureaucracy. In the thirty-something  years of its existence,  there is not one item from the image above (courtesy of the DOE) that could not have been done at the state or local level. I mean come on, do we really need a Federal Office of Safety and Drug Free Schools to tell our kids that drugs are bad… M’Kay. Surfing through the DOE graph, it seems that many of the departments exist more as a pet projects of a very narrow constituency, rather than something that is designed to help the entire education system; many seem like a political gift to a well meaning friend of an influential Congressman. Did anyone else reading this  know there was a Department for the White House Initiative on Tribal Colleges and Universities Staff, or one for the WH Initiative for Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. Please raise your hands if you had any idea what these two departments do. Oh, and look, there is an Office of Legislation and Congressional Affairs, as if our Congressmen need some sort of help or guidance to steer them through their various peccadilloes! (just  kidding… I think)

One could make the argument that abolishing the DOE would be like throwing out the baby with the bathwater. Some might ask; “you’re a teacher, why do you want to get rid of No Child Left Behind?”. The reason is that the results don’t really indicate the long term retention of knowledge of the average student body. Rather, NCLB has become a game of  “how well can we cram the students and get the best grade possible”. Here is my experience as an educator. Schools will typically want to start prepping the kids for a week, sometimes two weeks before the test is administered. Teachers will give power-points or transparencies on the best strategies on taking multiple choice tests (as if the students had not long ago figured out how to take bubble-in tests). A good week is spent refreshing the entire years worth of material that you’ve covered. Then, on the day or two before the test, the students take a multiple choice test designed to include questions that we’re pretty sure will show up on the test. Teachers have know knowledge of the actual questions that will appear on the official test, but since they are designed to incorporate set educational standards, we have a good idea of the probable questions. The test takes two days to administer.

The end result?

First note that the test is, for the most part, a measure more of the preparation of the test, rather than the retained knowledge of the student body for the entire school year. Some kids will do very well on the tests. These are the kids who are self motivated to do so. Some students will absorb some of the reviewed material, enough that it will make a difference. But many kids will not do great, because they didn’t do well on the subjects when they were being taught during the regular course of the year, and one week of scatter-shot review will not be enough to retain the pertinent information. Worse. since the scores do not count as part of the student’s own grade, many, even the brighter ones, will not put much effort into doing well on the test. Hell, with the understanding that some of the faculty’s jobs may be on the line, a few may intentionally bomb the test in the hopes of getting a different teacher or principal, and doing bad on the test may be the way to implement that change. That is probably rare, but you can’t rule it out.  Meanwhile, as the teacher, you’ve just lost two weeks of instruction time, and, since you were right in the middle of the unit on Russian history when you had to drop everything to administer the NCLB test, the students have forgotten what they’ve covered and you might find you have to start your unit plan all over again.

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