Thursday, August 6, 2009

Data Worship

I read an interesting article today in Language Arts, which is the journal of the elementary section of the National Council of Teachers of English. In it, author Susan Ohanian describes how No Child Left Behind and its propaganda have left a path of destruction throughout our education system. Having left teaching before NCLB was in place, I was interested in reading about the ramifications of this plan, which actually describes itself in its opening page, "An Act to close the achievement gap with accountability, flexibility, and choice, [emphasis mine] so that no child is left behind." (

It seems like articles are popping up everywhere about a utopia that allows teachers to use data for every single movement they make in the classroom. (As if they had time to sit in front of a computer and review childrens' scores from the moment they entered school until the present and compare them to the state standards in order to properly plan the next day's lessons.) To that, Ohanian echos researcher Gerald Bracey's comment: "There is a growing technology of testing that permits us now to do in nanoseconds things that we shouldn't be doing at all."

Teachers are now basically required to teach to the tests in order to try to raise scores. As a step mom of reluctant students, I can tell you that forcing them to sit all day while you drill and kill them is not exactly motivating. I was talking to a teacher friend of mine recently, and she told me that last year they didn't even open their social studies or science books. "All we did was math and language arts, since that's what they test on." Some schools are even eliminating recess in order to have more time to focus on preparing for tests.

Not only is the situation dreary for the students, Ohanian also describes how teachers are having to put aside their professional integrity in order to comply with NCLB. Since they have no protection from their unions or professional organizations, they can't afford to deviate from the prescribed methodology.

An Education professor at Arizona State University who was interviewed on C-Span actually insisted that when teachers offer up anecdotes or personal stories that they should call them data. Teachers are told to read from scripts only instead of bringing in books from the outside (and might I add, real) world. I imagine that pretty soon they'll even have to give up talking to the kids about anything other than what is specifically on the test.

It appears that educators can't even ask for federal grants without sounding like they're appealing to Big Brother:
...screening, progress monitoring and outcomes assessments will be prescribed for all Reading First schools. Such assessments must be uniform in order to ensure that students are appropriately identified for extra help and that... programs are achieving desired results.
Doesn't that sound robotic? Who knows, maybe that's NCLB's ulterior motive: eventually replace all teachers with computers.

And to think I was actually considering going back to teaching.

Ohanian's asks teachers to return to their professional roots, to continue to stand up for the freedom to teach to the students themselves rather than to tests. She quotes Dr. Richard Allington, a professor of Education at the University of Tennessee, when he spoke at the NCTE Annual Conference in 2006. He described a strategy of resistance to the current practice, wherein teachers examine the code of ethics for their state and then teach in the best way they know how. If asked to stop, they should say, "Please put in writing that you want me to violate the state code of professional ethics."

Sounds good to me.

1 comment:

Crayl said...


One more reason.