Earlier this semester, I asked my friend Ryan to take me to an upper-level Engineering class. As an English major who takes as little “real math” as possible, I wanted to see what it was exactly that they did with the other side of the brain.
When we entered the room, the professor from the previous class was erasing the chalk from the kind of fold-up blackboards that give me nightmares. I asked Ryan what some of the equations meant, to which he replied, “rocket science.” I started to laugh, but then I realized he was serious. He rattled off some logic that I pretended to understand, but the only thing I caught was a brief allusion to a turbine.
Luckily for me, Ryan had enough foresight to invite me to a lecture that Prof. Elliot Soloway was giving called “The World is Going Mobile” that was about education, not rocket science. Soloway opened with a couple of quotes from Diane Ravitch’s recent opinion piece about No Child Left Behind in Forbes magazine.
In her piece, Ravitch, who served as secretary of education under President Ronald Reagan, denounced NCLB, a plan she once supported. Though she questioned the intrusive policies of NCLB, the only improvements she suggested were that the U.S. Congress was “not the right place to decide how to fix our schools” and throwing more money at the problem won’t help.
Stories critical of NCLB have been hard to find in the mainstream media, enough to qualify the topic as one of media watchdog Project Censored’s 25 censored stories of 2008. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t problems with the policy.
NCLB has shunted the future of the country into the hands of the private sector. Children in third through eighth grade are tested annually. The lowest achievers from the lowest socioeconomic rung are considered qualified to either move to another public school or undergo tutoring. That is, of course, assuming that transportation costs haven’t been capped.
The provided tutoring has no cost. It is instead funded entirely by profits of the testing industry that has garnered $1.9 to $5.3 billion a year from program mandates. Even worse, the big players in this game are McGraw-Hill, Houghton-Mifflin and Harcourt General — textbook giants that dominate the market.
Ravitch and I agree on one thing: Congress should not be the battleground for educational reform. It has proven itself defunct, crooked and unaccountable for our education crisis.
Soloway introduced the sobering fact that in Detroit alone about 22 percent of all ninth graders are expected to graduate from high school. That means that only one in five young adults enrolled in Detroit public schools are expected to get their high school diploma, let alone go on to college.
One solution to overcome the education gap is to bridge the digital divide by offering federal grants and subsidies to failing schools. Currently, most of the schools that lobby for this kind of funding are the wealthier districts; they know how valuable it is to provide computers to their students. In contrast to this, the schools that need this technology the most often fail to see its potential as an instrument of change.
But it is crucial that information technology becomes accessible to this tech-savvy generation of youngsters. Learner-centered computer interfaces and development in educational software is necessary to engage these students on their level. This approach recognizes that while part of the problem is the corruption of the government, another is the failure of educators to recognize that this is one of the reasons why they aren’t reaching children.
If the government continues to allocate enormous sums of money to NCLB during Barack Obama’s term, wouldn’t it make more sense to spend it on technology that engages rather than grills kids? Until the government repeals or significantly revises NCLB, the testing industry should take some losses. NCLB needs to strengthen education through computational tools, preventative measures that would do much more toward fixing an educational crisis than simply conducting data analysis and offering paltry suggestions.
Jennifer Sussex is an LSA senior