Does this sound like a successful school to you?

The teachers are required to use a highly structured, sometimes scripted curriculum. Science, art, and social studies are often ignored in favor of the tested subjects, reading and math. And the test prep is relentless–over and over, students practice writing the “brief constructed responses” (short written paragraphs interpreting a text) that feature prominently on the state exam.

That describes a school an hour or so up the road from here which is the setting for a book in which the author describes the pressures on the staff to live up the “incredible” successes of the previous year.

For example, in two years 3rd grade students went from a 35% passing rate on the state reading test to 90%.

However, the author argues that the large jumps in test scores “doesn’t represent all that’s right about modern American education. Instead, she believes, it shows much of what’s wrong”.

Perlstein finds this disturbing, and she should. It is nobody’s vision of an ideal education. But the main question to ask–one that animates much of the current NCLB debate–is whether the education that students receive at Tyler is cancer or chemotherapy: is it the disease, or the painful but unavoidable cure? The biggest failure of [the book] is a refusal to tackle this question head on.

That’s an issue that is largely ignored in the whole debate over NCLB and ties directly into one of the major flaws of the law. The school being profiled in this book is which “impoverished students and non-English speakers are the norm”.

So, maybe the process of drilling reading and math test questions at the expense of other subjects is the best way to improve the basic skills of these students (maybe!).

But is that the best way to educate ALL students?

Unfortunately, the one-size-fits-all system of relentless testing and increasingly high penalties for schools (and ultimately teachers) at the core of NCLB has led to that kind of education for most students in this country.

Which means that the curriculum being applied at Tyler Elementary is fast becoming the national “cure”.

Doesn’t that make you feel better?

nclb, tyler elementary, education