I rarely agree with the teachers’ unions, given how they expend funds on politicians, and sometimes get in the way of reforms, but I think they are solid ground in a resolution recently passed by the AFT concerning mandatory national standardized testing. One of the dumbest programs of the Bush administration and Teddy Kennedy has turned out to be “No Child Left Behind.” It seems like every recent President wants to leave his mark on education, with one scheme for improvement or another, none of which seem to do much besides inflating bureaucracy. That is not to say that schools don’t need improvement; clearly they do. But most are financed by state and local government and embedded in communities, and sweeping federal mandates do not work, and in fact may be counterproductive.
We’ve more than doubled spending on education over the past thirty years with little significant improvement because not that much has gone into hiring or justly compensating the people who actually teach. What we have instead is an ever growing bureaucracy with more layers of administration, specialists, and support staff that never see a classroom. This has occurred because of ever more stupid mandates about what ought to be done. Every time legislation creates a program meant to solve something, it is inevitably accompanied by a bureaucracy to manage it- a principle that applies across the board, not just to education. Too often that’s how your tax dollars are spent.
In addition, broad standardized testing is too simplistic. What of Special Education? It is preposterous to apply the same standards to these children that are used for the general population. That makes no sense. Special Education teachers have to cope with children with learning disabilities, along with a surprising number of obnoxious parents who insist on trying to enroll their children in it, even though there is nothing wrong with them. It makes no sense not to differentiate, and it is unfair to teachers who constantly make their best efforts.
At the opposite end of the spectrum we are also shortchanging the brightest students, who have different needs. After all these are the pupils that will likely grow up to be the innovators, entrepreneurs, scientists, artists, intellectuals, etc. that our society as a whole needs to remain competitive in the world. One size fits all simply does not work and is detrimental to overall education.
The job of teachers is to teach and they should not be encumbered with ill-conceived requirements, stupid mandates, various useless specialists, and administrative fiat. If the federal government is to be involved in education at all, which is debatable, it should be through block grants with no strings attached. Again, this applies across the board to all government programs, for it is only through particular local initiatives that creative solutions can be found, and the more “laboratories” we have trying different approaches, the better. That is the only way we can really determine what works and what doesn’t work.