Saturday, August 18, 2012

North Carolina's NCLB Waivers: Recipe for Educational Disaster

A veteran teacher once told me in the early days of my career as an educator, "Be careful what you wish for. When federal and state agenices do away with one policy, they almost always come up with something much worse." In my naivete, I obviously did not believe that. I still had an unwavering faith in the system, and that those who make the rules always mean well and often know more about those things than I do. Now, 20 some years after that conversation, I have to admit, my old friend had many things right. When our policymakers and politicians do reform, revise, revamp, or scuttle an education policy, the result is always something much worse. Our current example of this? The Obama administration's transformation of No Child Left Behind to Race to the Top and the whole series of waivers states can apply for to escape the sanctions of NCLB, which most everyone agrees is a bad law, but a paralyzed federal government can't agree on how to fix. Take North Carolina as an example.

My state won a waiver from the Obama administration from the sanctions of the No Child Left Behind law. Under No Child Left Behind, our schools were on the same precipice many schools were: we were approaching that impossible 100 percent proficiency mark, and all the sanctions in the world weren't going to fix that. So North Carolina applied for its pardon from the US Department of Education so that our education system did not have to drive off that cliff. Instead, we chose another cliff, one that states like Florida have already plunged over. In the process of getting its respite from NCLB, North Carolina policymakers have instituted a series of "reforms" that are certain to destroy public education in our state. Here are two of the most heinous of these measures.
  • Every subject in school, from art to Physical Education, grade K-12, will now be tested. Our state has carefully called these "Measures of Student Learning" but lets not be stupid here. They are "Tests" and changing their name does not change what they are and what they do. We will basically be adding an endless list of tests.
  • Teachers and principals will be evaluated in part based on test scores. Those "Measures of Student Learning" which are really tests, will provide growth, value added data, to determine whether I and the other educators in North Carolina are doing our jobs. North Carolina now treats its children like raw materials running through factories where the job of teachers is to "add value" to them. Test scores will become the focus, and the education of children will become secondary.
Just these two measures betray the shallow and sycophantic thinking of North Carolina education policymakers. North Carolina has cowardly bowed to pressure from the Obama administration and instituted reforms that fly in the face of common sense and sound education policy. 

People far removed from the classroom who still hold the antiquated factory model view of education are pushing the same, tired ideas we've seen for years. Instead of focusing on educating kids, we climbing on board the Obama administration's train, headed for a massive train wreck.

Sure, North Carolina has received a reprieve from the Obama administration when it comes to No Child Left Behind, but we're in the process of implementing even worse policy, a massive increase in testing that is sure to make "Teaching to the Test" our priority. North Carolina once had the phrase "First in Freedom" on its license plates. Perhaps now we can put "First in Testing" because we have now made a commitment to subject our children to even more testing than ever before.

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