Standing Up to NCLB

I ran across two stories of people standing up to the disaster-in-the-making called No Child Left Behind. Hopefully there will be more.

The first is the state of Maine. The state legislature is considering a resolution to tell Bush and Congress to either exempt the state from NCLB or “fully fund the high cost for states to comply with it”. What a concept – Congress actually paying for the laws they pass! To me the more important part of the story is where the resolution says that Maine already has their own standards and that they “don’t need more imposed on us by Washington”. While I don’t totally agree with the concept (we really need the basic definition of a national curriculum), we’re supposed to have local control of education in this country, aren’t we?

The second example (NY Times – free registration required) doesn’t directly involve NCLB but goes right to the kind of thinking that comes with it. A Florida kindergarten teacher is retiring rather than face the changes being forced on the curriculum due to standardized testing. By all accounts Ms. MacLeish is an outstanding educator to the point of recently being named Teacher of the Year for her system.

In her fairwell message to the community MacLeish noted that “Kindergarten teachers throughout the state have replaced valued learning centers (home center, art center, blocks, dramatic play) with paper and pencil tasks, dittos, coloring sheets, scripted lessons, workbook pages”. The NY Times article says that “the breaking point for Ms. MacLeish was an article in the paper praising a kindergarten teacher who had eliminated her play centers and was doing reading drills, all part of a push to help her school get a higher grade on the annual state report card”.

Standardized tests for kindergarten students?? Reading drills?? What the hell are we doing to childhood?

Is Spelling as Riviting as Calculus?

A new movie opening today is about the National Spelling Bee. I’m not sure I believe that last sentence either but from the reviews I’ve read, Spellbound is actually a very good documentary that follows eight kids in their path to the 1999 national contest. The filmmakers seem to have made what could have been a very dull subject into a real-life suspense story. Maybe this could be another tool teachers can use to inspire their kids.

But using commercial movies to motivate kids to excel academically isn’t that unusual. Stand and Deliver, the film about Jaime Escalante’s efforts to teach calculus to his East Los Angeles students, came out in 1988 and I remember giving students in my Algebra II class extra credit for seeing and reporting on the movie. Later when it came out on video tape, it became a must show in many high school math classes. Mr. Holland’s Opus, the Richard Dreyfuss movie about a band director who shares his passion for music with his kids is another film that get shown in a lot of music classrooms.

There are other inspirational movies for other subjects (Nick Nolte’s film Teachers is NOT among them :-). I have no doubt that a Spellbound video will show up in many elementary classrooms in the fall. Considering all the other images coming at kids from the popular media (largely negative), it’s nice when teachers can find positive influences to use.

Yet Another Memorial (Day)

Americans devote way too much energy to memorializing the past. Maybe it’s because I live near Washington, DC (home to 535 historial monuments collectively known as Congress) but it seems to me as if we spend a hell of a lot more time and money on building memorials and holding retrospectives of one kind or another than we do on creating the future. The fight over building a huge memorial to World War II in the middle of the mall (in which Congress violated the law and their own rules to shove it through) is just one good example. Maybe it’s just easier and less scary to look backward than to look forward.

I’ve always the idea of “creating” the future instead of just letting it happen. That’s probably why many of us became teachers. The best teachers I’ve ever met always felt that they were doing something to create a better future, if not for the world in general then at least for their small part of it. Great teachers – both in and out of formal classrooms – are optimists. I don’t see how you can teach and not be an optimist. The whole concept of education assumes that you and your students are going to become better people in some way.

Unfortunately, we come back to my first point: Americans are more interested in looking backward than moving forward. Too many people running this country seem to want to rewind society to some vague version of their good old days. Yet another memorial to the past.

Goals? What Goals?

An article in yesterday’s New York Times (free registration required) talks about how some states, including Texas, are lowering the passing scores on their standardized tests. The motivation is to avoid the penalities that come with low scores as dictated by the No Child Left Behind act.

So, if you can’t hit the target, move it closer. What does that teach our kids about setting goals and achieving them? Sorry… I forgot. That topic isn’t on the test.