Monday, November 7, 2016

Poor Elijah’s Almanack: The Ministry of Truth ESSA vs NCLB | VTDigger

Poor Elijah’s Almanack: The Ministry of Truth | VTDigger:


Editor’s note: This commentary is by Peter Berger, an English teacher at Weathersfield School, who writes “Poor Elijah’s Almanack.” The column appears in several publications, including the Times Argus, the Rutland Herald and the Stowe Reporter.
In George Orwell’s “1984,” Winston Smith works for the Ministry of Truth. His job is to rewrite history so it conforms to Big Brother’s ever-changing official version of the past. That way nobody remembers what really happened, and Big Brother’s latest pronouncements make sense, at least until the pronouncements change again, at which time Winston has to change history again.

Winston has a fulltime job.
So do the many Winstons in the education world. Like Winston, reformers constantly need to edit contradictions between public education’s past as it really happened and public education’s future as reformers plan to reconstruct it, at least as they plan to reconstruct it today.
These plans for the future are allegedly based on lessons reformers have learned from the past. Inconveniently, the actual past chronicles modern school reform’s long series of failures, follies, and bankrupt initiatives that have consistently defied common sense and persisted in the face of what should have been overwhelming evidence.
For example, when the education world finally rejected the whole language method of reading instruction after it had spawned a generation of illiteracy, the president of the National Council of Teachers of English steadfastly insisted that despite the evidence, her organization was “still embracing” whole language because “once you get to know” it, you “believe in it.”
Other times, though, rather than explicitly defying the past, reformers prefer to rewrite it. Consider these examples drawn from a recent issue of NEA Today where advocates have reimagined history to promote their recycled reforms.
Now that No Child Left Behind has taken its rightful place on the ash heap of discredited education reforms, education’s experts are vocal and united in their condemnation of NCLB’s decade of “unrealistic proficiency” mandates. Of course, they were just as vocal and united in their support of those proficiency mandates right up to the moment they changed their minds. Now the same experts are vocal and united in their support for the Every Student Succeeds Act, which bears an equally unrealistic title, imposes equally unrealistic expectations, and will enjoy experts’ full-throated support until the day it doesn’t, at which time they’ll again forget they supported it.
NCLB identified “core academic subjects” as public education’s top priority, with particular emphasis on reading, writing and mathematics. The law’s “rigid testing regimen” determined a school’s success based on its students’ language arts and math scores. This “narrow” assessment focus led to a consequent narrowing of instructional focus, especially at the elementary level, with subjects like social studies “squeezed out” as districts revamped their curricula and reallocated class time in an effort to avoid NCLB’s sanctions.
The arts have a rightful place in public education, but they don’t rank as equals with reading and writing as reasons we established and pay for public schools.

Advocates celebrate the Every Student Succeeds Act’s accent on a “well-rounded education,” in contrast to NCLB’s concentration on “core academic subjects.” Proponents contend that ESSA will foster a “broader curriculum,” a renewed emphasis on “subjects like science and social studies,” and a school day that doesn’t crowd out physical education, music, and the arts.
So far, so good. It sounds at first as if maybe the experts Poor Elijah’s Almanack: The Ministry of Truth | VTDigger:

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