No Teaching Fad Left Behind

Michelle Malkin devotes a post to the problems with the government's No Child Left Behind program for school accountability. Most worrying to me is that the program mandates not only student performance, but also the classroom teaching methods available for the teachers. Worse, it seems that the methods in question are rather suspect, as reported by a 4th grade teacher in Detroit:

After battling administrators, I was finally able to bring trainers into the district to teach a phonetic language arts method....NCLB comes along. Our reading coordinator smells the money, and applies for a Reading First grant. She's approved and we're stuck using a government-approved, whole-language reading series.

My class in primary school had the misfortune of being taught with whole language. It took the students a long time to achieve proficiency. I saw firsthand how inadequate whole language is for instilling basic reading skill.

This illustrates nicely the problem with a government-run education system. Methods, allocations, priorities, are set on the basis of the bureaucratic imperatives from a central office, and not necessarily the needs of the students. The teachers lose autonomy, and must conform to the governmental mold. This is a particular problem with regard to the teaching of history, which has become watered-down enough to avoid offending interest groups of all kinds. If you have the chance, take a look at a middle-school history or civics textbook (after removing fragile objects from your immediate vicinity), and see how the sweeping narrative of discovery, struggle, heroism and pain has become sterile and bland.

I see no reason at all why teaching methods must be mandated; so long as the teacher gets results, why worry about how? But education academics have to justify all that research funding somehow, and so they militate in favor of their system, to the exclusion of all others. Were public education not so rigidly centalized, it would not be such a problem. But as it is, there are few alternatives to charter schools, private schools, or homeschooling if you wish your children to escape the stultifying atmosphere of government-approved education. And these are rare or expensive.

Which brings us to vouchers.

Most of the voucher proposals I have seen would value them at about $4,000, which is considerably less than most school districts spend per child. Not only would they save the government money, but it would allow parents to have free choice of education. And that, of course, is what America is all about, right?

Unfortunatly, the teachers' unions are large, powerful, and hopping mad over vouchers, which would cripple the public-education system. I grant that all people want to protect their livelihood. (I may blog later about a fascinating conference call I heard with a lobbyist for the retirement-plan industry.) But the unions are putting their own interests in front of the needs of their students, in order to perpetuate a school system built on coercion and not choice. For a teacher, that seems excrable.

We need to institute vouchers in order to provide an effective spur to public schools to get their act together, or else they will continue to churn out mediocre educations to half-trained children, secure in their government subsidies and near-monopoly. To get vouchers, it seems we need to bring the unions around, or else break them. After all... it's for the children!

Calling the Pinkertons...

No comments: