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An Illusion of Power and Joy

In an earlier post I praised the principal of a local elementary school who stood up to the educational constriction that is being fostered by the No Child Left Behind law. The writer of the newspaper story that triggered by rant was also complimentary of her actions. Jay Mathews, the education columnist for the Washington Post, disagrees with him (and with me, although I doubt he cares about that :-).

Although Mathews acknowledges that NCLB is a "clumsy instrument" for assessing student progress, he argues that it is not hurting this particular school or another school in the District of Columbia recently profiled in the paper. In fact, according to Mathews, these "accountability rules give good principals such as Frey and Fears power they never had before". I fail to see the logic in that and I wonder if these principals feel more power or just more pressure.

What really caught my eye, however, was Mathews’ offer of a cap from the new DC baseball team if the writer can find any schools in our overly large school system where the arts are being reduced to focus on test-taking skills. According to him, our district is "a very well-run system whose principals and teachers have been preparing students for the new tests without wringing the joy out of learning".

I don’t think Mr. Mathews has spent much time in our schools lately. "Wringing the joy out of learning" is exactly what is going on in many schools, especially in those that are "on the border" and in danger of not getting the right numbers required by the byzantine rules that come with NCLB. Time for music, art, physical education, even science are being cut back to allow for more test preparation and as the testing period gets closer in the Spring the cuts will grow. Or these educational "frills" are being allowed to the "good" students, those who are assured of passing, and denied to those who aren’t, which is even worse.

Finally, Mathews makes this statement.

No Child Left Behind is not the best accountability system ever invented. But, most policy makers and educators say, it has the right idea. Learning should be measured with tests.

No, learning should be measured with assessments and there is a big difference. Tests, the standardized, fill-in-the-bubble kind used for our state testing program, are very poor accountability tools. But they are relatively inexpensive and easy to grade compared to other methods of determining student learning. And the constant drum beat of getting the right bubbles filled in the correct spaces month after month after month does indeed wring the joy out of learning.


  1. Tom Hoffman

    I took a different tack on the same article here: http://www.eschoolnews.com/eti/archives/2004/10/000297.php

  2. Chris Lehmann

    Jay can come by Beacon where we had to cut down the number of labs we do in our Biology classes by 1/3 to make sure we got our kids ready to pass the “Living Environments” Regents.

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