As if student inequality, a creativity-killing atmosphere, and lack of resources wasn’t enough, America’s schools are also threatened by a host of terrible policies. Individual policy choices, which seem good at the time, are adding up to a collective tragedy of massive proportions.
Drill or Kill
The (poorly-named) No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) caused more damage to America’s schools than any other other law in the last 30 years. NCLB forced schools to administer an ungodly number of standardized tests. It resulted in school subjects became dumbed down to “teach to the test,” a massive number of good teachers quitting their jobs, and made America’s schools more boring, oppressive, dull, and hated by its own students than ever before. And you’d hate school if your entire self-worth was reduced to a number!
Classism, and the School-to-Prison Pipeline
Rather than getting students the help they need and teachers the training they need, some schools have responded to bored disengaged students by making schools more strict than ever before. But less enjoyable schools do not promote learning. When police rather than caring teachers respond to minor problems within the school, poor kids who might need extra mentorship and guidance don’t get it. Instead, they are more likely to get in trouble with the law at an early age, and get labeled as “trouble-makers,” and disengage.
Eroding School Democracy
Some areas (including several large cities like New York and Washington) have responded to their school’s problems by destroying school democracy – taking power away from elected school boards or teachers and giving power to dictatorial superintendents. An undemocratic school system poisons the organizational atmosphere and alienates parents, teachers, and students – all the people the school system is supposed to help.
I learned personally this growing up around Washington DC, when a terrible superintendent by the name of Michelle Rhee was put in charge of the city’s schools. Woodrow Wilson High School (where I took my SAT) did not have functioning air conditioning, but somehow Rhee always had money to spare for metal detectors and her own generous salary. Rhee’s autocratic rule managed to somehow make DC’s already awful school system even worse. Eventually, the students had enough, an decided to go on strike. Mayor Adrian Fenty (who’d appointed Rhee) lost reelection soon afterwards, and Rhee was fired.
Raising Standards the Wrong Way
Most American schools today are trying to raise the standards of what we’re teaching our kids. Part of this is necessity: Today’s modern economy needs people with a wider set of skills than before. But with schools failing so many of its most vulnerable kids, many students are entering higher grades without a firm enough foundation to learn the more complex things they need to learn. The end result? A national cheating epidemic, and complex subjects being dumbed down so much that deep thinking is no longer thought.
What does this all mean?