The season finale of HBO's The Wire was last night, and if there is a better indictment of the scam of No Child Left Behind, I haven't seen it.
This season follows a former cop, Prezboluski, as he starts as a middle school teacher in inner city Baltimore. He struggles as a new teacher, and like many new teachers is highly idealistic and tries to do his best for the kids. His main obstacle? The obsession with standardized testing brought on by No Child Left Behind.
Now, standardized testing would be a good tool, but the problem is that it is implemented as a solution in itself, with the idea that just introducing standards will somehow magically fix all the other problem the kids face. These problems, wonderfully demonstrated over the season include absent parents, crappy parents, unstable homes, dangerous neighborhoods, interactions with criminals, and the seductive draw of easy money on the corners selling drugs. The Republican solution? Testing, testing, testing.
Now, I've attacked this method many times as one of the most cynical uses of children for political gain ever invented. Basically, the testing is implemented, and the kids score horribly. The schools aren't prepared for the tests, the kids are unprepared for all the reasons above, and the inevitable result is that the politicians' claims are confirmed. The scores come back and the politicians can point them out as the failures of whatever administration came before them.
The next year of course, the schools teach to the tests, the tests are made easier, and the scoring is adjusted to make the kids appear to have performed better. Then the same politicians can point to the statistics and claim their standardized testing has magically improved the schools, when in reality they've pulled a clever scam at the cost of addressing the real failings in public schools, and the situations that are creating poor performance.
So, back to The Wire, the results have come back after a semester of Mr. Prezbo's teaching, and this interchange is telling:
Mr. Prezboluski: How in the hell did we kick up percentages in math and reading both?
Veteran Teacher: You believe the numbers?
Mr. Prezboluski: 38% proficient, 8% advanced, what?
Veteran Teacher: Proficient means they're at least two grades below their level. Advanced can mean they're at grade level, or a year below. They score them like that and say we're making progress.
The real improvement came with Prezbo making efforts to make a personal difference in the kids lives, helping them one on one, and from another class (demonized by statistics-obsessed administrators) that took the most disruptive kids and tried to prevent school-wide poor performance by segregating them and working on improving their socialization.
I love this show and when each season ends I go into withdrawal until the next great and truthful HBO series starts up. But one thing is clear, when you tell the truth, in fiction or otherwise, it's damning to Republicans and their stupid policies.
Labels: Education, No Child Left Behind, The Wire