Final reflections: SOS, Wash., D.C., July 31Posted: August 2, 2011
So far, I have been disappointed with the national media coverage of the July 30 SOS Rally: there isn’t as much as I’d like to see (1). It’s as if 6,000 plus activist teachers, parents, and their allies never existed. I guess it takes 100,000 to interest CNN. In truth, it was a rowdy, impressive bunch with teacher and parent representatives from across the nation. Speaker highlights included Greg Gower, superintendent of Perrin-Whitt Consolidated Independent School District in Texas. His speech is not yet on YouTube, but he inspired a crowd in Texas recently with a similar speech. Matt Damon’s mom is a professor of early childhood education and a supporter of SOS. She introduced Matt, and he gave a very compelling speech about the significance of public education on the development of his creativity and talent; the kind of support now threatened by No Child Left Behind (NCLB).
After the march, I talked with Greg Gower, an activist singer who performed “Test Teacher” at the rally. He and his companion asked the same question I’d heard at my SOS conference workshop and in personal conversations with teachers and parents throughout the conference: “Can you see the influence of NCLB on your students?”
I’m sure that most college educators have heard about No Child Left Behind; but unless they currently have children in the public schools or happen to teach in a college of education, they probably do not know how NCLB has so successfully restructured K-12 curriculum and destroyed the “space” to teach creatively. I didn’t. Essentially K-12 teachers are under threat of their school being shut down. Just like a hostile corporate takeover, your school will be restructured and all teachers fired if test scores in English and Math do not meet Annual Yearly Progress (AYP) outcomes based upon standardized test scores. Your state could have opted out of NCLB by refusing Title 1 federal funds, but name a state that could afford this option? This is restructuring though bribery under duress. So you get teachers, principals, and supervisors cheating on the test results as we have seen lately in Philadelphia, New York and Georgia. NCLB has been devastating to teachers. The space to teach creatively has been replaced by scripted curriculum to improve test scores (fill in the bubble). At the same time, NCLB has generated a multi-billion dollar business in testing, test prep, scripted curriculum, take-over charter school companies, consultancies, and Teach for America. It has established a reign of terror on K-12, which is spreading into higher ed through the attack on colleges of education across the country, Lumina Foundation’s push for the national standard “Degree Qualifications Profile” in higher education, charter colleges and other forms of radical restructuring. Lumina has paid $1 mil. to WASC, the accrediting agency for higher ed in the west, to embed these degree qualification outcomes in its next cycle of accreditation standards. No one is going to declare that public education is perfect; but high-stakes testing and a canned curriculum based on data driven outcomes is not the answer for reform. After nine years of NCLB, there is data to show it has failed to improve student success.
So how are Freshmen different now and can these differences be attributed to their education under NCLB? Certainly there is still a significant number of Freshmen across the nation who need developmental English and Math courses to become ‘college ready.’ NCLB has not solved the ‘readiness gap’ between high school and college. I hesitate to say that the changes I have noticed in my students, especially over the past four years, are due just to NCLB. It is a busy, video-game generation of high consumer culture and reality-T.V., of infatuation with gadgets (ipods and smart phones); it is a generation with a multitasking consciousness. This is the cultural context in which NCLB is embedded. I also must compete with the necessity of work. Most of my students work 30-50 hours a week to support their college education, parents and siblings. These students often take five classes including mine. This is not the world of 1988 when I first started teaching at CSU Long Beach nor my world as an undergraduate at U.C. Santa Barbara in the 1960s. At the same time, I know that our students can overcome any knowledge or intellectual development gaps left by NCLB by the time they graduate in 4-6 years IF they do the work and put genuine effort into their own academic career. The current free market PR in higher education that touts the student as ‘consumer’ and ‘customer’ often fails to comprehend this point: real education requires depth of effort from both the teacher and the student. It is more than simple consumption like ordering a latte from the university library coffee shop.
(1) It is true that “Democracy Now” carried a short segment on the SOS today, Aug. 1. Media expert Alice Sunshine tells me that from her analysis of the SOS event that the coverage was pretty good, including articles in the Washington Post and Parade magazine, with possible CNN and AP coverage in some regional markets .
Recommended, Randy Traweek’s blog post on SOS: