Saturday, August 05, 2006

Education Experts vs. Reality

Education Wonks has done a great job keeping us up to date on statements made by Margaret Spellings, our Secretary of Education. A couple of week ago Wonks had a post that made it clear that she is very serious about the goal of having 100% of our students proficient in math and reading by 2014. She said:

"When I hear people say they don't think it's possible to have every student reading and doing math on grade level, I always wonder... does that mean they're volunteering their child to be left behind? I certainly don't want that for my daughters, and I'm pretty sure most parents agree. I know you do, too.

In public education, it used to be acceptable to let some kids fall through the cracks. If a school wasn't living up to its responsibilities, parents had no other options.

But with No Child Left Behind, President Bush and the Congress led our nation in a commitment to have every child learning on grade level by 2014."
Many of us might think that she certainly couldn't have been including learning disabled kids in that statement, but a Wonks post on Thursday tells us that we better think again:

U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings today announced the new regulations for Part B of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. The final regulations further the president's goal that no child—including each and every one of America's many students with disabilities—is left behind. By aligning the regulations with the No Child Left Behind Act, there is a new focus on ensuring that students with disabilities are held to high expectations.

"Thirty years ago, America's students with disabilities were for the first time assured access to a free and appropriate public education thanks to a new law passed by Congress, now called IDEA," said Spellings. "Yet in those 30 years, too many students with disabilities have faced what President Bush calls 'the soft bigotry of low expectations.' Students with disabilities can meet high standards, as long as we adults have high expectations and hold them to these standards."
On Monday, I had a post about a column that contained so much common sense about what actually goes on in a classroom, that I said that teachers who read it would probably agree that it could only have been written by a teacher. Spellman's comments, on the other hand, could only have been made by someone who has never been one.

One frustrating thing about being in education is that most of the people who are considered experts have never actually done what we do. If someone is considered an expert in the field of medicine, that person has probably been a great doctor. If someone is considered an expert in the field of law, that person has probably been a great lawyer or a judge. Not so in education. If you ever see a panel discussion on TV dealing with education in America, they might have a journalist or two, a university professor, a corporate executive, a labor union leader, a civil rights activist, and possibly a superintendent of a gigantic school district who has rarely if ever been in a classroom during his adult life. And last, but not least, what list of education experts would be complete without a politician or two? No wonder we have so many dumb ideas and policies imposed upon us.

I looked up a bio on Margaret Spellings, and her credentials include being a political advisor to Bush and being a mother. That's all it takes to be the education guru in the United States, and I think it helps to explain the statements she makes. In defending No Child Left Behind, Jay P. Greene (no friend of public education) said this about the mandate that all children have proficient test scores by 2014: "It's a little like requiring states to reduce traffic fatalities to zero--no matter what policy is imposed to get people to drive carefully, there will always be some traffic accidents. However, it is wrong to focus on this long-term mandate simply because it is so outlandish. Policymakers at the state and federal level are all working on the unspoken assumption that when the time comes this requirement will quietly be revised."

Maybe we can get Ms. Spellings to listen to Greene on this one. After all, he's not a teacher, he's a researcher. That must mean he's an expert!


Blogger "Ms. Cornelius" said...

Yes, indeed. Because, after all, everyone's been in a classroom at one point or another, right?

8/07/2006 1:42 PM  
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