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Connection, Connection

Why bother making connections?

NCLB has created a huge disconnect.  When I was in school (1960’s-1970’s), we studied reading, writing, arithmetic, science, social studies, art and history.  I learned each of these subjects in their own right but more importantly, I learned how they related to each other.  I was taught to apply the principles of one discipline to solve problems within another discipline.  I was taught how to think.

Fast forward to the present.  My wife is an award-winning elementary school teacher and as her devoted spouse, I get to hear about the realities of teaching.  The one thing that has struck me more than anything else about her stories is the frequency of a single complaint: the amount of time that she gets to spend teaching has dropped almost in half since NCLB was enacted.

She teaches in a Title 1 school that is pretty typical.  It has kids that arrive ill-prepared and hungry, parents with limited education, shortages of most everything and teachers that try to make a difference despite the odds.  Last year, their school failed to meet AYP (annual yearly progress).

The state believes that this failure is due to under-qualified teachers who aren’t trying hard enough.  I believe there may be another explanation.

Since the enactment of NCLB, curriculum has been parted out and essentially reduced to what’s “on the test.”  Maniacal attention has been placed on very few topics and very few measurement techniques.  The only winners in this whole thing are the companies that provide standardized testing materials; they’re the Haliburton of education.

This test-focused approach has produced an environment that cannot succeed.  Material is no longer presented in an integrated and cohesive way and it is uninteresting and confusing to students.  Because it is related to nothing and seems valueless to students, they are not gaining mastery.  This lack of progress insures that in time, all students will eventually fail to pass “the test.”

That’s exactly what happened in my wife’s school.  They finally failed to make AYP and so the state has stepped in with the most backward-thinking solution imaginable.  Teachers at her school are now being burdened with enormous amounts of documentation to prove that they are teaching.  They also have to be trained on how to fill out all of this paperwork.

She missed 7 days in the classroom last month alone, consumed with a variety of district meetings largely concerned with implementing even more documentation procedures.  This vicious cycle is now in full swing nationwide.

Instead of spending those 7 days instructing her kids, she was forced to spend 7 days learning how to cover her *ss.  This loss of instruction time will, of course, mean that her kids will suffer and probably not be as prepared for “the test” as they could be.  That will lead to even more *ss covering and more paperwork, but isn’t that what education is all about?

Seriously, we need to let our teachers get back to the business of teaching.  We need to let them teach in creative and meaningful ways.  We need to let them craft their lesson plans to meet the needs of the kids that are actually sitting in their rooms.  We need to gauge their progress based on, well, their progress.

That’s the kind of education I received and it has served me well.  Sure, I took tests.  But in those days, the tests were simply a means to evaluate achievement, they were not a policy-making vehicle.

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