More Thoughts on The Death and Life of the Great American School System
The power of grief to derange the mind has in fact been exhaustively noted.
–Joan Didion, The Year of Magical Thinking (34)
The most toxic flaw in NCLB was its legislative command that all students in every school must be proficient in reading and mathematics by 2014. By that magical date, every single student must achieve proficiency, including students with special needs, students whose native language is not English, students who are homeless and lacking in any societal advantage, and student with every societal advantage but are not interested in their schoolwork
–Diane Ravitch, The Death and Life of the Great American School System (102)
After 9-11, too many of us were just too damn scared to even entertain the notion that our nation was being run by a couple of incompetent poltroons. We are still paying for this in treasure and in lives. Oddly, the same people who would call Barack Obama a socialist for mandating PRIVATE insurance had little problem with a complete federal takeover of the educational system, which has historically been a state and local issue. (The federal government is barely a seven percent stakeholder in education)
Under ordinary circumstances, Republicans would have opposed the bill’s broad expansion of federal power over local schools, and Democrats would have opposed its heavy emphasis on testing. But after September 1, 2001, Congress wanted to demonstrate unity, and education legislation sailed through (94).
NCLB passed in the Senate 87-10 and 381-41 in the House despite the fact that “No one truly expects that all students will be proficient by the year 2014, although NCLBs most fervent supporters often claimed it was feasible” (103).
Today many critics of what they consider invasive federal involvement in the healthcare industry would sue the federal government in the name of the basically moribund (since the Civil War) Ninth and Tenth Amendments. But when George W. Bush was president, instead of standing up to a draconian law which demands the surreal goal of universal success, Republicans as well as Democrats overwhelmingly preferred to toe the line and “[m]ost states devised ways to pretend to meet the impossible goal”(16).
Ravitch does a masterful job of laying out how school administrators across the country were forced to engage in deceptive practices or risk losing their jobs in her chapter entitled, The Trouble with Accountability. She draws on the work of Daniel Koretz and Richard Rothstein and other sober-minded thinkers who are wise enough to eschew a harebrained law which delivered us unto a macabre world where students now “master test-taking methods, but not the subject itself” (159).
Sadly, the Magical Thinking which infects our nation continues to thrive in education. President Obama supports policies which have been proven ineffective and he has appointed a Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, whose record as superintendent of Chicago schools was dismal if not downright fraudulent:
In 2009, the Civic Committee of the Commercial Club of Chicago released a study demonstrating that the city’s claims of dramatic test score gains were exaggerated….The Study concluded, however, that “these huge increases reflect changes in the tests and testing procedures—not real student improvement” (158).