(My latest Huffington Post blog)
It pains me to say this, but from everything I have been reading Sen.Tom Harkin's plan -- and every other plan to revise No Child Left Behind -- is destined to be the same miserable failure the original law has been.
Until politicians stop ignoring the fact that major influences on education take place outside the schoolhouse doors, no educational legislation will ever have any lasting impact.
Blaming problems in our nation's schools on "bad teachers" and teacher unions has proven to be a winning formula at the ballot box, but one that comes at a price.
The never-ending bashing of teachers and unions has devalued the public perception of classroom teachers, the very group that has offered the only protection the United States has had against the rising tide of mediocrity that threatens to engulf us.
What we need is a No Child Left Behind act that truly addresses the problems that face education and society as a whole.
- Any law that fails to address the role poverty plays in education is doomed before the ink is dry on the president's signature. When children are poor, hungry and living in homes without books, education becomes secondary in their lives.
- The role of crime and punishment has also been completely overlooked. As long as we have a society that stresses punishment over rehabilitation for small-time offenders, we are putting more and more young parents behind bars, breaking up more families, creating more poverty and providing obstacles to education. The same people in the American Legislative Exchange Council who have been pushing the privatization of schools have also written so-called "model legislation" that emphasizes punishment over rehabilitation to keep profits soaring at their privatized prisons.
- The cuts that have been made in state budgets across the U.S .have eliminated the programs that have helped keep young people off the streets and provide an opportunity for them to receive a quality education. At the same time, cuts to school districts have reduced the number of counselors, and those who are left have to spend most of their time administering and evaluating the endless stream of standardized tests and practice standardized tests that take up so much of the students' and teachers' time.
- A system that prizes those who invest over those who work. We have seen a change in emphasis in what our society prizes. We wonder why we are no longer producing as many scientists and engineers when all of society's rewards are going to investment bankers, hedge fund owners, and CEOs. This is not a formula designed to help someone race to the top. It is also not a formula designed to foster an interest in education.
-A political financing system that allows those who would destroy public education so they can privatize learning or not have to pay for it to control the talking points on educational policy. Can there be any good reason why education is the only area in which replacing seasoned professionals with youngsters with no experience is considered to be a reform? Can anyone explain why the politicians who are so gung-ho on constructing ever-growing testing regimens for public schoolchildren are the first to enroll their own children in schools that do not have to jump through these bureaucratic hoops?
Plans to reform education will never succeed as long as the only changes are made to the schools and not to society.
If education is failing in the United States, it is doing so because of the wounds being inflicted upon it by our elected officials and educational bureaucrats who try to curry favor by becoming lapdogs in the service of whatever reform trend is making headlines.
The only way to see our children's lives improve is to remember that the public schools are not the problem. The same classroom teachers who have been libeled by self-aggrandizing politicians for the past few years will be a major part of the solution -- if they are still there when the dust settles.