Next Tuesday, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan will not enter to the Darth Vader theme from “Star Wars.” But he should. The No Child Left Behind death star is devastating American education.
As students, you have seen your teachers “deprofessionalized.” The American teacher who, for decades, was unique in the world in having the professional leeway to customize lessons for diverse students from rural or urban backgrounds is now an assembly line worker whose sole goal is test preparation.
Many teachers hoped that this standardization, begun under President George W. Bush, would end under President Obama. Unfortunately, NCLB continued “on steroids” (to quote its proponents).
Standardization of education has moved from state standards to a national Common Core curriculum in math and reading, to be followed by diluted-down national science. Lacking the authority to directly mandate a national curriculum, Duncan’s department is extorting compliance by making federal Title money dependent on adopting it. Assertions that it is not a national curriculum do not pass the smell test: It works like a national curriculum. It will test like a national curriculum. And it tastes like pork.
In more and more states, veteran teachers can be fired if their students’ standardized test scores decrease for two years in a row. In response to the impossible NCLB goal of 100 percent of students being proficient by 2014, Sec. Duncan is giving waivers to states only if they make student test scores the major criteria for evaluating teachers. A mediocre teacher in an affluent school is safe; a superb teacher in a poverty school is toast.
School curricula have narrowed. Across Kansas, art and music teachers are losing their jobs because the only courses valued are those that are tested. Student dropout rates are going up, not because students are flunking out, but because they are bored with a narrower curriculum and test drillwork. Fewer high school teachers are recommending their students enter teaching. And more veteran teachers are looking for early retirement – or another profession.
For over 10 years, measures of American student creativity have plummeted as teachers have been forced to abandon the questioning and inquiry that made U.S. education unique.
This outcome is not unexpected. Other nations with national curricula score high on international tests. As the Ministry of Education in Korea states: big deal. We train students to take tests, but they do not get Nobel Prizes. Many such countries are trying to get off of teach-to-the-test schooling while the U.S. moves in the opposite direction. The last 10 years are truly the “Dark Ages of American Education.”
ESU students have a sober opportunity with Secretary Duncan’s visit. This is not a time to politely applaud. This is a time to ask Secretary Duncan the hard questions about bad education policy.
John Richard Schrock, Ph.D.
Professor of Biology Education and Director of Biology Education