Are New Education Policies Sapping Schools' Creativity?
In the face of this panic to produce test scores on “measurable” topics, schools are increasingly opting to drop subjects like music and art to save time and money. Since implementation of the law is also a bureaucratic challenge, staff members who were previously teaching have become full-time No Child Left Behind administrators.
“At one point I thought that No Child Left Behind was well-intentioned but misguided,” says Jonathan Steinhoff, a dual immersion-third grade teacher at the Atkinson Elementary School in Portland, Oregon. “But the more I learn about it, the more I think that it is an assault on our public schools.” For one thing it pulls teachers away from what they should be doing—teaching and learning how better to teach. “What was once professional development time for teachers—once spent on collaboration, curriculum development, and lesson planning–has been transformed into time spent pouring over data,” comments Steinhoff, who was recently awarded a teaching grant by the National Geographic Society.
Steinhoff tries to shelter his students from the looming tests, and parents love him. But he says, “It’s the kids who are suffering. Kids that do well on tests are the ones who get rewarded. That used to be a one-time thing,” he adds, “but more and more the rest of the year is getting filled up with it. The kids know the scores mean a lot. It is frightening to them. What’s really sad, though, is that the kids that don’t fit this model are often very bright and have very dedicated parents. Those families are fleeing the schools—and that’s a tragedy for the schools.”
“Yes,” agrees Harvard’s Davis. “The title Leave No Child Behind is ironic when the most talented and different children are left behind by standardized tests.” According to Blakeslee, it is the very kids that No Child Left Behind is designed to protect, our nation’s poor, those in danger of failing to learn to read and write, that are being left behind. “I have three kids,” he says. “And honestly, even if school budget cuts result in no music at school, I’ll see that my kids are exposed to it. The kids who will lose this richness in education are those that can’t afford this luxury—the very ones that we are trying to help.”
Williams is sad to admit that she is putting Luke’s name on the list for an inquiry-based Charter school that is not in her neighborhood. “I’m going to leave it to chance,” she says, though the choice troubles her deeply. “If we get into the charter school, we’ll go. If we don’t, I’ll be in that classroom every day next year, trying to make it work.”
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