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Growing up in a small Iowa town along the Mississippi River, we took the Iowa Test of Basic Skills (ITBS) in school.  It was your typical standardized test; booklet, scan sheet, No. 2 pencil, you know how it goes.  There was never any pressure put on the students because the success of our school didn't depend on the outcome.  No teacher was going to lose his or her job over poor results.  It was simply an evaluation tool used to identify students who were underachieving and weak areas in the school's curriculum.  We didn't study things because they were ITBS objectives, we studied things because they were important to our future success.  All through elementary, junior high, and high school, this was the case.  Oh how times have changed.

With the implementation of the No Child Left Behind act, the Bush administration has sentenced the next generation of public education in America to a lifetime of failures.  Gone are the days when standardized tests weren't a threat to the success of the schools.  Also gone are the days when a teacher didn't feel pressure to produce good results out of fear of being cut.  In today's world of high stakes testing, every school district has been put under the microscope.  Test scores now mean everything.

From 1991 to 1993 I, along with my wife, worked in the public schools in the Aldine Independent School district in and around Houston, Texas.  We witnessed first hand what it was like to work in a district whose future depended upon the outcome of a single test.  The test was called the T.A.A.S. test (Texas Assessment of Academic Skills) and  everything we did as teachers had to have an accompanying TAAS objective.  If it wasn't covered on the test, it wasn't worth covering in class.

Teachers and students alike were called together for pep rallies to encourage each person to do their best on the exam.  Practice tests were taken, TAAS tutorial sessions were held, and test taking strategies were taught.  The entire year was devoted to the "mighty TAAS" and as a teacher you had better tow the line.  If student scores were below average, there would be hell to pay.  However, if the scores were good enough the adminstrator received a cash bonus.  From an educational standpoint, this was no way to run a school system.  So after two years, my wife and I left Texas because we knew that we didn't want our children going through an education system like the one we had witnessed there.

We finally settled here in Illinois where we thought we would be safe from the plague of high stakes testing we were so desperately trying to escape.  You can imagine our horror when George W. Bush became President in 2001 and promised to reform education.  We knew what that meant.  Now here we are again, teaching in Illinois under the pressures of a high stakes testing system.  The only difference is that now the test is the Prairie State Exam (PSAE).

While I'm not opposed to all testing, the methods employed by the NCLB act are detrimental to the true process of education.  When the stakes are set so high, the pressure becomes too much for teachers and districts to bear.  The need to perform soon outweighs the need to educate and schools begin "teaching to the test."  That is, they teach only the skills necessary to perform well on the exam.  While this looks good on school report cards, the long-term ramifications are frightening.  As we have seen in the latest data from the National Center for Educational Statistics, our students are actually losing ground to most other countries in the area of mathematics literacy and we are simply treading water in most other categories.

The reason for this is because teaching to the test goes against the most basic principles of education.  Teachers are reduced to teaching processes instead of concepts and students are relegated to memorizing a series of steps in order to obtain an answer that means nothing to them.  Processes are only good for one particular instance while concepts apply to a wide range of issues.

Let me give you an example:

One of the areas I teach is computer applications.  In our basic computer courses we teach word processing.  While Microsoft Word is the standard, it is not the only program available for the task.  Therefore, it would be unwise for me to simply teach my students to use Microsoft Word.  By teaching them the concepts of word processing, as opposed to the processes of Word, they are now prepared to use other word processing programs like Microsoft Works, Appleworks, Word Perfect, etc.  It works the same in math, science, music, art, psychology, and any other subject you care to name.

Unfortunately, No Child Left Behind has tied our hands.  Our math and science teachers are now forced to teach to the test if they wish to keep their jobs and our school districts are forced to encourage the practice if they wish to keep themselves out of hot water and maintain their funding.  All the while our children are learning processes that can only be applied to specific situations in life instead of the concepts they really need to succeed.

Until this process is reversed we can expect to see our country fall further behind the rest of the world.  In these technologically advanced times, knowledge is power and George W. Bush is slowly sapping the strength from our future.

Originally posted to kissfan on Wed Dec 08, 2004 at 08:17 PM PST.


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Comment Preferences

  •  A perfect law for private schools (none)
    Dissent Magazine has a thorough article on NCLB
    linked text

    But consider a 2004 headline in the St. Paul Pioneer Press: "All Minnesota Left Behind?" The article beneath the headline described a report from the state's legislative auditor projecting that by 2014 some 80 percent of Minnesota's schools would be failing and that many of them would have failed for five consecutive years, a condition that unleashes the most draconian of NCLB's sanctions.

    Academically, Minnesota is not California. In the Third International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS), twenty-five of forty-one participating nations outscored California in mathematics and only four (Iran, Kuwait, Colombia, and South Africa) scored lower (the remaining twelve scored about the same). In science, twenty scored higher and six scored lower. For Minnesota, the numbers are quite different. Only six of the forty-one nations outscored Minnesota in math, and only one outscored it in science.

    This means that in a few years 80 percent of the schools in a state that outscores virtually the entire world will be labeled as failures. ...

    The big problem with NCLB, though, remains that its intent is the opposite of what it claims. Former assistant secretary of education, Chester E. Finn, Jr., once said, "The public education system as we know it has proved that it cannot reform itself. It is an ossified government monopoly." As the preordained casualties from NCLB mount, the Chester Finns, George W. Bushes, and the think tanks on the right will intensify their attacks on the "government monopoly" while holding vouchers as the solution. If their attacks on public schools are successful, NCLB will indeed have proved to be The Perfect Law.

  •  One reason some folks put kids in pvt. schools (none)
    is to get away from this b.s.  "NCLB" is an unmitigated disaster. Meanwhile, our kids don't know anything about government, economics, real science, history, geography (don't ask a kid to find Afghanistan or Iraq on a map if you don't want to scream), or art, music, or theater, for that matter.

    All these reThugs want kids to do is be passive recipients of whatever they want to shove down their throats. The less actual thought, the better. And good if they spend a lot of time on video games, 'cause that skill can transfer to the military.

    Let's get some Democracy for America

    by murphy on Wed Dec 08, 2004 at 08:23:51 PM PST

    •  The whole point is to get kids in private school (none)
      NCLB is basically a way to kill free public education.  If every public school is a failure, the private schools get all the money.  They also get the best students.  Quality education will become something you have to pay out the nose for, while the public schools will become little more than vestigial daycares.
      •  I agree, and it's succeeding (none)
        But short of taking back our country, what are parents supposed to do ? Most people don't understand what's going on with public education, or why, only that it's getting worse and worse for most kids.

        There was a school tour today by a candidate for mayor of Los Angeles, Bob Hertzberg, who is pushing the idea of breaking up the Los Angeles Unified School District as a panacea. Maybe it is too big, but you can break it into 50 mini districts and still have the same issues, one of which is that the rich areas do have better public schools than the poor areas.

        There are a lot of reasons for this, including but not limited to the fact that the parents in those communities know how to raise hell, and the school administration knows those parents have options.

        But look what happened in Alabama, where the vote was to deny that a right to a decent, free public education even exists in that state !

        As long as there is this barely sub rosa class warfare going on, with those who can actually afford to pay taxes refusing to do so, the school situation will continue to deteriorate.

        Between that and the rampant anti-intellectualism of the right-- hell, the rampant anti-common sense-ism ! Well, we can only count on a continuing decline all aspects of civic life, unless we somehow manage to communicate to our fellow citizens the fact that we are being driven to the brink of a national catastrophe.

        We cannot continue with the horrifying drop out rate that we are experiencing in schools across the country. We are becoming a country of the uneducated, unskilled, and ultimately, unemployed and unemployable.

        Wouldn't it be fun if somehow, the people responsible for pushing this garbage, were actually forced to live with the consequences?

        We can't keep outsourcing everything and not educating our own population. There really are worse things than dependence on foreign oil !

        Let's get some Democracy for America

        by murphy on Wed Dec 08, 2004 at 09:19:36 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  One idea I like... (none)
          I dont' know much about education policy, so maybe someone could explain what's wrong with this idea.

          Why not just equally divvy up the school spending?  Set up a federal tax, get rid of reliance on local property taxes, and then just allocate the same amount of money to each and every school in the country.  Just a simple average.  Bang, equal opportunity.

          What this would mean would basically be that rich schools lost funding, poor schools got more, and most middle-income districts would keep the same amount of funding.  Then states and local organizations could start organizing task forces or playing with the tax codes to change funding if they wanted to.  But at least everyone would have a decent baseline.

          So what's wrong with this idea?

          •  Nothing, except it doesn't get followed (none)
            There was this case in CA years ago, Serrano v. Priest, that stood for that proposition.


            There's this great website that explains where CA school funding is now.

            Suffice it to say, we're screwed.


            Let's get some Democracy for America

            by murphy on Wed Dec 08, 2004 at 09:36:57 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

            •  Hmm... (none)
              If I understand this correctly, it seems that this was basically a case of a judge ruling that the current funding system was already functionally equal because it fell within a band of funding.

              But what about a law mandating that all schools nationwide just get the same exact number of dollars?  No room for judicial interpretation or anything, just a simple x/y formula where x = number of dollars raised by school taxes and y = number of schools in the country.

              •  Sounds logical doesn't it ? (none)
                But you know what happens ? Parents' groups start doing fundraising because the money is never enough.  And the wealthier parents raise more money. There's no way to stop it. Everyone wants the best for their kids, and those with the wherewithal to achieve that, do.

                Whether it means raising lots of extra money for a public school, or putting their kids in private schools, they will thwart these types of plans.

                At least that's my experience.

                Let's get some Democracy for America

                by murphy on Wed Dec 08, 2004 at 10:00:56 PM PST

                [ Parent ]

                •  Ok... (none)
                  So what?  Let the rich people go do their own thing.  Let them raise money, support private schools, whatever.  At least there'll be a standard, adequate level of funding for everyone else.  None of this Darwinian "survival of the richest" crap that NCLB pushes.
                  •  You missed the part (none)
                    where I said "it's never enough"-- there is no such thing as truly adequate funding, and there will not be as long as the focus of "education" is on the notions of NCLB.

                    They will not provide the funds for adequate school libraries, or arts education, and they will not permit intellectually stretching classes in history, government, science, or anything else that isn't on their stupid test !

                    Let's get some Democracy for America

                    by murphy on Wed Dec 08, 2004 at 10:14:24 PM PST

                    [ Parent ]

                    •  Well, I agree, but... (none)
                      You can establish a baseline where you at least have some standard level of funding.  It may not be enough to fund everything you might want, but it'll make sure that you don't get impoverished districts who are totally lacking in needed funds.  I mean the funding gap is really evident in a lot of big cities today.  For instance, schools on Chicago's poor West Side have detriorated so bad that parents turn to private or Catholic schools whenever possible.  Meanwhile, Chicago's wealthy North Shore suburbs enjoy some of the best education in the world, and it's all free.  That's the kind of massive disparity that equal funding would avoid.

                      It's also what NCLB is supposedly trying to avoid.  The idea is to move kids out of the failing schools and into "good ones".  But the standards are so strict, the funding is so poor, and the provisions for failing schools so meager that NCLB basically functions as a push to destroy public schooling as we know it.

                      Sure, in an equal funding system, parents could get more money with fundraisers and stuff.  And yeah, rich neighborhoods would probably still enjoy better schools than poor ones.  But it's a difference of degree, I guess.  Some of the schools on Chicago's West and South Sides are basically structurally unsound, they're missing windows, they're fire hazards, they're pretty bad.  Meanwhile, the North Shore suburban schools have professional-quality acoustics in their massive auditoriums.  It's an unacceptable degree of inequality, y'know?  Equal funding would at least close the gap.

    •  The Kids are all right (none)
      With all due respect, you are basically encouraging NCLB by suggesting that our kids don't know anything. I am an educator in a very poor rural town and despite our poverty and our provincialism, the kids actually do know something. During the presidential campaign I had better discussions with the kids than I did with the adults. One young Bush supporter knew that Saddam had been suported by the Reagan administration in the 80s and was vaguely aware of US government acquiecence in Hussien's rise to power. We disagreed - vehemently, but he was as persuasive as any adult I met. The Kerry supporters were equal to the task. I was impressed.
      The problem is that we have a tendency to view things through mature eyes. I've heard adults of my genaration complain that kids don't even recognize Kennedy. Kennedy dies 41 years ago. Several times I went to the history book and pulled out a picture of a famous dead president. Not one member of my generation has correctly identified Warren Harding, subject of one of the greatest scandals in US history, master of the malapropism(the GW Bush of his time). I couldn't point out Viet nam on a map when I was in high school. I sure discovered it when there was a good chance that I could end up there.
      We know more because we are older. It's that simple. When folks tell me about the good old days, they need to remember - I was a teacher back then. They were not any better or smarter than the kids today.
      Incidentally it was the young people who gave the greatest support for Kerry. That may give an indication of their intelligence relative to other age groups.

      Don't Panic - Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

      by slatsg on Wed Dec 08, 2004 at 09:28:53 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  You are probably better off (none)
        for being from the area you describe.

        It seems they don't teach history, geography, government, economics, science, or English in the schools in the inner city areas of our major metro areas.

        And the drop out rate is, as I said, horrifying.

        Let's get some Democracy for America

        by murphy on Wed Dec 08, 2004 at 09:40:35 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  I've seen the harm (none)
    NCLB has done in my kid's school. I even see how it' bad for the parents and teachers. our school is quite good but we just got off corrective action and so some kids left for a school that is not as good but has yet to be considered failing. One thing that many people don't know is that testing in other countries is done largely on only the college prep kids. That's one reason for their better scores. It's not reality to think other countries don't have ignorant families, learning disabled kids, or kids who just don't do well in school or care.

    it's the corporations, stupid!

    by Pier1 on Wed Dec 08, 2004 at 08:36:10 PM PST

  •  My Theory (none)
    Bush and the Republicans only want children to know enough math to operate a cash registeer and enough English to ask "Do you want fries with that?"  Their kids will go to charter schools or private schools so they won't have to worry.


    "Every country needs a good lefty. ... We even have some in our country." George W. Bush, 12/1/04

    by JR Monsterfodder on Wed Dec 08, 2004 at 08:42:31 PM PST

  •  What's the common denominator to ALL (none)
    the things that are driving this country into
    another S&LHell. . . .

    We cannot let him get confirmed on January 6th!

    Separation of Church and State AND Corporation

    by Einsteinia on Wed Dec 08, 2004 at 08:44:48 PM PST

  •  Excellent diary. Recommend it! (none)
    You nailed it.

    NCLB was yet another example of a Bush doctrine executed under false pretenses. (Rod Paige's data from the Houston school system, now proven to be trumped up and bogus.  Yellowcake, anyone?)

    It is nothing more than the Republican's attempt to gut public education in this country, aided and abetted by many cowed or uninformed Democrats.  (What were you thinking, Ted Kennedy?)

    It's not the underfunding that makes it a bad law.  It's the law itself.  It runs directly counter to what our real goal should be with public education: teach kids how to be critical thinkers.

    Instead, we NCLB dictates that we teach them the answers to 150 questions.  Period.

    This law is a disgrace.  An embarrassment for supposedly the most advanced nation in the world.

    And our own side fell for it.

    How sad.

  •  Wish I could 'highly recommend' (none)
    Everyone with school-age kids should read this diary.  

    Here in WA, we have a state-wide mandatory test called the WASL.  My oldest son's first grade teacher mentioned once in passing that even the first grade teachers are already changing their curricula so that the students eventually test well at their first attempt, which isn't until 4th grade.  I can only imagine that NCLB compounds that pressure to test well by the nth degree.

  •  you should (none)
     put a link to this diary here.

    and if you want to talk about nclb, i on the tip of a blockbuster..if i can just finish my ma first.

    basically, texas is cheating on the tests. so, right now, they're at 98% passing. minneapolis, long considered the best school system in the country, in comparision, has a 70% passing rate. but, if you look at SAT scores, texas has almost the worst in the country.

    but now, texas is being held up as the great nclb success story.

    so, now real education reform, like charter schools, are being held up unfairly to the texas model.

  •  Kissfan, (none)
    your diary really resonated with me, and I think it's important enough for everyone - especially those of us with young kids - to read, so I urge you to repost again tomorrow morning, east coast time, to get a wider audience than you earned tonight.  If you want to, of course.  Thanks again.
  •  Testing is not free (none)
    Another other thing that slides under the radar of all this discussion is that these tests and the prep materials are not cheap. They have to keep writing new test so no one cheats--constant product development. And there are a lot of side materials--practice exams, worksheets, lesson plans, to help people teach to the test. I edit books for a living, and the companies that pay the BEST are the test prep people. Second are textbook publishers.

    Maybe we could get 'em on an unfunded mandate.

  •  Don't play (none)
    You'll officially catch hell from the principals/teachers, but privately they'll support you.

    Neither of my sons will take the CSAPS (Colorado's version of outcome-based testing) this year, so officially they'll count as zero scores.

    But how can we as parents have our children taking tests, when our children know we don't believe in what the tests represent?  That we believe the testing is harmful to their educations, and to the education system in general.  Just doesn't make sense to us.

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