Stay the course…

        May/June 2007

“Stay the course? Surge? Or rethink the mission? The parallel with Iraq is oddly appropriate. The No Child Left Behind Act has created an upheaval. It’s had myriad consequences, positive, negative, and unintended. Its critics say that the 5-year-old law is replacing a bad system with one that’s equally oppressive, the tyranny of multi-choice testing and a narrow curriculum.” Thus sayeth John Merrow, and I say, “Amen.”

If one high sakes test a year is not sufficiently leading to improved scores, maybe if we give one every six-weeks (also with high sakes) that aligns well with the big one at the end of the year, we can do better. Or maybe once a week? Or built into daily lesson plans? Or all of the above. One commonly heard current response to the law’s failure: “surge”—more of the same. Anything but some serious rethinking.

In NYC every act now has a consequence—either directly financial or indirectly (like losing your job). They’ve got it all figured out. Points are given for dozens of detailed steps a principal can take that are believed to correlate with better test scores. Bonuses of up to $25,000 are in store for principals that get the top scores, and the bottom 5% are targeted for removal. Probably these are also built-into the contracts the city has with the new management subcontractors that many schools will work under starting next fall. The people who invent these systems naturally are not people who respect that their own motivation for working hard or doing the right thing isn’t externally driven —if there isn’t a bonus attached, or fame and higher office. It’s perhaps no wonder then that they don’t even trust the drive of little children to learn for its own sweet sake, to seek to make sense of the world, and to master its increasingly more complex tasks. It fits together. Alas. The question is: where and how best to break into this vicious circle and remind us that a very different paradigm exists.

My blood runs cold when I think of what the current paradigm does to the everyday culture of a school, and the kind of discourse about children and their learning that it leads to. Not to mention what kind of future society its proponents have in mind for our children.

© 2007 Deborah Meier

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