The rationale for 2001 No Child Left Behind Act was that we needed to close the achievement gap between Black and Latino children and their peers. This is a worthy goal but from then until now the achievement gap has only widened, even after all the testing, school closures and billions of tax dollars spent on educational reform schemes. Since NCLB mandated annual testing in all 50 states, U.S. students slipped from 18th in the world in math in 2000 to 31st place in 2009. Things have gone from bad to worse in public education. There has been no analysis as to why NCLB was a miserable failure. This so-called reform movement is all about accountability but no one seems to be responsible for the education stifled and careers ruined by NCLB, not to mention the billions of dollars wasted.
As a teacher and parent of a 5th grader, I welcomed the end of NCLB and hoped for an era of higher standards in which we finally got serious about education. I thought that Common Core was going to be an antidote to the bad policies of NCLB but instead it uses the very same policies and more. More standardized testing of students, more data collection from teachers, more purchasing of educational reform materials and we can expect more punitive actions towards teachers and schools.
The new rationale is that students need to be “globally competitive.” Lately I have become really curious. Did we just give up on the achievement gap? If we couldn’t close the achievement gap with more testing why would we think that testing would make students more globally competitive? How can student testing measure teacher effectiveness anyway? It is common knowledge that test scores are higher in communities of higher socio-economics. Test scores are a pretty predictable measure of the wealth of a community. We know pretty well what the results of testing will be before we the tests are even given. If we were serious about our goal of making students “college and career ready” then why don’t we concentrate on the economic issues of impoverished communities? If we do the same things over and over again and expect a different result, isn’t that the very definition of insanity? Our country has serious economic, social and environmental issues and yet we continue to dither around with these very low standardized tests.
It makes one wonder if there isn’t a hidden agenda somewhere. Testing alone costs states billions of dollars each year and that was under NCLB. It is going to be much higher under Common Core. How many teachers could states hire with that money? How many teaching assistants or classroom materials or facilities upgrades could be paid for? These things actually make the difference in the life of a child. An art or music program could transform a child’s life. However teachers hear all the time that they have to make due with less because there isn’t enough money for what we know we need to promote success for our students. There is always plenty money for more testing. This is not what students need to succeed. Have we not learned that lesson from NCLB? Students are being cheated out of their education by the very powers that claim to be the saviors of education.
If we were really serious about helping close the achievement gap and helping students to be globally competitive, then we would look at a successful model like Finland. Finland has created schools where students don’t have the life tested out of them, and ironically has some of the best test scores. They teach the whole child and allow students recess, art, music and PE. If we were really serious about creating a successful public education system then we would try to build on what is known to succeed rather than what we already know that failed.
We need to know why No Child Left Behind was such a miserable failure and why Common Core is going to be different. If those two points are not resolved I do not see how the public can ever take it seriously. Teachers are certainly held accountable for their classrooms. We need to start ensuring that politicians are held accountable for their policies.
Julie Dietrich is a public school teacher and parent in Maryland.