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From the Editor’s Desk: Does the green grass grow where the elephants go?


Published: Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Updated: Wednesday, November 10, 2010 18:11


In the highly publicized mid-term elections last Tuesday, America swung the pendulum right. The G.O.P. took control the United States House of Representatives and the North Carolina State Legislature in a monumental paradigm shift from the 2008 Presidential election.

Following the Tuesday elections, President Obama offered a hand across the aisle to the conservative majority, “The answers (are not) found in any one particular philosophy or ideology. As I’ve said before, no person, no party has a monopoly on wisdom.”

The next two years will force Obama to compromise on issues if he expects to win re-election. If he doesn’t, the aforementioned statement will be remembered as a mere kick-off to his campaign. The president does see the pressing issues: an economy growing at snail speed, an aging infrastructure grid, an urge for green energy, and even more important than our economy, education reform at all levels.

Obama continues, “I think everybody in this country thinks that we’ve got to make sure our kids are equipped in terms of their education, their science background, their math background, to compete in this new global economy. And that’s going to be an area where I think there’s potential common ground.”

A start would be to re-evaluate the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB). Despite being signed into law under President Bush in early 2002, NCLB is the 2.0 version of former President Clinton’s Improving America’s School’s Act of 1994. The act has drawn criticism from both sides of the aisle on Capitol Hill, school administrations, teachers, and parents.

Obama said in a debate in February 2008 that, “One of the failures of No Child Left Behind, a law that I think a lot of local and state officials have been troubled by, is that it is so narrowly focused on standardized tests that it has pushed out a lot of important learning that needs to take place.”

In an an article published in the Washington Post in March of 2008, Chester E. Finn dispels the five myths of NCLB. The most concerning is that setting standards will help fix United States schools. Finn writes, “But the majority (of states) either expect woefully little of their students and schools or have developed such nebulous standards that nobody — not parents, not teachers, not test makers — can make out what students are supposed to be learning.” A disheartening statement, to say the least.

NCLB asks the States to establish a set of standards for each student at a certain grade level. This educational theory, Finn writes, is to, “State what children should know; measure their progress; and use rewards and punishments to help them succeed.”

The logic of the theory leads to a dead end in education. How can students, especially in severely under-funded communities, succeed if the state can’t give a clear explanation to administrators as to what – and how – their teachers should educate our youth?

New York State experienced a drastic decline in test scores in 2010 after years of sub-standard testing. Jennifer Medina writes in the October 10 issue of the New York Times, “The fast rise and even faster fall of New York’s passing rates resulted from the effect of policies, decisions, and missed red flags that stretched back more than 10 years and were laid out in correspondence and in interviews with city and state education officials, administrators and testing experts.”

Standardized testing has become more like saber-metrics and less like education. The scores determine which schools get state money, which administrators and teachers receive pay raises, and what students advance to the next grade.

In New York, standards were made specific and examinations were made short. Test scores were increasing yearly – by leaps and bounds. After eight years of hyper-inflating scores, the State made testing more difficult and decided to not publicly release the exams following testing. Scores fell drastically, raising a question of how effective the system was from the beginning in preparing New York’s youth for higher education.

The ultimate goal of primary and secondary education is to prepare students for careers and University. However, when already murky standards are set too low and students parents are allowed to advance their child to the next grade level regardless of their scores, where does this leave our youth? Parents are reluctant to have their child repeat a grade due to social ridicule and embarrassment. This forces the child to move on, unable to read, unable to add, and the cycle continues.

Basic skill sets start at the pre-kindergarten level. Youth spend more time in front of the television while parents surf the web and work 60 plus hours a week. A parent’s lack of involvement in their child’s educational life and unawareness of their child’s learning curve is more than detrimental to success.

Government must also take a more active role in education reform. A repetitively low performing school in North Carolina is either closed, causing an increase of teacher-student ratios at nearby schools, or taken over by the State. When a school is taken over by the State, administrators and teachers have their jobs on the line: most are not re-hired and communication between teachers and the government is zero. Another question is then raised: If parents are not involved and the government cleans house of all administrators and teachers and cuts funding while using flawed test scores to collectively measure each student’s ability at the school, who really knows the students ability best and how has the school system been “fixed?”

It’s another logical dead end. Unless you look to the teachers for input. Teachers know each individual students ability best: not test makers, analysts, or politicians in Raleigh who take credit for rising test scores for re-election in their district and defer failing responsibility to local administrators.

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