As I wrote in my last post, I wish our school board members would tell us whether they think No Child Left Behind’s policy of pursuing higher standardized test scores at any cost is bad for our kids. That policy is the central feature of American education today, and drives many of our district’s practices. So I think the board members, and the board collectively, should have a position on it -- preferably one strongly condemning it.
But at the very least, I’d sure like to know their plan for dealing with No Child Left Behind over the next few years. Several of our schools have already been designated “schools in need of assistance” (“SINA schools”). The district is required to accommodate parents who want to transfer their children out of a SINA school; my kids’ school took in so many transfers that it had to add a temporary building to have enough classroom space. Enrollment at the SINA schools has dwindled so much that one school board member has questioned how those schools can “survive.” Yet the number of SINA schools can only increase. Under No Child Left Behind, all schools are expected to achieve one-hundred percent proficiency on math and reading test scores by 2014 -- a mere three years from now. Even some of the best public schools in the country -- for example, the New Trier schools in suburban Chicago -- have failed to meet the No Child Left Behind standards. There isn’t a school in our district that is likely to achieve one-hundred percent proficiency by 2014, or ever.
As the number of SINA schools grows, and the number of non-SINA schools shrinks, how does our district plan to accommodate the parents who want to transfer from the former to the latter? Will the district just move students out of established buildings at the SINA schools and into temporary trailers at the non-SINA schools? And that will increase test scores how, exactly?
And what is the district’s plan for dealing with those ever-escalating testing benchmarks? Is it just to do whatever it takes to get those scores up? Will they find new ways to pile more “instructional minutes” on the kids? Lunch can’t get much shorter, so will they continue to cut back on recess time? Or is it art, music, and gym that will go? Will six-year-olds get an hour-and-a-half of math every morning, instead of the hour they currently get? Will the kids have to stay at school even later into the afternoon? Will we send them back to school in July, instead of mid-August as we do now? And what new disciplinary techniques will the district introduce to keep the students “on task”? Will the kids receive even more instruction on the importance of being quiet and obedient? Will first-graders be expected to sit still for even longer periods of time?
What will happen to the teachers and principals at the schools that fail to meet the benchmarks? Will they ultimately all be fired? If so, who will replace them? Is there any reason to think the replacements will squeeze more testing points out of the kids? Is there any reason to think talented and dedicated people will continue to choose to work in such a system?
I suspect that the plainly unrealistic nature of the one-hundred-percent proficiency requirement enables our school officials to think that if they simply lay low, No Child Left Behind will eventually be amended and they will be saved from having to confront these questions. But in fact, the Obama administration’s plans for amending the law have been derailed by the election of a Republican Congress. And there’s no reason to think that any amendments to the law will change its basic policy of pursuing increased standardized test scores at any cost, and penalizing schools that fail to meet test score targets.
So what’s the plan?