While budgets are being slashed in schools throughout New York City, the Chancellor is riding around in a limo. Sound familiar? Like bankers and auto industry executives, public education officials think it is just fine to ride around in style as programs are being cut.
I have often wondered if No Child Left Behind, the engine that is currently driving public education was hatched at the dinner table during a Bush family gathering. Perhaps Neil, the education software entrepreneur whispered into George's ear, "There's money in public education."- George's eyes probably lit up with the possibilities. No matter how it began George Bush jumped onto education with a mantra of reform and accountability. Like most of Bush's endeavors, education with its infinite possibilities is slipping away from us. Our education system is in crisis as standardized tests have become the focus of public schools and graduates can't afford to go to college.George Bush does not deserve all of the blame for the current state of affairs.
We in education made poor choices. Educators should have yelled a resounding "no"- as state licensing agencies granted variances to lawyers, bank officers, admirals, and Gen X'ers to run school systems in major cities. We sat on our hands and kept quiet while these managers with puffed up egos jumped in to fix the schools. Perhaps it was the sudden attention that schools received that dulled our response to this new breed of reformers, but it was our mistake not to challenge their education credentials.
The reformers raised a cry for accountability. Teachers were singled out as an obstacle to accountability even though they have limited say in the financing, curriculum, or the management of schools. From there accountability traveled downwards to the individual students who were held responsible for their performance on standardized tests. Nobody looks out from the classroom with accountability in mind. Instead schools system managers give countless excuses, relying on statistical calculations, for why graduation rates are mediocre and student performance is not adequate.
Another call of the No Child Left Behind reformers was to rid the schools of the dreaded teacher's unions. The unions have done pretty much what was asked of them. Unions have dabbled with merit pay, by setting up pilot programs, flirted with the suspension of tenure and retention rights by softening contractual language, and in the case of New York City, set up its own charter school where public funds are used to support a private enterprise. Why bad mouth such willing accomplices? Teachers unions have provided reformers with a target to deflect closer examination at what they are doing. While reformers evaluate results and close down schools one part of the education community has been severely neglected.
Reformers rarely speak about students except to bring up achievement and performance scores. There is little mention of what students are learning about or how their creative energies are being satisfied. Reading has become a test preparation strategy instead of a pleasure. Field trips, class plays, and science experiments that fail are discouraged. Thanks to No Child Left Behind and its reformers many of the joys of a good educational experience have been lost. To make matters worse, with the downturn in the economy many young people won't be able to experience the benefits of higher education because they can't afford to go to college.
It is definitely a time for change in education policy. Will our new President focus on our children and provide them with good educational opportunities or will President Obama go along with George Bush's type of reform?