I’ve been blogging for over a year and I’ve written 162 posts, and yet I’ve written little about a subject of great interest to me, which happens to be my chosen profession: education. I am a teacher, and as such a follower of trends in education. My attention was grabbed by a recent newspaper headline with the self-explanatory headline: Half of U.S. Schools Fail Federal Standards.
Let me give you a brief history. For decades we’ve known that America’s public school system is failing, with test scores and other measures for our public school students lagging behind private school students, behind previous generations, and behind students from other countries. In 2001 Congress and then-President Bush finally did something in the form of the No Child Left Behind Act. The idea was that every state would have to implement a strict testing regimen for its public schools, by which it would measure whether each school was ‘failing’ or not. For schools that were failing, there would be consequences. Of course, as with most federal legislation, a lot was left blurry and ambiguous. States had a lot of leeway in how to create their tests, how to evaluate schools, and how to respond once any school was found to be failing.
The result, 10 years later, is summarized in the headline above. Almost half of schools are failing. That means half of schools will face consequences, right? No more passive acceptance of mediocrity, no more pretending not to notice, no more leaving any child behind?
Actually not. As the article explains, our Education Secretary Arne Duncan has a response. The failures are “an alarming trend that Duncan hopes to address by granting states relief from the federal law.” Yes, that’s right, if half our schools are failing, we should just change the law that was instituted to prevent them from failing. But it gets better:
The numbers indicate what federal officials have been saying for more than a year — that the law, which is four years overdue for a rewrite, is “too crude a measure” to accurately depict what’s happening in schools, said Jack Jennings , president of the Washington, D.C.-based center. An overhaul of the law has become mired in the partisan atmosphere in Congress, with lawmakers disagreeing over how to fix it.
“No Child Left Behind is defective,” Jennings told The Associated Press. “It needs to be changed. If Congress can’t do it, then the administration is right to move ahead with waivers.”
So now our “federal officials” are telling us that the federal government’s own law is a bad thing. Really? It’s too bad they couldn’t have figured that perhaps ten years ago, before the federal government passed the law that they’re now badmouthing. It’s too bad that even while everyone from teachers to parents to local governments was well aware of NCLB’s many large failings, the federal government wasn’t willing to listen until a year ago. But I guess that’s just too much to ask from the federal government.