To quote the Church Lady on Saturday Night Live, “Well, isn’t that special?” State School Superintendent John Barge and Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., have asked U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan for a waiver of the controversial No Child Left Behind law and, instead, to measure school performance on a broader basis, consisting of scores on a Criterion-Referenced Competency Test along with other factors in a “performance index.”
That would include a number of criteria (20 for high schools, 13 for middle and elementary schools.) Student attendance also would be a factor. ACT, SAT and end-of-course test scores would count in high school, plus the percentage of students who attend technical schools or colleges without requiring remedial or support sources. In other words, we are swapping one set of time-consuming and unrealistic expectations and binding teachers with different bureaucratic red tape.
Not to worry. Criterion-Referenced Competency Testing will take a few turns around the education merry-go-round to be replaced down the road by another trendy measuring stick created by some educational navel-gazing bureaucrat that won’t be any more effective than the last one, and on and on it goes.
While Isakson and Barge are dealing with the feds in Washington on federal waivers on our public schools in Georgia, who knows what cockamamie schemes the Republican majority in the Legislature is preparing for the next session, including making it easier for their kids to attend private schools that don’t have to abide by the same rules as public schools and doing it with our tax dollars. Is this a great country or what?
All the government interference in public education makes me wonder how I ever learned to read and write, add and subtract, multiply and divide, distinguish subjects from predicates, adjectives from adverbs, Beowulf from Bolivia and civics from the Civil War. There was no federal Department of Education in my day. That useless bureaucracy was created by President Peanut when he was not busy sending the economy down the tubes and ensuring his legacy as our worst (so far) president ever.
How I was able to learn so much at Russell High School in East Point without Criterion-Referenced Competency Testing is one of life’s great mysteries. How was Mr. Gibbons able to teach me geography? How did Birdie Parker teach me English (although one wag says I must have missed class the day punctuation was discussed) and Mr. Germano teach me Spanish? Everything I needed to know about algebra (which was not much), I learned from Ms. Dolvin. Mr. Gatlin appointed me the school newspaper editor, which is as high in media management as I ever rose. Ms. Keheley taught me how to type; otherwise, you would be reading this in longhand. Jo Will Hearn taught me to spell and all these years later, I can still spell “antidisestablishmentarianism,” the longest word in the English language and probably the most useless, but I can spell it and a lot of other words, too.
Looking back, I got a pretty good education from some pretty good teachers who didn’t have meddling politicians at every level of government breathing down their necks and coming up with pet legislative projects that have little to do with where our public education system is and where it should be going.
I suspect the vast majority of our public school teachers are every bit as good today as they were in my day, and probably better. But somewhere between then and now, we have fallen into the bureaucratic quagmire that now is public education. My end-of-course measurement was a letter: A, B, C, D or F, depending on what my teachers thought I had learned or should have learned. Blow that expectation and you were the child left behind. There was no need to worry about attendance as a criterion measurement. You miss enough days and you would be expelled. Remedial learning was summer school in a building with no air-conditioning.
All of this is to say that No Child Left Behind, Annual Yearly Progress, Criterion-Referenced Competency Testing and all the other acronym-laden and uncoordinated initiatives coming from Washington, Atlanta and elsewhere are a bunch of donkey dump and miss the real issues in public education: Dysfunctional families, drugs, crime and poverty don’t stop at the front door of the school house. I wonder if our intrepid politicians ever will quit dancing around that fact and face the truth. It’s not the government schools, stupid; it is the stupid government.
You can reach Yarbrough at firstname.lastname@example.org or P.O. Box 725373, Atlanta, Ga., 31139.