Saturday, August 16, 2008

Accountability: Making Us Stupider Since 2001

It’s “back to school time,” and we also have a major election approaching. Seems like a great time to take my car out on the Interstate and make sure its air bags are working properly.

Ha! Just kidding. I actually meant to say that it’s a great time to evaluate the political candidates’ views on education, if they have any.

Candidates haven’t said much about education, which is weird, because the Bush Administration has spent the last eight years pelting public schools with spitballs.

Take the No Child Left Behind Act, which requires teachers to be “highly qualified” in a specialty field.

Unfortunately, “education” does not qualify as a “specialty field.”

So in order to be designated as “highly qualified” to teach high school English, I needed extra coursework or a bachelor’s degree in English (no worries – I found one in the dumpster behind Pat’s Pizza).

The only problem: an English degree teaches one a lot about which objective case pronoun one should use in one’s hypothetical sentences, but it does nothing to help one figure out how to teach kids to read.

Far too many kids walk into high school classrooms barely able to read. I need to help them with the basics before they can tackle Shakespeare.

But the President would rather make sure I can write a 20-page term paper on Moby Dick at 3 a.m. on the day it’s due without spilling black coffee on my keyboard.

This is just one example of how politicians make educational decisions that look fabulous in the headlines, but in the actual classroom make about as much sense as shoveling snow with a copy of Sports Illustrated.

Another example is the amount of testing (known as “accountability”) required by NCLB. Nowadays, teachers have to demonstrate accountability every six or seven minutes, which tends to squelch creativity and innovation in the classroom.

If students are learning half as much as they used to, at least we’re accounting for that half.

So what do the leading candidates have to say?

Let’s begin with Maine’s U.S. Senate. The Collins campaign lists a bunch of accomplishments for education on its web site, including establishing a special fund for rural schools to meet NCLB requirements, and a $250 tax write-off for teachers who buy their own classroom supplies (muchas gracias).

She also got an “A” ranking from the National Education Association.

What a nerd!

Meanwhile, Tom Allen’s website lists a grand total of 1 (one) accomplishment for education, which was to “vote for” an increase in college student aid funding. The NEA also gave him an “A.”

Allen is obviously the better candidate. He is so smart that he can slack off and still pull out a good grade.

On the Presidential front, McCain says schools “must have the resources and management authority” to provide a decent education. Judging from his support of NCLB and voucher programs, his idea of providing “resources and management authority” is to yank money away from poor school districts and threaten to fire principals.

Obama would rather “support schools that need improvement, rather than punish them.” He does not say how he would accomplish this, but outlined 15 ages worth of ideas for early childhood education, recruiting teachers, and other boring stuff that could, you know, do something about all those illiterate high school students.

Incidentally, Obama also got an “A” from the NEA.

McCain got an “F.” Maybe if they’d given him a few more doses of “accountability,” he would have done better.

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