Fear the next wave of education reform

Posted: Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Most of my wide range of friends and colleagues in education in both Alaska and California would agree with most of what Michael Heiman (My Turn, Nov. 29) had to say about No Child Left Behind. In fact, a very close friend of mine here in Juneau who has recently retired from education cleverly dubbed the act No Lawyer Left Behind because the act is a litigious magnet, almost certain to attract ambulance-chasing special education attorneys into lucrative lawsuits against school districts.

NCLB is under attack on many fronts which, given its "knee-jerk" composition, is understandable. It is virtually impossible to fully implement in Alaska, and like the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, it is overshadowed with politics. But what is not mentioned in the article is why we now have this monstrosity to deal with. For the answer, one needs to look at states such as Arizona, Ohio and California, where charter schools, unfettered, in most cases by laborious education codes, are surpassing public schools in both student achievement and public opinion.

In Oakland, Calif., for example, inner-city students are flocking to charter schools because the regular public schools are approaching a near melt-down. In droves, California parents are no longer buying into the argument that they shouldn't worry about low test scores but instead worry about "critical thinking," "self-esteem" or becoming a "better citizen." Tarzan was a model citizen of his community but he didn't attend public schools for 12 years to be successful. He didn't need to read or write, nor was there a high demand for algebra in the jungle. Maybe Jane home-schooled him.

It is fallacious logic to assert that high test scores do not correlate well with good citizenship. On the opposite end of the spectrum, our prison populations have a much greater illiteracy rate than our general population, which may lead us to speculate that low test scores correlate with poor citizenship.

The truth is, we in education cannot hide behind low test scores any longer. After all, standardized tests are designed to test basic skills. These are not SATs, LSATs or tests for entrance into medical school. They are simple, straightforward tests that accurately measure a student's ability to comprehend what they read, write paragraphs that others can comprehend, and think in the abstract world of mathematics. There is a growing concern among American taxpayers that questions how a student can attend publicly funded schools for 12 years and go out into the workplace not being able to write a complete sentence or make change at Wal-Mart if the computers go down. Crazy us.

My own opinion is that NCLB will be viciously attacked over the next several years to the point that it may be rendered unconstitutional. It probably should be. That is not the real issue here. What's important is that we have elected a president who is saying that school reform at the state level is not working and has tossed out a typical deplorable federal "fix." Those of us who espouse local control are scared to death that the next federal attempt might be a lot better and well thought out.

• Rod Pocock lives in Juneau and is the director of choirs for Juneau-Douglas High School, the founder of IDEA of Alaska, and the founder of HomeSmartKids of Knightsen Charter School.

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