Monday, March 14, 2011

No Child Left Untested

The news is that President Obama is to push an overhaul of the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) program. As a parent of school age children, i'd like to get rid of it.

From my perspective, what we need is evidence based education. The way that would work is that we would come up with ideas on how to educate better. The first step would be to implement them in small pilot programs. If the new idea works better than the standards, then it would be moved to a larger pilot. Really good programs would be expanded nation wide. Every change implemented at large scale would have costs and benefits understood beforehand. Was there ever a pilot before introduction of No Child Left Behind (NCLB)?

NCLB suggests that we can't test teachers to determine their competence at teaching. I can understand that. Testing is rarely a good test of competence. Managers in industry mostly can't tell competent employees from dead wood. So, the NCLB idea is to test students. But why do we then think that testing students determines their level of compentence? Didn't we just say that testing rarely is a good test of competence?

And, NCLB does not address course approach and content. For example, teaching astronomy with english together allows students to research history, make observations, etc., and write papers about these things - graded for content and form together. It's been shown more efficient. And why wouldn't it be. Students put in a little extra effort to make their papers better, but don't have to do as many. That's more efficient for the students. It's more efficient for the teachers. There's no additional teacher training cost. You use an English teacher and an Astronomy teacher. You just use them at the same time. Teachers alternate classroom time. Both teachers grade papers. This is just one of a zillion examples.

There are lots of cheap programs that have worked well in pilots that have not been fielded at large scales. It's so sad.

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