Excuses, excuses...

From "No Child Law Leaves Schools' Old Ways Behind":

But the principal's enthusiasm for the Bush education reforms is tempered by the knowledge that her school, like many others, will probably never be able to meet the performance targets. Several characteristics of the student body have historically correlated with low test scores: Nearly one out of four Raymond Park students is in special education; 35 percent are African American; 54 percent are eligible for subsidized lunches, a common benchmark of poverty.

Lemme say two things. First of all, I commend the reporter for trying to bring the issues surrounding Bush's education reforms to life. It's easy to talk about policies in theory, but it's meaningless if you don't examine those theories in practice. So kudos to Michael Dobbs for getting off his duff and looking at how No Child Left Behind is working at actual schools.

Secondly, I'm tired of seeing this bullshit of correlation being served up as causality. Even though the reporter uses language like "historically correlated," the paragraph above serves to make excuses and suggest causality. Why would anyone cite a school's racial mix as supporting evidence to suggest that a school can't meet performance targets? Did the reporter think about why a high percentage of the school's population is in special ed? To what factors can that be attributed? And why talk about something that correlates to poverty instead of simply reporting on the percentage of local families with household income below the poverty line?

Here's another paragraph that bothered me...

Maurine Marchani, who has been teaching science for 36 years, is not so thrilled. She no longer has time for some of her most creative, memorable activities, such as having her students devise ways of packaging a raw egg so that it will survive being dropped from the ladder of a firetruck.

Creative activities are great. (I had a global studies teacher who illustrated the distortion inherent in Mercator map projection by mashing a globe up against the wall and showing the distortion as the 3D map became a 2D map.) But creative activities don't have impact on kids if they can't understand the underlying principles of the activity they're participating in. Reading and math are essential to understanding what's at work when you participate in something like a physics experiment.

I did the whole "drop an egg off the roof" bit when I was in high school. We were to craft something out of drinking straws that would protect the egg from damage. I spent time in the library researching the most appropriate shape for the egg carrier to take, so that it could absorb the force of the blow. I used math skills to calculate both the force involved and the requirements for the egg carrier so that I would know whether or not I had enough drinking straws to create the shape I wanted to build. If kids can't read or add, they can't fully understand what this exercise teaches.

Another paragraph that bugged me...

In theory, Gogel's students spend four and sometimes five hours a day on reading and math. In practice, it is hard to retain their attention for more than a few minutes. On a recent day, one student was playing video games on a computer at the back of the classroom while Gogel was threatening to send another to the principal for disruptive behavior.

Yes, it is a challenge to hold kids' attention. But one of the characteristics of a good teacher is the ability to motivate students. As for the students who have a problem being motivated, pull them out of class so they're not hampering the other students' education. A kid is playing games on a computer in the back of the classroom when he's supposed to be participating in a lesson? Take his computer privileges away until he learns to listen to his teacher. And that disruptive kid? Send him to the principal right away and punish him with extra work and detention until he learns to quit holding his fellow students back.

While I disagree with many of the Bush administration's policies, I think it's about time we experienced reform of our educational system on this level. We have too many schools promoting kids who can't read, write and understand math. Before you know it, these kids are ready to go to college or go into the workforce and they lack the most basic skills they need to survive.