I am following a news story here in Austin that I think is really important. The district is considering closing Webb Middle School because it has not improved its test scores for three years. It has received the state's lowest rating for three years. Instead of allowing the state to take over the decision about how to deal with the situation the district is going to close the school. That means that they will be moving the students to two other middle schools in the area which are also struggling.
You can read more about it at the Austin American Statesman:
In yesterday's paper the Superintendent of the school district said that school closings like this will become more common in inner city schools because the problems are so huge.
Wednesday, January 10, 2007
Edweek has an excellent article by William Spady that explains much better than I do what is happening with NCLB in our country. Here are a few short excerpts (but the whole article is not too long and worth reading):
The No Child Left Behind Act is the natural extension of a paradigm that has defined, shaped, and sustained our public education system for over a century. The paradigm took form in the late 19th century, during the optimistic adolescence of America’s Industrial Age, and it embodies the leading ideas of that bygone era:
All of these elements combined to mimic the much-admired factory assembly lines of the day, and within a few decades this industrial-age model of education became so institutionalized, legalized, internalized, and reinforced that it has been virtually impossible to change.....
- a subject-structured curriculum,
- an age-based grade-level grouping and promotion structure,
- a time-based and time-defined form of organization,
- and a decidedly uniform pace of instruction, from September into June.
Critics of the law also can point to frightening evidence about the effects on schools and students of mandated testing-and-accountability programs that had emerged before the law was officially enacted and has been borne out since. These include
- lower educator motivation and morale;
- the loss in droves of talented and creative educators who retire or leave the system;
- a severe narrowing of curriculum offerings;
- major increases in student stress,
- dysfunctional behavior,
- failure rates, and dropout rates;
- and the wholesale suppression of nontraditional educational approaches.
Tuesday, January 09, 2007
I want to add one thought to my "rant" yesterday on NCLB. This year I am doing some substitute teaching and I have been SHOCKED at the amount of time in class spent for testing in many schools-especially in the lower income neighborhoods that I substitute in. What is happening in many schools is totally the opposite of what is shown in the picture above.
Here is a 'word picture' of one of my observations: In this particular school students take practice tests every six weeks. You all remember what standardized tests are like. Everything has to be completely silent and you cannot do ANYTHING except the test for the time of the test. So, in this particular third grade classroom there are 20 students. The practice test is for one hour. As educators we all know that it is really difficult for third graders to sit quietly for one hour. It is not natural. A few of the kids are really sharp and find the test easy. They zoom through it and are done in 15 minutes... then sit and wait for 45 minutes. I think they were allowed to read a book silently, so for most of them this is not a huge problem because they don't mind being quiet and reading. Then there are most of the kids who take most of the time alloted to take the test. They plow though and finish at different times near the end of the time. Then there are those who cannot or don't want to finish in the hour. There are the criers who feel upset that they are doing poorly. There are also the totally discouraged who give up. Then there are also the goof offs who do not care and circle anything just to get done.
As a sub I have not only observed when classes are taking the tests, but I have been with classes who are "off the wall" with their behavior and heard teachers describe that they have been testing all day and so the kids are a bit crazy. It is difficult to get a lot done with kids who are burnt out and not concentrating any more.
I have also heard lots of kids express fear of the tests. They are anxious that they will not pass. One teacher used blogging as a way to have students express their fears about the coming year on the first day. I was really surprised at how many mentioned fear that they would not pass the test!
How can this be good?
Every morning as I wake up I listen to NPR and get the news of the day. This morning the story that caught my attention was on No Child Left Behind. There is a lot of discussion of it because it is up for renewal. The report made me angry and I really wanted to write NPR to give them my feedback on the issue, but I could not find a good way to do that on their site, so I will at least put my thoughts here in my blog!
First of all the report played part of a speech by Margaret Spellings about renewing the No Child Left Behind Act. I found what she said to be very insulting to public schools and to teachers. She said that the act had done a lot to force schools to improve and to reach everyone. She said (or at least I understood her to say) that until No Child Left Behind schools just kept passing kids through regardless of whether they learned or not. It was a huge generalization and sounded like educators didn't really care and they were just passing kids through the system and that now things are so much better. She also said that every parent she knows wants their kids to be on grade-level and challenged any parent in the audience who did not want that to come forward. As if that was the issue!!
In my opinion No Child Left Behind is a wake-up call for all of us which put all of the flaws of the current school system into light. Because of that there have been some definite improvements. States are putting more emphasis on teacher training and having qualified teachers in the classroom. Lots of attention is going to the lower kids and there are many efforts to not allow anyone to fall through the cracks. This is good. However, it has also done as much harm as good. More teachers than ever before are saying that they don't like teaching any more and don't find it fulfilling. The constant testing and blaming for low test scores that is happening everywhere is demoralizing.
The ultimate goal of NCLB is that by 2012 all students will be on grade level in reading and math. Except for Margaret Spellings and others who for political reasons think this is a good goal I don't know anyone who thinks it makes sense. It is not just a high goal, it is a completely unattainable goal which sets every teacher and student in the US up for failure.
I agree that there are large problems with our public education system and that big changes need to be made, but I am totally convinced that NCLB as it is now is doing more harm than good.