April 29, 2004 (Ira Pilgrim)

No Child Left Behind???

And I think ordinary people with commonsense ideas are intimidated by this pseudoscience. A teacher who has some good idea of how to teach her children to read is forced by the school system to do it some other way -- or is even fooled by the school system into thinking that her method is not necessarily a good one.

Richard Feynman, 1974

When writing an essay, the usual way is to have the conclusion come at the end of the essay. I am going to give you my conclusions at the beginning. Then you can decide whether to read the rest of the column.

I believe that the federal Department of Education should be abolished. The money saved should be distributed to the states. Then the state departments of education should also be abolished and the money saved given to individual school districts to spend as they see fit.

I am not opposed to federal funding of education. My education was paid for by the federal government after World War II. I believe that our government should do what it does best, which is to spend money and I can't think of a better way to spend it than on education. What I am opposed to is the government trying to manage education, based on someone's theory about what is wrong with our schools and how it can be fixed.

"No Child Left Behind" probably originated in the Center for Re-inventing Ancient Policies(CRAP). This was the organization that produced the New Deal, Fair Deal, Great Society, War on Cancer, War on Poverty and many other slogans for programs that didn't work. The idea that it is possible for no child to be left behind is nonsense. If the slogan means what it says, then it is an out-and-out lie. It is like saying that every kid will be a genius.

Education is a lifelong process and school is only one part of it. Education begins at birth. Parents, mostly mothers, have the greatest influence. A child whose parents read to him is truly blessed. As a child grows, school and his peers have a great influence. I know that I learned more after I left school than I did when I was going to school.

Great emphasis is placed on tests by both state and federal departments of education. Why are those two bureaucracies hooked on testing? They are hooked on testing because, unlike education in general, they can point to a number and say "Look at what we have accomplished; Podunk High School has gone from the fortieth percentile to the fiftieth percentile in mathematics." What does this signify? Probably that the kids at Podunk have developed some test taking skills or that they have learned how to cheat. If they did learn some math, they will forget what they learned in a short time unless they actually use it.

Do the tests do much good? I don't think so. Their major affect is to make the good test-takers and administrators happy and those with less test-taking ability unhappy. One thing that is learned by tests is how to take tests and sometimes how to cheat. Tests can be useful to a teacher in order to tell him whether what he has been teaching has been learned by the student, but that test should be made by the teacher. Tests are also useful in deciding which students will go on to various forms of higher education, but that is about it.

If you want my conclusions, go back to the second paragraph.

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