Sunday, June 11, 2006


Before I started the teacher's certificate program at State School, I was more or less against No Child Left Behind. I've been a pre-K and kindergarten teacher for nearly five years, God help me, and a public school and after-school aide before that, but I had very little experience with how a curriculum is made and followed in public education. Now that I have spent a little (a very little, let's be honest) time "in the field," watching public school teachers try to get by as best they can, my ideas have changed. (It's OK, though --- I still hate Republicans.)

First of all, the public school population is incredibly diverse academically. There are ESL students, gifted students and challenged students all in the same already crowded classroom. I know that it takes a little faith in the system, but to me it’s comforting to think that an official curriculum has been pre-set that the state will consider adequate for every child. That is, it's hard to imagine teachers dealing with all the stresses of today's public school and trying to carve out their own curriculum and assessments by themselves.

Secondly, I've noticed the quality of the teaching. It's not that there are hundreds of poor teachers out there, but I have already encountered quite a few teachers that I would describe as merely competent. They’re bright and willing, but they don’t inspire and spend a lot of time telling rather than showing, instructing rather than exploring ideas. (I say this with all the understanding and sympathy an outsider can have for the overburdened public teacher’s hours, pressures and expectations.) I now believe that without NCLB, most teachers left to their own devices would be sending kids out into the world with almost nothing approaching the academic basis.

With NCLB, even "only" adequate teachers are at least presenting the right information at the right time, rather than whatever their own ideas of what would be a good idea to teach would be. Again, I realize that it's granting a lot to say that NCLB's standards are, in fact, "the right information at the right time." But as flawed as it is, I think that this country needs standards and assessments, and I'm glad that our school system is finally becoming something closer to standardized. I do think that children in Alaska should be learning the same information as children in New York, California and Wyoming, and that they should be tested in the same way on the same academic basics across the country.

I also think that it's about time our schools were held accountable, again noting that there are problems with the system (certainly, with the high-stakes situation we have now, the possibility of corruption is present). So yeah, I've changed my mind, sort of, about NCLB. Perhaps, when/if I enter public schools as a professional teacher and find myself shackled by standards, I'll change my mind once again.

But for now, I'd say that my eyes have been opened a bit to the reality of the classroom.


NYC Educator said...

Against the advice of some people I greatly respect, I agree with you that kids nationwide should learn the same things. That' actually, is one of the great failings of NCLB--the fact that each state sets its own standards, and that lowering them is an easy way to be perceived as more successful.

ESL is an interesting topic to me as it's what I teach. I spend a lot of time showing them how to pass a writing test in English that I feel is not appropriate for them. While I can make many pass, I feel they've learned how to pass the test, but not how to write.

I could help them acquire the language more rapidly and efficiently if they weren't burdened with a must-pass test that moves them not at all toward those goals. And that's the fault of NY State, not NCLB, by the way.

Still, there must be a lot wrong with NCLB. Otherwise, why would the President like it? And why would he need to pay off journalists to write favorably about it?

United We Lay said...

In order for teachers to be held accountable, parents need to be held accountable. You don't see as many of the problems with the younger kids, but with the older ones, lack of parent involvement is detrimental to their education. Actually, to Kindergartners as well. Students who come in not knowing their numbers, letters, days of the week, and colors are startign their school career behind. These things should be required knowledge for admittance. Kids don't do homework and parents don't care. There are lots of problems that come with NCLB and holding teachers accountable and not parents.