One of most condemning legacies of the George W. Bush presidency also happens to be one of the least discussed, though the children in American school’s feel its effects every day. The sweeping No Child Left Behind (NCLB) educational reforms have left dysfunctional school systems, demoralized teachers, and stressed, over-tested children in it’s wake. These effects should not surprise anyone who knows the education system teachers have agreed with these sentiments for a long time. The NCLB mentality of “teaching to the test” damages national educational aspirations seriously because teachers focus strictly on teaching the test curriculum and not on teaching skills that might be more applicable or relevant. Back in 2006, educators warned the Bush administration that a school system based on test scores over other measures of student success, was a policy designed for educational disaster.
Education sociologist David Labaree argued that an over-reliance on testing will result in students only listening to portions of class that might, “Be on the test.” And as mentioned before, NCLB seems to have passed this problem from students to teachers, who might feel forced to approach teaching their studentrs with the same attitude: “Anything not on the test is not worth knowing, and whatever is on the test need be learned only in the superficial manner that is required to achieve a passing grade” (Labaree, 1997, page 46). Under NCLB, teachers feel great pressure to focus their energies entirely on preparing students to excel at standardized testing. But what happens when they get to higher levels of education that don’t rely on “standardized tests“? Like College? Or life?
And unlike the Bush recession, NCLB has persisted stubbornly into the Obama administration’s legacy, like an unwantedgrowth that can’t be removed. Despite all of this, policymakers have been hardly motivated to redirect education from multiple choice answer sheets and standardized tests … Until now.
In an announcement that is surely a cause for celebration, the Obama administration has called for an end to this terrible era of over-testing, to return to sensibly informed approach to education reform. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has minced no words:
“I can’t tell you how many conversations I’m in with educators who are understandably stressed and concerned about an overemphasis on testing in some places and how much time testing and test prep are taking from instruction. It’s important that we’re all honest with ourselves. At the federal, state, and local levels, we have all supported policies that have contributed to the problem in implementation. We can and will work with states, districts, and educators to help solve it.”
Duncan admitted that testing isn’t going away entirely. It’s still necessary to have some standard of measuring whether children are where learning at an appropriate pace. Testing in the classroom, however, will be diminished greatly. In a recent survey by the Council of the Great City Schools, researchers found that on average students take around 112 mandatory standardized tests throughout their school careers. With so many tests to take, it’s a wonder that any of them make it through with any passion for learning left at all!
To remedy this test fatigue, the White House proposal to Congress has specified that, in order to reduce over-testing, school districts should devote no more than 2 percent of classroom time to tests. This allows them to be more creative and even innovative with their classroom curriculums, so that children might learn easier, and develop more applicable life skills. It’s hard to argue with this one.
In a way, Obama reverses not just Bush’s actions but his own as well. During his first term, Obama seemed content to just continue with Bush’s education disaster plans, despite signs that they weren’t working. But in the last few years, things have changed.
Perhaps Obama learned from watching his own daughters go through the American school system, or perhaps enough educators spoke up to get things done. Whatever the reason, Obama is showing signs of a radically new approach to education policy in America. And this author stands behind it. American school systems need reform and rethinking more than just about any other policy issue on the table. but no one talks about it. It is good to see the POTUS taking some positive action on this under-discussed issue.