Casting for culprits
It would be easy to berate 2nd grade teacher David Keyes for his recent op-ed in the Washington Post (as blogger Kevin Carey did here). He argues that No Child Left Behind "created" a system of educational apartheid whereby wealthy schools teach high-level thinking while needy schools "give poor and minority students an impoverished education that focuses primarily on basic skills." Let's be real: before NCLB, few inner-city schools were utopias of high-level thinking. But while we can dismiss Keyes's argument, we shouldn't dismiss his concerns. If it's true that many high-poverty schools are responding to the law's accountability pressures by taking short cuts and deploying drill-and-kill instructional practices, those who support standards-based reform need to come up with a response. Gadfly thinks higher-quality tests that span more of the "domain" and are harder to "game" would be part of a solution; developing one set of such tests (nationally) would be a lot easier than doing it fifty times over (state-by-state). But changing policy is only half of the answer. Changing hearts and minds is critical, too. Someone should tell David's principal that the surest route to improved test scores isn't drill-til-you-drop; it's an old-fashioned, quality education, replete with a sound mix of basic skills, high-level thinking, and everything in between.
"Classroom Caste System," by David Keyes, Washington Post, April 9, 2007