Once upon a time, a boy from a political family got to be Governor of Texas. He put in place some programs that looked good at the outset, but digging deeper, these programs had fundamental flaws. Never the less, convinced of the topical success, said Governor was elected President of the United States and brought these pet programs national. One of these programs is what we now refer to as No Child Left Behind, or NCLB.
Today, Ken Thomas from the AP reports that seventeen of the nation’s fifty largest cities had a high school graduation rate of lower than 50%, meaning 1.2 million students in the US are dropping out annually.
Let’s rewind time a bit. Molly Ivins appeared on Fresh Air with Terry Gross on October 8, 2003. She had just published her book, Bushwacked, a follow up to her first book on George Bush, “Shrub- the short and happy political life of George W. Bush.” Molly Ivins says in the interview that “It’s as if W has gone to Washington to spread the gospel of the Lone Star State, ” and “That I’ve often thought that Texas is the national laboratory for bad government.” Terry and Molly then talk about education and the “Texas Education Miracle”. While Texas public schools did improve since 1970, but what appeared to be initial improvement in test scores in Texas were actually fraudulent, because the scores were improving by increasing the drop out rate, which was approaching 40%. When kids drop out, they don’t take the test; these kids are largely those not performing well, and therefore, you drop the lower performers, raising the overall scores.
Now that the Texas program has become No Child Left Behind, the testing, but no additional funding to do better, and this pattern is replicated nationally with these dismal graduation rates now on a national level. Is this the real explanation for the increased performance on standardized tests nationwide???
Now I will be the first person who will state that giving children normed tests can be useful. You get to compare your child’s performance with others of their same age and grade level. However, we get this data, but it often is not used for very much on a child level. We don’t use these tests as precursors to diagnosing learning disabilities or specific problems or deficits with a particular child. We use this data as a whole sale recommendation or condemnation of curriculum, teacher and schools, which I think is grossly unfair.
There are many problems in education, but most of them stem from treating education as a widget factory for citizens, rather than the development of thinkers and future innovators and problem solvers. This short sighted “business” approach to education is going to haunt us for years to come. I hope we can do something concrete to begin fixing it soon- that’s what the whole Education 2.0 movement is about, and I hope we can make strides towards this goal at Podcamp NYC 2.0 as well.