A decade of No Child Left Behind (NCLB) policy has dramatically changed the status of teachers across America. I visit student teachers across Kansas. I see the growing disrespect this federal teach-to-the-test system has generated.
In September of 2002, before penalties for not making Adequate Yearly Progress were in place, I wrote a commentary in the Wichita Eagle titled: "Students Responsible for Learning Too."
Kansas had adopted Quality Performance Accreditation and begun accrediting public schools under QPA in 1995, six years before President Bush imposed No Child Left Behind. Both systems were based on Total Quality Management, a business model designed for factories.
Jody Marquardt, a superb veteran biology teacher, astutely observed: "They are blaming us, aren’t they." Teachers could feel they were becoming the scapegoat for all failures in public education.
The Wichita Eagle commentary explained how all students have a responsibility to come to class prepared, to pay attention, to complete their homework, etc. The newspaper commentary included my photo.
I had a student teacher in Wichita in the Spring of 2003. I had never before visited the school. As I walked down the main hall to check-in at the office, several teachers I had never seen before greeted me with an enthusiastic "Hi!" After I had evaluated my student teacher, I got the same enthusiastic greetings in the office as I checked out.
"Very friendly school," I commented.
"Oh, you are posted in the teacher’s lounge. Some teachers read your article to their students." And she pointed to my Eagle commentary tacked on the office bulletin board.
Fast forward exactly one decade to September 2012. Now these weekly education commentaries are sent to all Kansas newspapers and about 80 run them. While the title was "Hitting the Ceiling" and addressed why it was unlikely that state assessment scores could go higher, the theme again was about students having responsibility for their learning too. Regardless of how well teachers teach, there will be some students who will not score high, and it is not the teachers’ fault.
These two essays were essentially about the same topic: student responsibility.
But what a difference a decade makes.
I get much feedback from my colleagues in public classrooms, and I am careful to mask my sources and protect them.
The teachers’ enthusiasm for the message was no less than in 2002. But one teacher said her colleagues secretly passed the commentary around teacher-to-teacher in a brown manila envelope. Another e-mailed that the commentary was taped inside the faculty restroom stalls where administrators never come.
There are still public schools in Kansas where administrators and teachers work together as professionals. But there are a growing number of schools where administrators are foremen and teachers are mere assembly line workers, expected to take orders and shut up. This jackbooted attitude is directly due to NCLB penalties that remain today under different wording.
This dysfunction in communication—with parents and teachers at the bottom, and deaf administrators and school boards at the top—was clearly evident at the May Kansas State Board of Education meeting. While over 20 parents and teachers from across Kansas spoke against the Core Curriculum, the representative from the Kansas Association of School Boards reported that they had "...heard no objections from any of our school board members..." against the Core.
Some veteran teachers in the more repressive Kansas schools have been encouraged to retire early—a request they see as desire for younger teachers who are more willing to quietly comply with orders from above. "Teach Plus," a Boston teacher-policy organization, released an October 2012 survey of 1,075 K-12 teachers. 71 percent of the rookies felt student growth should be part of their evaluation as a teacher but only 41% of veteran teachers concurred. 51 percent of rookies wanted student scores to be over 20% of their evaluation; only 23 percent of veteran teachers agreed.
The real legacy of NCLB is not just overtesting of a generation of students where memorization replaces creative thinking, but the destruction of administrator-teacher professional cooperation.
If we ended this teach-to-the-test tyranny today, we will still have many young teachers who now accept de-professionalized teaching and who have adopted blue collar attitudes.
This is another commentary teachers can pass around in secret envelopes and hang in faculty restroom stalls.