"Our children are learning that they are valued for their ability to do well on standardized tests -- not for themselves."
Kozol is disheartened by the president’s plans to revamp the NCLB, which he originally promised to dismantle. "It looks as if his fiddling will result in more tests."
By Jennifer Huberdeau | North Adams (Mass.) Transcript
Jonathan Kozol speaks to a gathering of local educators... (Gillian Jones/North Adams Transcript)
Tuesday March 23, 2010 --NORTH ADAMS -- The national No Child Left Behind education reform act, that equates academic achievement with successful scores on standardized tests, should be abandoned according to renowned author and education critic Jonathan Kozol.
"No Child Left Behind is the worst education reform I have ever seen in my life. I think it’s very dangerous and encourages teachers to do nothing but teach to the test," he said Monday, speaking to an intimate gathering of local educators and education students at the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts. "It hasn’t improved scores. After 10 years, it’s still all about the ‘drill and kill.’ It’s taken all the joy out of being a child. Our children are learning that they are valued for their ability to do well on standardized tests -- not for themselves."
Kozol, a former educator and outspoken social activist, will join Lisa Cortes, the executive producer of the Oscar-winning movie "Precious: Based on the novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire" as part of the fourth installment of the college’s Public Policy Lecture series tonight at 7 in the MCLA Church Street Center.
The discussion is aimed at providing insightful commentary on not only the "frank" socio-economic issues -- illiteracy, hopelessness, teen pregnancy and mental, physical and sexual abuse -- raised by the novel and film, but also the support systems that are needed to address these timely problems. It will be moderated by former ABC News journalist Carole Simpson. The event, which is sponsored by the Ruth Proud Charitable Trust, is free and open to the public.
"I’m a real intellectual snob; I don’t read books that make it onto the [New York] Times best seller list because they disappear so fast, but ‘Push’ is one of those books that holds up," Kozol told the gathering. He compared the rudimentary writing of the book’s main character, a 16-year-old pregnant illiterate girl who finds solace in an alternative school program where she learns to read and write, to those of elementary school students in his 2008 book, "Letters to a Young Teacher."
"Precious doesn’t get a teacher like ‘Francesca’ [the name he uses for the elementary school teacher in his book who fights back against NCLB] who wants to listen to her until she is 16. Francesca told her third-grade students ‘this MCAS test doesn’t matter a damn to me.’ We need more mischievous subversives like her in the educational system."
Although Kozol champions Francesca and her unwillingness to "teach to the test," he notes that at the same time she imparted the skills needed to pass it effectively through lesson plans that didn’t rely on phonics books or rubrics.
"She taught them out of books like ‘Goodnight Moon’ and ‘The Very Hungry Caterpillar’ and from their own writing," he said. "When the administration came to monitor her, she was quick and able to say what standard the lesson conformed to. If you’re going to rebel, you have to do it well."
He says it was Francesca who ultimately convinced the late U.S. Sen. Edward Kennedy to withdraw his support of No Child Left Behind, an act he originally sponsored. The late senator promised that "NCLB would not be renewed under his watch," Kozol said.
"No Child Left Behind needs to be abolished," Kozol said. "Poor children and minorities are the ones who pay the highest toll of all. The children of the highest affluence are going to do well anyway -- they have the support systems in place. It’s a Neolithic, unoriginal system that is devised to drill those [poor and minority] children with skills that will make them become part of the American workforce."
He noted that the country’s most exclusive private schools, populated by affluent whites, are not subject to No Child Left Behind.
"Why is that?" he asked. "We need to end this type of accountability. Of course we need to know that our teachers are doing a good job, but there are much better ways to measure it than by keeping our teachers in a state of anxiety and our principals in fear that their school’s annual AYP [annual yearly progress] score won’t be high enough."
An adviser to President Barack Obama during his campaign, Kozol said he is disheartened by the president’s plans to revamp the act, which he originally promised to dismantle.
"It looks as if his fiddling will result in more tests," he said.
"I’m still waiting for my invitation to have dinner at the White House, where I’ll tell him about the funding inequalities between the rich and poor school districts in this county. The inequalities are grotesque. I think the president is very sincere in wanting to do what is best for the children, and I still have faith he will do what is right."
He said poor school districts, located in urban areas with large minority populations and in rural areas with high populations of poor white, often have large class sizes and shabby buildings, which result in high teacher turnover rates and budgets geared toward the purchase of standardized test materials.
"In this state, Holyoke is one of the neediest school districts, with one of the neediest school populations," Kozol said. "The affluent whites have moved on. This city is basically a ghetto. But in this city, the amount spent on students is half as much as what is spent on students in the more affluent Concord, which is populated by the children of the rich, white middle class."