Wednesday, January 11, 2006

No Child Left Behind

Happy fourth-anniversary to the unfortunately-named No Child Left Behind act, which suggests that, well, not a single child will get left behind. Oops.

I was listening to a discussion of it on NPR, and turned it off about 3 minutes in. Why? Some guy was cheerfully touting its success by quoting statistic after statistic after statistic.

Therein lie all the fallacies of (it often seems) all governmental programs intended to "improve" academics. Create a test, have significant number of students pass test, declare program a success. (A. If even one child fails, isn't the program then a failure, "no child" and all that? B. Around the blogosphere people are quoting Greg Palast's article on the program, which features actual test questions clearly skewed toward more privileged children, and the perhaps intended outcome of such skewing.)

Florida has the wonderful FCAT. Because high schools. in self-defense, tend to teach the test and not the subject so they'll get the "right" statistics and a share of schools' lifeblood, a/k/a money, many college freshmen show up knowing how to pass an essay test but not how to communicate.

They can structure a five-paragraph essay like a beaver can build a dam, but they can't actually SAY much in them. (And having been raised in another state and another era, I never even heard of a five-paragraph essay until I was an adult.)*

We have statistics and we have reality. And we still have children being left behind.

*Sidebar: I once counseled a student that his paragraph was reasonably well-written and contained great ideas, but its syntax was off. It consisted of several very short, choppy-sounding sentences. I went on about independent and dependent clauses, varying sentence structure, etc. Then he told me that, well, he knew all that, but no matter what he did, he couldn't get five sentences out of that idea, so he chopped his thoughts into five little sentences so his paragraph would be "correct."

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