Gerald Bracey recently visited an elementary school in our overly-large district and came away with some evidence that NCLB is actually causing a widening of the achievement gap.
This particular school is “successful” when assessed on the narrow criteria laid down by the law. However, Bracey says that there is much more to this educational community than just the numbers.
But all the above doesn’t really give you a feel for how the school operates or its successes.
The school burbles. It’s a sound that emanates from kids who are content to be where they are. Student artwork covers the hall walls. Classrooms walls are richly decorated. Some students are painting a huge cafeteria mural showing the Taj Mahal, the Pyramids at Giza and other wonders of the world. In a hall, I meet a group returning from “butterfly release day.” They had watched as caterpillars transformed themselves into butterflies and had just gone outside to set them free. Science from the real world not from a book. Students sometimes worked in small groups, sometimes alone and sometimes listened to the teacher talk to the whole class. Questions were plentiful.
It’s as if the school lives under a shield. As if being part of an affluent district, though not affluent itself, offers cover, a Strategic Defense Initiative, from state and federal dictates.
Bracey notes that this atmosphere is far different from the one he’s observed in many impoverished districts where the emphasis is exclusively on test prep.
Where teachers are required to stick to the script, and student activities have been narrowed down to only those things that are to be tested.
In the end, he wonders if higher test scores really indicate an increase in learning.
Kids facing an infinite series of phonics exercises are not enjoying that broad liberal education. They’re not growing butterflies or watching whales. If the reading and math scores in the drilled schools rise, some people will claim success. Others will say, “At least they’re getting more of an education than they used to.” Somehow, I don’t think so.