Who was left behind?

Alphabet Soup

As some may be aware, I have a Freshman in high school, and she is taking multiple SAT pre-tests throughout the year. The PSAT/NMSQT is the Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test. The PSAT is a primer for the SAT and even the ACT. Traditionally this test is for juniors in high school, but now it is being administered to incoming freshmen. My question is, why are we pushing this pre-test two years earlier?

To be fair, I'm not too fond of standardized testing. Furthermore, I know that this singular form of testing does not provide an accurate snapshot of an individual's learning capacity or knowledge. How do I know this? I did the research, and no pre-test was required.

No Child Left Behind (NCLB) was the dream of George W. Bush and became a U.S. Act of Congress that reauthorized the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (1965); 

it included Title I provisions applying to disadvantaged students. As a result, the Act supported standards-based education reform based on the premise that setting high standards and establishing measurable goals could improve individual educational outcomes. The Act required states to develop assessments in basic skills. In order to receive federal school funding, states had to give these assessments to all students at select grade levels.  

It's A-mazing 

I want to pause here and reiterate this fact. If a state school wanted to receive money from the federal government, it needed all the testing results from an approved standard assessment test that the individual state developed. 

Subsequently, the entire education system was rebuilt so schools could get funding for teachers, janitors, utilities, and everything else one needs to open and run a school.

Slow Boil

Was George W. Bush the villain here? The bill faced challenges from Democrats and Republicans, but it passed in both chambers of the legislature with significant bipartisan support. Nevertheless, by 2015, bipartisan criticism had accumulated so much that a bipartisan Congress stripped away the national features of No Child Left Behind. Its replacement, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), turned the remnants over to the states. Yes, The law replaced its predecessor, the NCLB, but left in the requirement of standardized testing for third to eighth grade. Yet, it shifts the law's federal accountability provisions onto the states. 

Before I get into the current state of ESSA, I want to look back at how we took an education system that had produced well-adjusted critical thinkers into number two pencil, ovall filling zombies. 

Prior to the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) was signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1965. The primary goal of this plan was to support low-income students with all the tools and educational techniques of upper-income districts. As you can imagine, many individuals and communities did not want their tax dollars going to other communities' needs. In other words, the Act repeatedly fell short of meeting the law's goal of providing full educational opportunities to all students. 

What is our Standard? 

Following in the footsteps of Rockefeller's AMA creation plan, which paid for the Flexner Report, the Regan administration paid for a report entitled A Nation At Risk, written by President Ronald Reagan's National Commission on Excellence in Education. This singular (in-house written) report on the state of our children's decline in testing scores, and the risk to, you guessed it, our national security opened the door for a new way of educating our children.       

The new political push centered on educational reforms emphasizing standardized testing and other accountability measures. As the latest election cycle was forming for the 2000 Presidential election, G. W. Bush focused on considerable campaign promises related to bipartisan education reform. The focus was the health and welfare of our nation's education system and competition with Asian countries.  

Moreover, after World War II, international organizations such as the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (formed by Great Britain and the United States), the World Bank (The United States is the largest shareholder of the World Bank Group today), and the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (Founded in 1947 and based a report from U.S. Secretary of State George C. Marshall, see the Marshall plan) devoted their attention to global educational development. From the 1960s onward, these organizations increasingly focused on learning outcomes and evaluation procedures, including evaluating education systems against defined performance standards. The 2001 NCLB Act was part of this global movement toward greater accountability in education.   


Let's look at the words accountability and performance. Anyone who works in a large corporate structure will no doubt understand these terms as they have to undergo quarterly reviews (grades) that show their productivity (performance) and the net results of their work product (accountability). It is not a stretch to understand that our children now have a precise roadmap to follow and provide large organizations with predictable work efforts.   

Let's look at the performance and accountability of the education Acts our government has told us works and that we must follow. According to Paul E. Peterson, a professor of government at Harvard University, Americans who went to school during the 1960s ranked a respectable 3rd globally; those schooled in the 1970s ranked 5th. However, by the 1980s and 1990s, students ranked 14th. In short, the literacy survey records a simple, steady progression downward.

Fear, Not

For example, look at the average SAT scores between 1967 and 2001. Between 1967 and 1982, students' combined math and verbal scores fell by nearly 30 percent of a standard deviation, a troubling statistic that precipitated the writing of A Nation at Risk. Scores began to rise again in 1982, but the gains were modest: only about 15 percent of a standard deviation by 1999, or less than 1 percent per year, leaving the country well below its standing in 1967. My grade, or "evaluation," is F.  

Furthermore, I'd like to focus separately on the math and verbal skills trends. The difference is striking. The decline in math was never as steep, just 20 percent of a standard deviation. And by 2001, math scores were back to their 1967 levels. Meanwhile, average verbal scores remain an enormous 35 percent of a standard deviation below their 1967 levels. My grade, or "evaluation," for math is incomplete—the grade for verbal scores is F.

We're all failing...

In my summation, the U.S. government and the undereducated electorate (voters) have continued to force teachers to focus on preparing students to learn how to take standardized testing. According to the Pew Research study, the United States ranks 24th in Science and Reading. Furthermore, the U.S. ranks 39th in Math against the rest of the world's countries. I was taught math in the 70s and 80s, but even I can tell that NCLB and the current ESSA do not add up to a "smarter" child. If accountability and performance are the standards of passing or failing, the result is clear; the U.S. education system has failed. 

While conducting my research, I found one area where the U.S. ranked #1 overall. I discovered information from the International Centre for Prison Studies that there are 2,228,424 prisoners in the United States. As a result, this makes the United States rank first in that category. Who represents the second-highest number of prisoners? China, at 1,701,344.   

We can Choose

One last thought. If we are all aware of how the education system is not working, why are we still supporting it? Our teachers, students, and families' well-being are at risk, and no report card is worth that. We have choices like a charter, magnet, inter/intra district, and home schools.  If enough families stand up and demand a more robust learning environment (with real food), we can help our children become critical thinkers and not order-takers.


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