Monday, September 16, 2013

NCLB Politics

     Everyday Math.  Many parents of school age children cringe at the term, though some must applaud it.  It's a new way of teaching math that's supposed to bring meaning and excitement to the sometimes tedious subject.  I call it teaching to the test.
     Due to America's fixation on standardized tests (NCLB and all that) and schools' slow improvements in scores, educators continue to search for a silver bullet that will cure all schools' ills.
     The system largely does away with tried and true methods of rudimentary addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division that earlier generations grew up with (times tables, “carry the four”, “borrow from the tens”, etc.) and replaces them with a plethora of test taking techniques (referred to as strategies).
     Granted, each child is different and some learn one way better than another and there is no sure-fire, one-size-fits-all best way—but the answer in my opinion is not to teach them three to five different techniques in rotation without giving them adequate opportunity to master any one of them.  When I instructed my lost son a few years ago, who struggled in vain to memorize and master the different techniques, to always use the same technique that he liked best, he told me that his teacher told him that he had to use the method listed.  Such insistence on variety probably did create marginally better standardized test takers (my son did fairly well on them), but did not instill greater overall subject matter mastery (his report cards and written tests weren’t so hot) or love of math (I think he often hated the subject).  It also, by its cursory coverage of each single technique, left a lot of the heavy lifting to parents and/or private tutors.
     My son's third grade teacher (one of his best, by the way) announced at open house that children should spend about one hour and forty-five minutes every night on homework.  When I told my dad (a retired elementary school principal) that, he said, “That's too much!”  When he told his retired middle school vice principal friend that, he said, “That's crazy!”
     When will it end?  NCLB is the worst single law passed in my lifetime and is designed solely to discredit virtually every public school in America with perhaps the hidden agenda of school vouchers implementation, which would be nothing more than tax breaks for the wealthy since a voucher alone will be virtually worthless to a typical family except at public schools.  For what decent, well-established private schools would set tuition at or below the voucher's value?  I bet virtually none (especially in Hawaii).
     Full disclosure:  I attended only public schools and so have my children.  The experience has been uniformly excellent and academically and socially rewarding.  My gripe is not with schools or teachers, public or private, but with NCLB and its politics.  Fingering educators as scape goats and “failing” students as victims will not help and neither will vouchers.  I look forward to the day I can finally celebrate its repeal.   Until then, children, chin up, do your best, and enjoy these, the happiest, best, carefree, innocent, play-filled, halcyon most important formative and all too often stressed-out days of your lives.

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