Earlier this month, when the current administration granted 10 states waivers from No Child Left Behind - including here in Minnesota - I was surprised by how excited a lot of my classmates were by the news. Sure, we know that it had a number of not-so-great parts, but I never would have expected that a standards-based education reform would be the source of such happiness. I had one friend who said the waivers was "the highlight of his week," several days after they had been given.
What may be needless to say is that most of these celebrators are Obama supporters, hence the repudiation of anything that can in any way be associated with Bush is reason to throw a party. Nevermind that it passed with overwhelming bipartisanship (91-8 in the Senate; 384-85 in the House), in these people's minds, the notion of subjecting states and their schools to comply with national standards in order to receive funding was not just ineffective, but destructive to the sacred cow that is education.
Then on Monday, I stumbled upon this New York Times article, which opens with an anecdote about a Tennessee principal, Steve Ball, sitting in the back of a class in his school to evaluate a teacher:
[U]nder Tennessee’s new teacher-evaluation system, which is similar to systems being adopted around the country, Mr. Ball said he had to give the teacher a one — the lowest rating on a five-point scale — in one of 12 categories: breaking students into groups. Even though Mr. Ball had seen the same teacher, a successful veteran he declined to identify, group students effectively on other occasions, he felt that he had no choice but to follow the strict guidelines of the state’s complicated rubric.
“It’s not an accurate reflection of her as a teacher,” Mr. Ball said.
Spurred by the requirements of the Obama administration’s Race to the Top competition, Tennessee is one of more than a dozen states overhauling their evaluation systems to increase the number of classroom observations and to put more emphasis on standardized test scores.
Later on, the article mentions how "[p]rincipals in rural Chester County, Tenn., are staying late and working weekends to complete reviews with more than 100 reference points," while "[i]n Nashville, teachers are redesigning lessons to meet the myriad criteria — regardless of whether they think that is the best way to teach."
Next, I happened to see this video (brought to us by none other than our sponsor, Encounter Books, along with Declaration Entertainment):
Between the article and the video, we see the ways in which Race to the Top is mirroring, if not worsening, the very systematic implementation issues that critics had of No Child Left Behind. Yet, Obama is revered as a crusader for education, looking out for students and their futures, along with their dedicated teachers.
I'm reminded of how in his most recent State of the Union address, the President reprimanded American schools, teachers, and students for having fallen behind in the international rankings, and then following his lecture up with a demand that all states require all their students to stay in school and graduate... in the very institutions he was just criticizing! What's the point? He just said students weren't being served, and these policies are making sure they won't be in the future. Teachers aren't cultivating brilliant minds in a fashion best suited for their class or material; they're being instructed how to instruct in methods they think are unproductive, but don't stray away from for fear of a poor evaluation.
The contradictions are aplenty, but most glaringly to me is that the hardly ever mentioned Race to the Top is not being viewed with the same scrutiny as No Child Left Behind. I'm not sure if Shakespeare has managed to fit into the new Race to the Top curricula, but I'm reminded of Juliet's famous line, "What's in a name? that which we call a rose; By any other name would smell as sweet." No Child Left Behind seems to have a different name, and I'm not sure it "smell[s] as sweet." It smells worse, much worse.