Sunday, May 29, 2005

Is Our Children Learning?

The "No Child Left Behind Act" (also known by educators as 'No Child Left Alive Act' or 'No Child Left Untested Act') is one of those bizarre federal bills that the current Administration rammed through with the help of Senator Ted Kennedy. I suppose, to be charitable, that Mr. Kennedy thought that draconian measures were needed to remedy the sad state of affairs of American education. From what I can tell, the results are (once again, to be charitable) mixed.

The testing seems a bit tricky, however. It emphasizes the famous "Three 'Rs" of the Nineteenth Century and also seems to encourage 'teaching to the test.' While even I know that having the ability to read, write, and calculate is a good foundation for education, learning to think critically and how to find information that is necessary for the Twenty-first Century should be the hallmark of education, something that the act in question seems to assume will naturally flow from language and arithmetic skills. Such an assumption I believe to be unproven.

Apparently a California State Assemblywoman agrees with me. Jackie Goldberg (Los Angeles) has introduced a bill to add a section to the California Education Code.

SECTION 1. Section 60050 is added to the Education Code, to read:

60050. (a) Neither the state board nor a governing board may adopt instructional materials that exceed 200 pages in length.

(b) The Legislature encourages the use of technology and multimedia materials in order to comply with subdivision (a) and reduce the cost and weight of textbooks.


Prohibits the State Board of Education (SBE) and the governing board of any local education agency (LEA) from adopting any instructional material that exceeds 200 pages in length.

Encourages the use of technology and multimedia materials to create higher interest and more up-to-date information from varied sources.


Textbooks should provide an overview of the critical questions and issues of a subject, and then become a roadmap to guide students to other means and sources of information. Students need to begin learning to use these means and sources in school so they can consider the advantages and hazards of information acquired from these sources and use them wisely.

Through the Digital High School program, all high schools have been equipped with computers. The K-12 high-speed Internet has provided high-speed Internet connectivity to every county office. California needs to make every classroom in California a state-of-the-art technology/media classroom, and prepare students to live and work in the 21st century environment.

(I included the analysis section so that the notion of limiting textbooks to 200 pages wouldn't appear so ludicrous.)

Ms. Goldberg's reasoning is that the textbooks should consist in teaching students how and where to find the necessary information, rather than just summarize the information on a single source basis. She was interviewed on my local NPR station May 27, 2005 and expanded on the intention of her bill. She used the example of reading a novel. Knowing the historical and social context against which Charles Dickens was writing is useful when reading one of his novels. Such information is available on-line in the forms of journal entries written by people who lived in the Nineteenth Century. Learning how to find those journal entries and how to view them differently than an opinion piece written by a book reviewer are two very important skills.

She also opined that the students would read the textbook and novel outside of class. In the class, the teacher would guide them in searching the internet for that material. This approach, of course, requires that each classroom have adequate computer equipment for each student.

The interview is actually quite interesting and is available here. Again, the date of the interview on "Air Talk" is May 27, 2005. The audio is about eight minutes long.

Educators and legislators need to start thinking along these lines, and they will, once they are freed from the strictures of the "No Child Left Behind" mindset.

[Note: Ms. Goldberg's bill has passed the California Assembly and is now in committee for assignment to the appropriate State Senate committees for consideration]


Blogger kelley b. said...

Perhaps the real issue to Bu$hCo is "Is Our Children Learning Their Place?".

You can't have an Upper Class if you don't have a lower Servant Class, and that is principally what the policies of this administration in education are designed to create here.

After all, their values are 19th century.

4:19 AM  

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