Education Put To the Test
Government wants to control education.
September 22, 2005 9:00 PM
Education in America is in a crisis that is divided along a two-tiered system of separate and unequal schools according to SF State Elementary Education Professor Marty Conrad.
A quality education is the equalizer that enables the lower tier to progress to the middle class she explains. Only when the public makes it a priority to assist improving schools in low-income communities, will the poor escape a cycle of endless poverty and cease to be a drain on public resources.
As part of its open course/public lecture series this fall, the College of Behavioral And Social Sciences convened another panel presentation last Wednesday (9/21). Nearly 100 persons attended the forum in the Humanities Auditorium.
The forum focused on the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). This is the law endorsed and signed by President Bush in 2002 that mandated standardized tests for K through 12 public schools receiving federal Title I funds.
Title I is the main vehicle for federal investment in public schools that is aimed toward poor families. The San Francisco Unified School District gets $17 million, half of its annual federal funds for this program, according to School Board member Jill Wynns. She said NCLB is well intentioned but does not serve the minority children it intended to help because the U.S. Congress has never adequately funded the program.
But several SF State faculty complained NCLB misuses funds and that NCLB’s scripted curriculum (specific teaching materials and instructions), and Adequate Yearly Progress reports (AYP) actually make lower performing schools worse rather than closing the gap with schools achieving academic goals.
“Bush tries to convince us that NCLB will save impoverished kids,” said Conrad. “Yet we have a system of discrepancies that treats the low-income differently. We’re (Education faculty) advocates for kids in underperforming schools but they’re failing because of socio-economic disparities and not underperforming students.”
If a student does not have a high level of literacy, it is very difficult to progress in life Conrad said. And because not all students learn at the same pace, standardized curriculum denies the excitement that children require to learn, in which a more diversified method of teaching could provide she insisted.
Conrad also called tracking an evil we have known about for years. That is a monitoring system that steers higher performing students toward courses that will help them get accepted to universities and relegates the rest toward classes that will only qualify a student to gain entrance to community college or technical school.
Elementary Education Professor Kathy Emery said that in 1989 President G.H.W. Bush adopted the policy of National Education Goals. It established a system known as “high stakes” tests that mandated testing using standard measures that alleged to determine success or failure absolutely she said.
The policy functioned by a rewards and punishment system whereby high performing schools received increased federal funds but low performing schools got sanctions such as mandates to replace faculty, bring in new curriculum, pay for tutoring, or allow students to transfer to better performing schools. California passed its version of high stakes the Public Schools Accountability Act in 1999 and 15 other states passed similar laws.
One of the major affects of high stakes testing since 1989 has been the creation of a new tracking system Emery called college prep/prison prep. This tended to increase the number of dropouts who had little option but to accept low paying jobs or resort to criminal activity leading to incarceration said Emery.
The college prep/prison prep tracking system is one where low performing schools because of a lack of funding are subjected to a “drill and kill” curriculum that is deathly dull to teachers and students alike she explained. Meanwhile, better funded suburban schools were able to offer a more enriched problem solving and critical thinking curriculum Emery noted.
Former chair of the Elementary Education Department, Professor Jane Bernard-Powers said NCLB profoundly affects our students, parents and teachers, some of whom have been designated as under qualified by the legislation. But it also intrudes into the privacy of parents of high school students by providing the military with contact information of male and female draft age students, so there is in a sense military recruiting going on in the public schools she maintained.
NCLB shortchanges children and teachers who believe they can change people’s lives through independent curriculum when the federal government overstepped the prerogative of state and local school boards said Bernard-Powers.
“We now have a market,” said Bernard-Powers. “Schools are not a market for Houghton-Mifflin, McGraw-Hill or Harcourt-Brace (book publishers). It’s an amazing intrusion of corporations into the decisions of local school boards. Money that goes to NCLB could go into art and music programs. We hope we’ve convinced you about our concerns and hope you ask some hard questions.”
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