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National Test September 21, 2006

Posted by Michael McVey in Online Tools.
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P and B   I have to apologize, but every now and then I have to get my paddle into the political stream. Today, in the Washington Post, former secretaries of education William Bennett and Rod Paige penned an article about their perception that the country needs a national test. They note a report that suggests some states are tinkering with the accountability system. Of course, they mentioned states with which they were not affiliated. Texas has been playing a numbers game long before the No Child Left Behind legislation came into being but, of course, their editorial failed to note that but I don’t take issue with that.

If this sort of legislation ever makes it to Congress, a federally mandated control over curriculum and standards nationwide, watch for two things to happen. First, be on the lookout for some sort of language that immunizes individual states against lawsuits over inequality of funding methods from district to district. Many state Supreme Courts have taken the position that the funding inequity is hurting education but, with few exceptions, improvements have not been made to any substantial degree.

Second, taking control over curriculum away from the states will produce even more meddling from the federal government. I like to think of the national curriculum landscape like a healthy garden. We keep the curriculum fresh and a tone to the needs of our local students and this variety of backgrounds produces innovation and insight a student’s progress into the world of work and become lifelong learners. As the Irish discovered, when only one kind of potato is grown, you risk a potato blight affecting the entire nation’s crop. When one sort of medical procedure is the only medical procedure allowed, you endanger patients and stifle innovation. When we move the nation from prescriptive to descriptive curricula, we end up rewarding the status quo and risk homogenizing knowledge, ridiculing innovation, and wasting teaching talent.

The way I see it, such a standardized national curriculum will affect textbooks, limit choices for non-mainstream courses, produce testing anxiety to the extreme, and reduce the act of teaching from a highly interactive and insightful process, to a scripted, test driven, sets of hoops through which students must jump. This will open the door to merit pay plans, after school training such as the juku experience in Japan only commercialized to a much greater extent, and a general shift in attitude in this country from the belief that curriculum is a starting point to the position that the final test is everything there is to education.

The plan these fellows espouse will make ignorance seem almost patriotic.

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