USA Falls in Olympics Standings: Legislators Pass the No Child Left Unfit Law

Olympic symbol

Rankings in the International Olympics indicate how great and powerful a nation is. The outcome shows that the USA is losing its premier position. Legislators in Washington acted in a bipartisan way to pass the No Child Left Unfit Law. This requires all students to take physical education every single school day from 6th through twelfth grade. They are further required to pass standardized skills tests at each grade level, including swimming, tennis, soccer, skiing, ice skating, hockey, badminton and gymnastics, which were chosen as the most important Olympic sports. Every student must develop a minimum level of proficiency in each of these sports in order to graduate from high school.

A few objections were raised. What about the students who don’t have access to swimming pools, ice rinks or ski slopes? The government will just have to pay big business to build these in our impoverished cities and towns and in the south. What about students with disabilities? Depending on the disability, the school will need to document it and provide a list of related skills that the student is capable of mastering.
All objections were dismissed when Michelle Obama said this legislation would definitely help to ward off obesity and make kids get in shape.

No one asked about the gym class klutz. We’ve all known these kids; they trip over their own two feet, they have no visible or medical disability, but seem to have been born clumsy. No amount of practice seems to help them hit a tennis ball or keep their balance in any sport. Should these kids be denied a high school diploma or will they drop out, knowing they haven’t a prayer of meeting this requirement?

This legislation is hypothetical, but think about the legislation that does exist: students are required to demonstrate proficiency in mathematics, beginning at early grade levels because the USA is not a top-performing country in math and science tests. We claim that standardized tests will move our country toward more highly skilled math and science professionals. This, in turn, will gain world dominance in new technologies for the USA. How many years must we perpetrate this fallacy before we realize that education is not a factory where all products must come out the same?


Will Rating Teachers Really Improve our Schools?

The Boston Globe published an opinion article* that decries the “disconnect between Boston’s teacher ratings and how the schools are performing”. The author, Lawrence Harmon, asks “why only about a third of Boston’s third graders in district schools read at an advanced or proficient level?” …if only 5.8 of Boston teachers need improvement and just 1.2 percent are unsatisfactory. He implies that teacher ratings are grossly inflated. Yet, there is no consideration for exactly what these numbers measure.

To suggest that teacher ratings should correlate to how schools perform is a huge oversimplification. Standardized test scores are not normalized for effects of poverty, parental education, first language, disability, transience, class size, availability of educational materials, etc. We have already done a huge amount of harm to our students and our schools with data that labels them under-performing. Our public schools are actually improving and the majority of teachers are very dedicated, and take responsibility for student learning. No one should give media attention to our public schools until they have read the book Reign of Error by the noted Columbia University professor, Diane Ravitch.

Our public schools and teachers have been degraded and demoralized using standardized test data. Granted, there are a small percentage of incompetent employees in all organizations, public and private. Schools are no different, so why do we single out the teaching profession? No one has defined what truly makes a good school or a good teacher. Pompous policy makers, data crunchers and think tanks ignore the true purpose of education: to build on what students know with instruction that is relevant to their lives in order to prepare them for successful futures. Standardized test scores do not reflect the quality of schools in the context of their true purpose. Similarly, teacher rating systems do not attempt to measure the most important component of good teaching. As evidenced by the students themselves in a video on the state’s web site, this is ability to motivate, interact, relate and care about their students.  Student Video

Publicly rating teachers, professionals (with as much college education as attorneys), is truly demeaning. To claim that the variables that impact student performance are excuses is ridiculous. Mr. Harmon states that “great urban police departments…take responsibility for the crime rate…” Yet, we wouldn’t dream of evaluating police departments and officers based on a comparison with the average crime rates for the entire state. This makes about as much sense as evaluating public defenders on the percentage of guilty clients they are assigned, or doctors based on the percentage of their patients who die.

* Boston Teacher Ratings Don’t Add Up by Lawrence Harmon,  The Boston Globe, November 30, 2013.