The Evolution of Public Education
A Case for Parents to Start Homeschooling?
Many teachers, students, and parents don’t have a positive outlook on programs such as No Child Left Behind, despite its catchy, encouraging name. Even more clearly, the science and data has shown that standardized testing isn’t necessarily the best thing for our students; in fact we could say it’s detrimental. If our government programs designed to helping students clearly isn’t doing their job, and arguably is counterproductive, how did we let such programs come in existence in the first place? What can we do about it now? Let’s take a look.
Back in 1965 the Elementary and Secondary Education act of 1965, or the ESEA, was passed under president Lyndon B. Johnson. It was a 32 page law (pretty slim compared to today’s standards), and it was a central part to LBJ’s War on Poverty declaration. The main goal of the ESEA was to distribute money to schools who enrolled a large number of poor children. Fortunately, for teachers of that era, testing and accountability were not a part of the original bill. You can see how testing and accountability has failed in my last blog.
As the federal government became increasingly involved in Education, the original bill (ESEA) changed in 1994 under the Clinton administration. The major change that took effect was that schools were offered grants to develop their own standards and assessments
In 2002 things changed. It was the year that would go down in infamy for educators in public school sector. This is the year where George W. Bush signed the No Child Left Behind Act. This may seem mundane, almost innocuous, but the problem was that it changed the the federal law’s directive from equity to accountability and testing–a nightmare scenario for teachers and educators. Let me elaborate. The problem with transitioning to testing and accountability (as opposed to an equity view towards teachers) is that it stripped the power and individuation from the hands of teachers and handed it over to an entity that could enforce, indiscriminately, any changes or directives that it wanted. This new law centralized more power into the wide net of government and left teachers powerless–not to mention children who couldn’t read.
The Big Lie
The lie at the heart of No Child Left Behind was the assumption that testing and accountability would usher in equity. It did the exact opposite. NCLB failed to close the gap between racial and ethnic minorities, it also failed to stimulate the brighter children. As I’ve argued before, if a federal directive is mandated (in this case test scores), the ‘place’ that children have to ‘arrive’ to is common.
Common places are usually boring and not very satisfying to bright children. So, in the end, not only did it not help the original demographic that the ESEA originally intended on helping (poor and ethnic minorities) but it also held back the brighter children by limiting the amount of success that they could attain. The same kids who were struggling before NCLB was implemented were the same ones who were struggling a decade later
Principals and Teachers Predict Failure
Before the implementation of NCLB (and more recently the Every Student Succeeds Act in 2015) educators could see, before the implementation even occurred, that students would fail with these artificial standards in place. They could see, plain as day, that every child was unique and individualistic, I mean, they’re in the classroom EVERY single day, this isn’t news to them–hence the madness that national standards could be achieved. As with most bureaucrats, though, they didn’t listen to the feedback that was given to them.
These ghouls that we call our politicians became radical and die hard in their belief of reform through assessments and testing and punishment for teachers who didn’t achieve the scores that standardized tests called for. Instead of having NCLB repealed in 2007, which it should have been as it had became increasingly clear that it was unpopular and ineffective, they did what all bureaucrats do when faced with data and facts–they re-branded it under another name so that they could retain the power structure. Welcome “Every Student Succeeds Act,” the same awful standards and whimsical ideals that are impossible now with a new name!
Congress Fails Again
I feel like I’m starting to repeat myself here, but it is important to note that the new aforementioned law made hardly ANY changes. It certainly didn’t eliminate the failed practice of assessments, tests and punishment routine–which is what teachers were dying to see happen most. To be fair, though, and to give credit where credit is due, it did restrict meddling in local affairs by secretaries of education (*cough* Arne Duncan). It didn’t fix the fundamental issue of testing and accountability, but, as the old saying goes, “You have start somewhere.” It also reduced the role of the federal government in state education–it gave testing and accountability over to the states. So props to the bureaucrats for that. But, as you’ll soon see, it wasn’t enough.
Well, it’s time to play that game again– the Congress fails game. I’m not surprised that Congress’ approval rating is sitting somewhere around thirteen percent (at the moment). Instead of identifying and addressing the root causes of poor academic performance they kept plodding along with the ole’ testing and accountability idea. As we’ve talked about before, there can be no measurable changes made when every single teacher is asked to move a mountain. There will be no progress for students.
What is Needed?
A new paradigm shift needs to occur. As I’ve argued before, teachers need autonomy–they need to be able to be flexible to the needs of their very individualistic students. A few things that could be done to make this idea work look something like this:
- Minimize testing and accountability
- Respect and value teachers who choose the field of teaching by treating them as professionals
- Pay them as professionals (does that mean that teachers have to work summers then, though? That’s a blog for another time.)
- Higher standards for entry into teaching positions
- Teachers should be knowledgeable about the subject that they’re teaching
- They should be capable (and demonstrate this on a regular basis) of running a classroom.
- Teachers should be concerned with communicating in the most effective ways with their students.
- Paying special attention to how students learn and develop on an individual basis would be very helpful for both teachers and students.
- Teachers should be given the training on how to teach children with disabilities; psychometrics and strengths as well as weaknesses and ways of testing what students have learned.
- They should be aware of the ethical and legal responsibilities that are required of them.
- Teachers might do well with being versed in economics, history and politics of the American systems and society. This is especially important considering the fact that we have a large swath of non-native English speakers. These students (and their parents) need to adopt the American way of life; adherence to freedom of speech, limited government, sound money and liberty, freedom, and equality of opportunity for all.
- And lastly, a reduction in the size of classrooms, and more one-on-one time being made available to students.
What About Principals and Superintendents?
- Superintendents and principals should ALSO be educators–this means being wise in the needs of their students and their teachers and being respondent to these needs.
- They should ensure that their school/district is staffed with professionals and be active in the classroom from time to time.
- Superintendents and principals should adopt a phonics based approach to learning. The evidence of success is overwhelming.
- Principals and superintendents need to foster the value of collaboration between teachers. Competition is fantastic, and has it’s place, but collaboration is more in line when trying to educate students in a cohesive fashion.
- The goal of principals and superintendents shouldn’t be to raise test scores but rather pay diligent attention to the intellectual, social and emotional development of their students.
- And lastly, superintendents and principals need to recognize that their are no silver bullets or quick fix schemes or overnight cures. The only road to improvement lies in hard work and attention to the well being of students.
The Question of the Decade
One of the most frequent questions I hear is, “What has actually happened after fifteen years of government programs designed to help children?” Well, after fifteen years of “reform,” what we’re essentially left with is experienced teachers that are retiring early. Simultaneously, teacher preparatory programs have declined sharply. Many states are facing teacher shortages–and, really, why does that surprise anyone? What sane person would want to enter the teaching field when they’re set up for failure? They have long hours with low pay, along with the fact that society, corporate executives, billionaires, and the media have been adding fuel to the fire in the form of abuse, making their jobs lackluster at best and a dreadful at worst.
The question of decade remains to be answered: can public education along with the teaching profession survive the systematic efforts to dismantle them? I have hope. In 2015 more than 220,000 students (with the support of their parents, of course) living in New York refused to take the state standardized tests, despite threats of federal sanctions on the purse strings of school districts. Another 500,000 students across the nation have opted out of standardized tests as well. These brave individuals have acted in the long held and cherished tradition of civil disobedience: no taxation without representation! Not only that, but states are already adopting legislation that allows parents to opt their children out of standardized tests. Good job bureaucrats, you’re finally getting something right.
Students in cities such as Newark, Rhode Island and Providence have created high school student unions to reduce the high stakes testing which helps their school from the dreaded “reforms.” That’s pretty impressive. A Nationally created organization by teachers called the Badass TEachers Association (BATs) have been quick to mobilize, protest and testify against federal/state injustice as well, and they’ve been promoting positive improvement in their districts ever since.
Hope for the Future
Like I said, there is hope. We just have to realize that the federal government is less and less of trustworthy entity. They don’t have the best interests of the people at heart. Their only motivation is for more power, more control. This may sound like hyperbole, but it’s not. They’ve literally measured the effects that power has on people. The more power one seeks and attains, the more addicted they become–as I’ve mentioned before, seeking state power is as powerful as a drug addiction. Like all addicts, they don’t want to relinquish the drug, and they’ll do anything to retain it. Including selling the monetary future of the unborn to Chinese banksters. Let’s take back our freedom, let’s send a message loud and clear to DC that we don’t want their stinkin’ standardized tests anymore.If all else fails, let’s just start homeschooling more.
photo credit: We trust you with the children but not the Internet via photopin (license)