It’s all semantic

I’m home from school today, fighting what seems to be an early attack of the flu. I’m trying to divide my time between pointlessly scrolling around the internet and catching up on low energy chores.  A typical sick day; one episode of “Ghost Hunters”, one phone call to the dentist.  One check of Facebook, one school email check. Boring in a good way.

One of the items that I crossed off my “to do list” today was a survey by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.  These state education leaders are asking for some input about what type of “flexibility” they should seek from the federal government on the “No Child Left Behind” law.  (OK, first observation: who thinks of these titles? Yeesh.)

You see, just as pretty much every teacher predicted when it was first enacted, the expectations that were built into  NCLB were both grandiose and impossible.  Did you know that the law requires that 100% of students need to be on grade level in all subjects by the year 2014?  Does that seem just a bit unrealistic to you?

When I first read that part of the law, back when it was first put into place, I wondered what the government knew about the year 2014 that I didn’t.  Would immigration have ended by then, insuring that every child would speak fluent English? Would we have found a magic pill to cure all learning disabilities? Would all children suddenly have a happy and secure home life, with educated and loving parents to model great literacy skills at home?   And would the skies have suddenly opened and rained dollars down on us, so that 100% of schools would have adequate heat, light, ventilation? Would every student have new books, enough computers, the latest maps and globes?  It sounded like paradise.  So I was skeptical.

As the years have gone by, and no dollar storms have appeared, no magic pills have been produced and children are still struggling to overcome all kinds of emotional, financial and neurological hurdles, it has become clear that the dream of “100% success” needs some tweaking.

So we come to today’s survey, in which educational stake holders (teachers, administrators, students) are asked to express the ways in which we would like the law to be more “flexible”.  I filled it out, to the best of my ability, but one thing struck me over and over again as I read the questions.

The language being used is neither precise nor entirely honest.

For example, what does “flexibility” mean?  To me, it means that the federal Dept. of Ed has realized that they goofed.  They need to give states a way out of the requirement that every single child in every single school be proficient in every single subject on the very same day.  (Maybe one or two of them actually visited a school and met some real kids? Nah.) They need to allow states to set some realistic goals for themselves.  Hence, they will be “flexible” instead of “wrong from the word go.”

And another favorite misused word of mine is “outcomes”.  The questions on the survey repeatedly referred to improved educational “outcomes”.  But as we all know, the purpose of the law is to improve educational “test scores”.

I like to think that I aim for good “outcomes” every single day in my classroom, and that my school aims for good “outcomes” every year.  Those outcomes include increased self-confidence in my learners and increased curiosity about the world around them.  A good outcome for me is when a previously anxious child begins coming to school with ease.  A good outcome happens when the shyest child in the room starts to raise her hand during book discussions.  A good outcome is when the kids can brainstorm solutions to social conflicts, and then employ those solutions independently.  When a struggling reader asks permission to stay inside during recess to catch up on his book.  When a scared, sad child reaches out to a classmate in friendship.  When our science talk runs into lunch time because the kids have just “one more question” about algae.

I don’t think that NCLB, even in its “flexible” form, is designed to achieve those outcomes. I think that it is meant to achieve higher test scores.  Why not just say that in the first place?


2 responses to this post.

  1. Spectacular post!


  2. I am so frustrated with public education right now!!! Arggggh! Where is the part where students matter? Money money money…..Let’s get to know the kids and listen to them, Please!!!


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