A very odd notion is circulating these days that the No Child Left Behind law has forced schools to become boring, dull places where children do endless worksheets and are discouraged from thinking for themselves. This argument holds that under "No Child," students are forced to simply regurgitate what teachers tell them, which -- because of flawed standardized tests -- is often confusing and sometimes demonstrably false. Get rid of the tests, or at least pay less attention to their results, critics say, and schools can return to their pre-NCLB excellence.
I keep wondering: Don't the people making this and similar arguments know that long before No Child Left Behind, far too many classrooms were boring, dull places where children were forced to do endless worksheets, discouraged from independent thinking and subjected to teachers providing confusing and sometimes demonstrably false information?
Exactly. When was this golden age of education?
We had standardized tests long before NCLB. While rummaging through some old boxes recently I found this:
The scores from the standardized test I took in the beginning of ninth grade -- 27 years ago. I remember taking a test like this almost every year I was in school starting in third grade. For me, NCLB would have been business as usual. If anything, NCLB would have offered a reprieve from the science and social studies portion of the exam.
Notice how the science and social studies scores are the lowest scores. Perhaps they were narrowing the curriculum even back then. My recollection is that those subjects were taught poorly. It wasn't until late in high school and college that those subjects were taught properly.
If I had to pick one word to describe my K-8 experience it would be: bored. If I had two words, I'd pick: bored silly. NCLB didn't cause boredom, schools were already boring. They weren't boring because of dull teacher presentations; they were boring because not much was being taught and not much was expected of us. Chenoweth experienced the same thing:
My elementary school teachers had been able to control their classrooms, but they didn't teach a whole lot of history, science, art or music. In introducing a unit on batteries, for instance, my fifth-grade teacher said: "I don't like science either, but we are supposed to cover this." She never bothered finding out whether we learned anything about batteries -- tedious "covering" was enough.
NCLB didn't cause these problems. Schools were already doing all the stuff that the NLCB critics are blaming on NCLB today. History and Geography had already been replaced with the banal social studies. Science had already degenerated into a series of scripted hands on experiments tied together by a parade of disjointed terminology that failed to build on previously taught material that would lie inert soon after it was taught. NCLB merely called attention to the problem. That's a good thing.
I don't think that NCLB is going to cause most schools to improve. Being labeled a failure may sting a bit, but solace can always be found in blaming the students and their parents for the failure. The meme nowadays seems to be blame everything but the schools: dumb kids, uncaring parents, helicopter parents, not enough funding, too many tests, blah, blah, blah.
Schools have had nearly seven years to clean up their act. Seven years is sufficient time for even the worst elementary schools to clean up their act. Elementary schools are the easiest to clean up. There are lots of intervention programs out there with a good research base and evidence of success. Yet, NAEP results show little improvement, except at the very bottom. What's the hold up? If you can't do it in seven years, you're not going to be able to do it in twenty either. And, until the elementary schools improve, the middle and high schools are going to continue to be remediation mills. How can you teach a kid eighth grade content when he hasn't learned fourth grade content yet?
Pity. I think that NCLB is the public education system's last hope to maintain their monopoly on education. In 2014, when most schools have failed to improve even when we've lowered the standards considerably, parents and taxpayers are going to grow increasingly reluctant to continue funding such a failed enterprise. people are going to be looking for ways out of the system as they realize that the public funding of education doesn't have to be done through failed 19th century institutions.
NCLB is a warning, educators should take heed.