Baseball Crank
Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
August 28, 2007
POLITICS: Hiding the Evidence

I know it's sort of unfair to pick on John Edwards as if he was a serious candidate for president, but this latest cracked me up:

Edwards criticized . . . the 5-year-old [No Child Left Behind] law, calling it a bad measure of how much children are learning. Children don't learn anything from taking tests, like those mandated by the law, he said.

"I borrowed this line from a friend of mine who's from the South, but the way he says it is, 'a hog doesn't get fatter by weighing it,' '' Edwards said.

First of all, that's just not true: the fact of studying for and taking tests does make you remember the subject tested, or at least remember it better, for many of the same reasons why you learn, say, basketball better when you stop doing dribbling drills and actually play in games. Anybody who has been through years of school can tell you that.

More to the point: does Edwards also propose to stop measuring the size of the budget deficit? The number of people killed by AIDS, handgun murders, or killed in war? To pick a more provocative example, does he propose to stop measuring the racial makeup of the federal workforce? Of course he doesn't. Any serious adult knows that there are very few things you can accomplish with any confidence if you stop measuring your progress. In fact, I'd wager that not too many farmers would take a hog to a market or slaughterhouse to sell without ever having weighed the thing.

Sure, there are criticisms to be made of having the federal government decide what tests to use, but the idea that testing key yardsticks of basic learning is somehow a bad thing can only be believed by people with a vested interest in not knowing the answers.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 8:45 AM | Politics 2008 | Comments (9) | TrackBack (0)

The bottom line is you have to have a standard yardstick before you can tell whether you have three feet or just thirty three inches.

Posted by: maddirishman at August 28, 2007 10:43 AM

Actually if you talk to teachers across the board they mostly hate NCLB Law. One of the main reasons the NCLB is loathed by most teachers is most school systems spend the entire school year teaching the test. What are the end results of teaching the test the kids have great memories and learned ferret out all the test taking tricks. But they fail at basic logic and independent reasoning. Your analogies fail to point the fundamental flaws in the NCLB law and using testing as a standard measure of learning.

Posted by: javaman at August 28, 2007 10:46 AM

School systems that spend the whole school year haivng the students prep for the NCLB tests is just the sort of behaviour that has made our public schools so bad. The issue is not the NCLB, rather it is the school adminsitrators approach. They prefer no measures so they can keep doing what they always done so poorly.

Posted by: Lee at August 28, 2007 12:10 PM

Teaching only test-taking tricks is like the old saw about how if you told Soviet businesses to make 1,000 shoes you would get 1,000 tiny left shoes (easier than making pairs) and if you asked for 1,000 pounds of shoes you'd get one 1,000 lb. shoe. The better solution is a competitive market, but until we have that, diagnostic tests at least measure something. Kids still need basic literacy to pass any test.

Posted by: The Crank at August 28, 2007 12:23 PM

The teachers in our district complain vehemently about the NLCB act and the NYS tests. I think you will find that most school districts that are affluent dislike both far more. I know that Scarsdale (among the most affluent districts in the US) were considering having their kids boycott the NYS ELA and other standardized tests).

The tests themselves are a lot more difficult than the old ones (for those who don't know, they started in New York State around 1999. However, the teachers teach the test, and how to take it, until they are done. In poor districts, my guess is teaching the test is all the learning they get.

The real issue? Teachers are important, but not the most important one. Parents are. Not just to teach "values." That's a bullshit dump for people who think schools exist to babysit. The old line about parochial schools with large classes teach better is true. The kids are there because parents want a better education, and generally within a value setting they prefer. Without a doubt, with parents who care education, the kids will do fine with 50 in a class. In a poor district, 4 won't help. A friend teaches in one: it's not that parents don't care--parents don't exist. They are killed, missing, gone, long gone--or in another country, and the kids are here illegally.

Posted by: Daryl Rosenblatt at August 28, 2007 12:37 PM

Diagnostic testing works, but when it becomes the entire focus of the learning process it is an absolute failure. The balance between the learning process and testing has been broken by NCLB. The law has placed all the learning eggs in one basket.
If you spend more time on teaching the right answer you end up with great test scores but bad students. When students are taught reasoning and the process to get the right answer they will better learners. A good teacher always teaches the process to get the answer not tricks and short cuts. Using excessive testing as a measure for measuring the educational process is blind to the actual learning process and fails to equip children with the necessary life skills to be competitive in the future.

Posted by: javaman at August 28, 2007 12:42 PM


there is no doubt that NCLB is far from ideal. the only question is it better than what we had before (or would have in its absence).
while teaching to the test is not the best way for children to learn, and teaching critical reasoning is a better way for the kids to get ahead, who seriously thinks that the public school system in the aggregate was doing a good job in teaching thinking skills, as opposed to just sheparding kids through twelve years of school?

Posted by: baliman at August 28, 2007 1:08 PM

Not to nitpick at NCLB but it is easier to hide and shepard kids along through 12 years of school than it ever was (see city of Houston). NCLB is a way for politicians and administrators to parade results. There is no magic bullet besides parental and community involvement to aid schools in the education process. In all the other countries that are passing the US in education they use the system we use to employ. Repetition and teaching fundamentals.

Posted by: javaman at August 28, 2007 1:19 PM

I do not know how old most of you are, but I am fairly young and freshly remember standardized tests from a few years back. I can assure you that if a school teaches efficiently, age-appropriate material every step of the way, it will take about 5 minutes to prepare for any standardized test no matter how "unique" you may think it is.

My classes were never "coached" or "practiced" or really anything outside of the week before the tests which were at the end of the year and my school (a small public school in rural Missouri, the only one in the county in fact) often finished in the top 10% of all schools in the state. I would not say that we were over funded or under funded. The key to the whole thing is having good teachers and teaching K-12. If a kid is 3 years behind developmentally, then no amount of coaching or practicing is going to catch him up in time for a standardized test.

I definitely agree that you can herd a kid through a diploma with great ease. All you need is a warm body and an ounce of effort to turn in homework and fill out tests. Many teachers pass students simply so they do not have to see them again (every student had the same teachers in my school).

I do not buy the "it is up to the parents" bit. What the heck are we paying teachers and administrators for? Imagine a child being raised by a single mother who works 2 jobs to pay the bills, never made it past 8th grade herself and does not have time or energy to help the child learn and enjoy learning. Now imagine the child of two PhDs who retired after winning the lottery and spend infinite time and energy helping the child "get ahead". It is up to the schools to provide good an functional education to both students and never blame one parent or praise others for what they do outside the 7.5 hours they have with the kids. If you cannot teach a child in 7.5 hours, you need to reevaluate your techniques and your abilities.

My mother was a teacher and deals with NCLB and is quite fine with it. I rarely spoke with her about my classes or subjects because 7.5 hours at school and an hour on homework was all I could handle. My parents did almost nothing to supplement my material education. They did instill ethics, morals, self-reliance and discipline in me, however. I loved standardized tests and still do today, college was some of the best 3.5 years of my life.

Posted by: Sherwood at August 28, 2007 5:22 PM
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