It is clear the public education system is failing many of America’s low-income children. The current administration’s solution is the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), passed in 2002. This education reform plan, based on high standards and accountability, relies on extensive standardized testing to measure the progress of a school. Schools that do not improve their test scores face consequences such as public humiliation, budget cuts or, in extreme situations, closing school. But NCLB has not improved education (even if test scores have risen) — it has actually made the situation worse.
The problem with the standardized tests imposed by NCLB is they cannot test the most important and useful skills education is supposed to give. Problem solving, analyzing, powerful writing, imagination and the connection of ideas are all skills that aren’t tested. Suddenly, instead of enjoying history and reading literature, children have to memorize dates and find syntax errors in sentences. Their education turns into a year-long cramming session for annual tests.
Schools in low-income areas reacted with fear to the possibility of losing much-needed funding and decided to focus on improving test scores, at the loss of any meaningful education. Curricula were standardized and narrowed to what the tests could easily measure, and teachers were given “teacher-proof,” scripted lesson plans. Teachers are supposed to give a child a love for learning and a thirst for knowledge. But how can teachers do so if they are given no room for creativity in the classroom? No opportunity to create a relationship with their students?
This is, in the most basic sense, a fast-food approach to education. The children are hamburgers; the teachers are temporary, unskilled employees performing routine motions. But children aren’t just hamburgers. Some are chicken fingers, some are french fries and others are strawberry milkshakes...For the benefit of the children, teachers must be able to vary their approaches according to the needs of their students.
So what would solve the problems facing public education? Of course, nothing can be solved by merely throwing money at it, but increased funding — guided to the neediest school districts — would go a very long way here. Many low-income schools are still trying to catch up to schools in wealthier areas by fixing the often dangerously decrepit school facilities or by buying updated text books for the students. Moreover, the NCLB should be abolished in order to develop curricula that are flexible enough to allow teachers discretion in their methods instead of pushing all students through mind-numbing tests.
The public education system will face problems for many years to come, and it will take a lot of dedication and time to salvage it. The failure of the education system is a very complex issue for which there is not the one-size-fits-all solution many programs such as NCLB are touted to be. To make a difference, we need to develop a new and adaptable way of thinking about education focused on the needs of students and not the scores of schools.
Why do our political leaders see problems in black and white when even young college students can see the shades of gray?