Friday, November 26, 2004

Fallujah and No Child Left Behind

It may seem unfair to compare these two, but there is a similarity and it may be informative to do so.

Fallujah: This was an excursion to achieve a purpose. It had clearly become a stronghold of insurgents fighting both the United States occupation and the Iraqi who were collaborating with this occupation. (The wisdom and legality of the occupation have been argued extensively in many forums. I happen to believe it has been both unwise and illegal.)

The purpose of the assault on Fallujah was to clear the city of these insurgents. In the process, the city has been nigh on destroyed and many of its inhabitants either driven out or killed. In addition, a large number of insurgents have been killed (I am not sure that this is, de facto, a desirable thing. Many Iraqi view the insurgency, rather than us, as a liberation force.) This brings the basic question that links Fallujah and NCLB.

Is it not possible that using brute force will only exacerbate a problem rather than solve a problem?

In the case of Fallujah, it is too early to tell, but there is a good chance that the insurgency will have gained support in Iraq and other Islamic countries because of the assault. Rather than being defeated, they are recommitted.

Now, some data on school age children (some of this is from the NCLB website, some from Census Bureau data)

America Population 290 million
~60 million school age students (~20%)
48.2 million public school students in the United States (~80% of school age pop).

As of the 2002-03 school year, there were
14,465 public school districts in the United States.
95,615 public schools (average of 500 students/school)
Elementary 68.7%
Secondary 23.6%
Other 7.6%
Private Schools 27,223
Charter Schools 2,996
1.1 million homeschooled children (1.8%)

The document for NCLB is very interesting. In the introduction, after tossing out some blather about how great the support for education has been it quickly gets to the observation that children who complete public school in the US are not prepared for the modern world. (this is the problem, i.e. insurgents in Fallujah). The solution to this problem is supposedly very simple. You just demand that all children perform (i.e. pass standardized test). In other words, it attacks the problem of the failing American school system with brute force. To be fair, there is also some support for increasing teacher eduction and helping disadvantaged groups.

What is really behind the American child's failure? NCLB does not, as best as I can see, address this question. I doubt seriously if it is something that a school can do that will remedy it. I suspect it is a cultural phenomenon that is a combination of massive material wealth (goodies, clothes, video games, cars, etc.), decreased parental attention (it is hard to help with homework when you are working two jobs), pessimism about the future (we continue to have a poor job market with many of the better jobs going overseas), and lack of incentive for teachers (I know how they feel; its not fun being blamed for things you have no control over.)

The sadness is that NCLB may have the same effect as the attack on Fallujah. The incredible focus on "testing" children now is doing little more than creating high anxiety. I don't think that it is solving the problem.

Furthermore, it shows a mind set in the Bush Administration that eschews complexity. Iraq is a complex society. They are not all bad guys. School is a complex environment. It is doubtful that big league testing will address the problem of our children's failure to learn.

Its going to be a long four years.

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