Friday, February 19, 2010

NCLB Should Be Repealed, Not Revamped

The No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), signed into law by Bush in 2002, relied on financial coercion to improve state education standards and school district performance, with a focus on reading and math. This federal mandate, oddly supported by Republican lawmakers despite its obvious violation of limited government principles and states’ rights, was unnecessary and, according to some, unconstitutional.

Eight years later, the Obama administration wants to rewrite the act and pass a new law that will increase Washington’s role in the public school system and empower federal officials to address its perceived problems.

The success of private and charter schools is proof that the problem in education is the scope of government involvement itself, not the inadequacies of superintendents, principals, or teachers, as federal lawmakers would have us believe. American public schools are staffed by highly qualified individuals, many holding master’s degrees and Ph.D.’s, who know exactly what they’re doing. Their biggest obstacle to effective teaching is not lack of funding, but nose-poking bureaucrats whose educational philosophies are faulty at best, and more often intentionally injurious.

Washington has trouble enough running itself. Spending is out of control, a mountain of debt is piling up, and a majority of Congress seems not to understand the clear provisions of the Constitution regarding its own role in the nation’s affairs. How can we allow further intervention into a system that is deteriorating precisely because of said intervention? How, in good conscience, can we trust incompetent politicians to establish sound educational policies for our children?

Among the potential changes to NCLB proposed in Obama’s budget are increased teacher accountability standards, a competitive grant program for teacher recruitment and retention, competitive federal funding that would reward successful schools, and of course, tougher academic standards. The last is a vague goal voiced by every administration, while successful schools logically do not need federal “assistance.” That leaves the first two, which contradict one another.

A teacher’s job is to present information. Most students choose to learn the information, but some refuse. They attend classes because they are legally required to do so, but trudge through the system with poor grades until they are old enough to drop out. Assuming that an educator is qualified and teaches the established curriculum, why should he or she be reprimanded, or even punished financially, for the test scores of an apathetic pupil? Not only would this release students from taking personal responsibility and teach them to blame others for their own failures, it would also repel potential recruits.

What job-seeking teacher, perhaps fresh out of graduate school, would be attracted by the prospect of being held accountable for factors beyond his or her control, like student apathy or poorly devised curricula? Many might choose to work at a private school, gladly accepting a lesser salary to sidestep the bureaucratic hassle. The best way for lawmakers to assist in recruiting and retaining teachers is to get out of the classroom, and at any rate, district and state hiring practices should not be subject to federal oversight.

Obama is correct to revamp NCLB, but is mistaken about the proper action to take. Rather than use it as a foundation upon which to build an even more powerful and intrusive Department of Education, lawmakers would do better to simply repeal NCLB, pass the education issue back to the levels of government to which it belongs, and focus their attention on problems that the Constitution does authorize them to solve.

Congress has a recession, debt crisis, and ongoing war to deal with. Isn’t that enough without tackling education?


School accused of spying on students at home

Many American schools really seem to think they own the kids

A US high school has been accused of spying on students at home through webcams in their laptops. A lawsuit filed against the Lower Merion School District in Philadelphia claims laptop computers issued to students by the school came with remotely-activated webcams which it used to monitor their activities at home. The suit also alleges the school kept its ability to activate the cameras secret from students and parents when the laptops were issued.

The surveillance allegedly came to light after Harrington High School assistant principal Lindy Matsko reprimanded a student for "improper behaviour in his home". "Cited as evidence was a photograph from the webcam embedded in minor plaintiff's personal laptop issued by the school district," the suit says. The boy's father then confronted Ms Matsko about the photograph and was told about the school's ability to turn the webcams on remotely, it claims.

The suit was filed on behalf of the student and his family as well as all other students and families who were affected. The Lower Merion district includes two schools with an estimated 1800 students.

It is alleged the school district, its board of directors and its superintendent violated several laws including the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act and the Civil Rights Act.


Shortchanging Our Students

Today’s college seniors lack basic knowledge of American history and institutions

Even in the depths of the Great Depression, with the economy bottomed out, Americans showed they could still think big. In just over a year, construction crews built a landmark that still stands proud, one recognized worldwide as a symbol of our country: the Empire State Building.

I recently visited the building to speak to an enthusiastic group of King’s College students about the need to return to the principles of our Founding Fathers. Unfortunately, as a new study shows, many students simply aren’t learning what makes America unique. In fact, what they are learning all too often helps divide rather than unite Americans. This study, titled “The Shaping of the American Mind,” is the latest in an annual series from the Intercollegiate Studies Institute (, where I’m proud to serve as a trustee.

There’s no mystery as to why today’s college seniors lack basic knowledge of American history and institutions. Previous ISI reports revealed that schools of higher learning aren’t teaching these principles. At some elite universities the seniors know less than the freshmen. The reports also show that Americans agree colleges should teach students about our shared history and civic principles.

But does knowing the fundamental principles of “the American experiment” influence the beliefs of our citizens? That’s what this year’s report aimed to find out. ISI researchers directed 33 questions to a representative sample of roughly 2,500 Americans. Many questions were taken from U.S. naturalization exams and high-school achievement tests. The report reached some important conclusions.

For example, even though colleges aren’t teaching civic knowledge, it can be learned elsewhere: through religious institutions, patriotic organizations and books such as “We Still Hold These Truths,” by Matthew Spalding of The Heritage Foundation.

And that leads to the report’s second finding. Civic knowledge, however learned, has a broader and more diverse influence on Americans’ thinking than college does. To cite one example, the report found that having more civic knowledge makes a person “more likely to agree that prosperity depends on entrepreneurs and free markets; but less likely to agree that the free market brings about full employment.” In other words, civic knowledge seems to make one more pragmatic but not more dogmatic. Those are traits Americans will need if we’re to pass along a better world to coming generations.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the report concluded that additional civic knowledge increases a person’s belief in American ideals and institutions.

The ISI survey showed that, overall, “Sixty-three percent of Americans disagree that America corrupts otherwise good people, 61 percent of Americans disagree that America’s Founding documents are obsolete and 56 percent of Americans agree that prosperity depends upon entrepreneurs and free markets.”

It further found that people with greater civic knowledge are less likely to believe that America corrupts otherwise good people, less likely to believe that the Founding documents are irrelevant, and more likely to believe that the free enterprise system works.

As our economy works to recover from another meltdown, we need to keep thinking big. We need to help more Americans learn the basic principles of civil society. The way forward is in understanding our great shared history.

When the Empire State Building opened, former New York Gov. Al Smith said it was “built by the brains, the brawn, the ingenuity and the muscle of mankind.” The same applies to the United States. Let’s make sure we pass the very concept of American greatness down to the next generation.


No comments: