Tuesday, August 21, 2007

NCLB - the Jim Lehrer News Hour, Part III

Part III made me really sad because they had bits from an interview from a National Board Certified Teacher in Oakland 8 years ago and now. Big changes. And not good ones.

This is what the teacher said 8 years ago: "As a teacher, my first priority is my own 90-some students. But thinking broadly, I really try to work with other teachers across the district. And I can reach more students in that way, by supporting new teachers, trying to give them some fresh ideas to work with in the classroom."

This is what he says now: "I'm seeing a lot of desperation on the part of teachers, a lot of frustration. Out of the group of six teachers that I've worked with for a long time, only one is still in the classroom."

"No Child Left Behind has created unrealistic expectations and punished us for not meeting them."


The US Secretary of Education, naturally, has a different view. (at least she wasn't saying "you bet" every 3 seconds in this interview).

"We were leaving thousands and thousands - millions of kids behind... all of a sudden we have an intensity about meeting their needs and it's making people uncomfortable."

No, Ms. Spellings. It is not making us uncomfortable. Some of us in the teaching profession ALWAYS had an intensity about meeting their needs. The problem is that the system we have - and I am including No Child Left Behind in this - DOES NOT ALLOW US TO MEET THEIR NEEDS.

The National Board Certified Teacher says - and rightly so - that when he points out the failings of NCLB, it sounds like he's for leaving children behind. But consider this scenario: when you get a kid in fifth grade who is reading at a first grade level, and this child leaves the fifth grade reading at a third or fourth grade level - do we say "Congratulations! You improved by two or three academic years in just 9 months! That's amazing!"

No.

We say that the child failed, the teacher failed, and the school failed. And then come the sanctions. It doesn't matter if that child is still reading at a first grade level or not. He's not proficient. Therefore he and his teacher are failures.

Another teacher, from supposedly the best school in one of the best districts in the US has this to say:

"I think that multiple-choice, bubble-in tests are the easiest kind of tests to give. Why are we spending all of this time training kids to give us the right answer when we should be training them to think?"

I think I'll just copy and past the other part of the interview, because I couldn't say it better:

JOHN MERROW: Under No Child Left Behind, schools are evaluated by test scores, which are broken down by subgroups such as race, family income, and disability. If even one subgroup fails, the entire school is labeled as having failed to make adequate yearly progress. At Bailey's, teachers in the testing grades -- three, four and five -- are feeling the pressure.

LYNN RIGGS: Everybody has succumbed to drilling to learn how to take a multiple choice test, so that we've all modified our teaching, Fairfax County included, Bailey's Elementary included.

JOHN MERROW: Secretary Spellings says that should not be a problem.

MARGARET SPELLINGS: If you have a curriculum that is sound and strong and is what you want your kids to know and you're measuring against that, there's not a thing wrong with teaching to the test.

JOHN MERROW: Fairfax County teacher of the year said, "Our country needs people who can solve problems, be analytical. All that's lost in the high-stakes tests and narrowing curriculum."

MARGARET SPELLINGS: Well, I mean, I guess what my question is, is that person advocating that we go back to not finding out how poorly or how well our students are being served, that we eliminate measurement of kids?

JOHN MERROW: But Bailey's teachers don't believe that one test is an accurate measure of student progress.

BETSY WALTER: As a teacher, I'm continually assessing my students. And I believe that they're much more authentic assessments than a standardized test. I don't come in every day and baby sit. I am a teacher. We have significant learning that goes on every day. It just might not be shown on that test that someone developed at the testing place.

LYNN RIGGS: We're going to find out about different types of energy.

JOHN MERROW: Lynn Riggs ran into a different problem when her fifth-grade students did a project on deep sea vents, underwater volcanoes.

LYNN RIGGS: One of the things that is absolutely fascinating about this fabulous ecosystem that is miles beneath the ocean, there is no sunlight there. What is it that's driving this ecosystem? What is this chemo-synthesis? How does this work? I've got to be able to explain it to fifth-graders.

JOHN MERROW: Riggs says her students love tackling such a difficult subject.

LYNN RIGGS: But the kicker is, this spring, as the kids were preparing for their state tests, one of the questions was about food chains. Of course, the right answer is "the sun." And I'm thinking, "Great, they're going to get the question wrong. I've taught them too much. They're going to be thinking, 'But what about the deep-sea vents, chemosynthesis? There's no sunlight that deep down in the ocean. It's dark.'"

JOHN MERROW: And testing pressure is getting worse. Earlier this year, Fairfax County lost a battle with the U.S. Department of Education. As a result, Bailey's teachers had to give grade-level English tests to immigrant students, regardless of their ability to understand English.

BETSY WALTER: I can tell you right now that my entire class will not pass. I have children who came to America a year ago that are being tested. I have children who have illiterate parents, so when they go home, no one can help them with their reading.

JOHN MERROW: Do you fear that Bailey's will not make adequate yearly progress?

LYNN RIGGS: I don't fear it; I know it. Chances are good that we will not be making adequate progress in at least one or two of our categories.

JOHN MERROW: And what will that mean?

LYNN RIGGS: It will mean we are a failing school.


And Nebraska's teacher of the year explains part of why I am not teaching this year: "
If No Child Left Behind stays the way it is, I think the level of frustration is going to cause people to say, "You know what? This is just not worth it. I love my children, but I can't continue to do this when professionally I know this is what's not in the best interests of my students." We're just going to have many more people leaving the profession."

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