The U.S. Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, will not be introduced in Kansas with the Darth Vader theme playing in the background. But maybe he should. After all, the “No Child Left Behind Death Star” is devastating American education.
As students, you have seen your teachers "deprofessionalized." For decades, the American teacher was unique in the world. He or she had the professional leeway to customize lessons for diverse students from rural or urban backgrounds. Now, that same American teacher has become little more than an assembly line worker whose sole purpose is test preparation.
Many teachers hoped that this standardization, begun under President George W. Bush, would end under President Obama. Unfortunately, NCLB continued "on steroids."
Standardization of education has moved from state standards to a national Common Core curriculum in math and reading, to be followed by diluted-down national science.
While Duncan lacks the authority to directly mandate a national curriculum, his department is extorting compliance by making federal Title money dependent on adopting it.
Assertions that it is not a national curriculum do not pass the smell test: It works like a national curriculum. It will test like a national curriculum. And it tastes like pork.
Teachers have no choice but drill, baby, drill. In more and more states, veteran teachers can be fired if their students' standardized test scores decrease for two years in a row. The No Child Left Behind goal of 100 percent of students being proficient by 2014 is impossible.
Secretary Duncan is giving waivers to states, but only if they make student test scores the major criteria for evaluating teachers. Here’s the unintended consequence: A mediocre teacher in an affluent school is safe; a superb teacher in a poverty school is toast.
School curricula have narrowed. Across Kansas, art and music teachers are losing their jobs because the only courses valued are those that are tested.
Student dropout rates remain high, not because students are flunking out, but because they are bored with a narrower curriculum and test drillwork.
Fewer high school teachers are recommending their students enter teaching.
And more veteran teachers are looking for early retirement—or another profession.
For over ten years, measures of American student creativity have plummeted. Teachers have been forced to abandon the questioning and inquiry that made U.S. education unique.
This outcome is not unexpected. Other nations with national curricula score high on international tests. As the Ministry of Education in South Korea states: big deal, we train students to take tests but they don’t get Nobel Prizes. Many such countries are trying to get off of teach-to-the-test schooling while the United States moves in the opposite direction. The last ten years are truly the "Dark Ages of American Education."
Emporia State students and Kansans have a sober opportunity with Secretary Duncan’s visit.
This is not a time to politely applaud.
This is a time to ask Secretary Duncan the hard questions about bad education policy.
American students are unique coming into our classrooms.
American graduates should be unique when they leave. It is time to stop the standardization.
But it will take more than a few Jedi Knights to change this.