Tuesday, November 1, 2011

News that Makes Emily Mad (and Proud)

So, I've got to provide a little context behind today's post: when I was in seventh and eighth grade, I had this amazing English teacher, the kind who won national awards for teaching. In a lot of ways she was hands off, having us write and read and reflect in class, while she rotated around the room and met with individual students. But she kept us very hands on. We'd write stories that modeled the style of an author we loved, workshop those stories in groups with other students, and then revise till the end product barely resembled the initial draft. Other writing projects got us involved with the world around us. After a unit of reading Holocaust literature, we wrote letters to newspapers all across the US, requesting stories as well as seeds for a Holocaust memorial garden. So, this teacher is pretty much awesome, which is why I was delighted to see a New York Times article about her.

The article's topic, however, was one that made me very angry with the No Child Left Behind Act. Ms. Rief is now one of many Oyster River teachers facing pressure to teach to the test, a change in curriculum that would interfere with her creative, student-oriented educational practices - educational practices that already work. 

Why the new pressure? Well, the middle school I attended while I was growing up, a middle school that is part of a school district that refuses to teach to the test and yet scores well above state and national averages on standardized tests every year, is now failing NCLB's stringent requirements. This failing score makes no sense to anyone involved with Oyster River, as evidenced by the article's description of the situation:

     [Local residents] do want to know why, if Oyster River is failing, its eighth graders do so well
     when they get to high school. This year, Oyster River students averaged 1,670 on the three SAT
     tests, 111 points above the state average and 170 above the national average.

Already 85% of ORMS students test as proficient, but that's not close enough to NCLB's absurd goal of 100% proficiency. Apparently all schools are meant to progress toward that goal at a steep rate, but low and behold! turns out it's harder to move from 85% to 90% than it is to move from 50% to 55% (hypothetical numbers, but you get the point). So instead of saving every child like it proclaims, the No Child Left Behind Act currently threatens schools that already work and diverts public attention away from the schools that desperately need attention.

Nobody directly involved with education actually likes NCLB, at least no teacher I've yet to encounter. So why is it still around?

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