Less teaching, more testing

Rhetoric to the rescue: Underfunded schools to benefit from federal increase in lip service.

Published August 11, 2003 7:30PM (EDT)

In a move to accelerate compliance with the sweeping new Education Act, "No School Budget Left for the Mind," and reduce funding that might be more effectively wasted elsewhere, teachers across the country have agreed to stop acting as educators, the White House announced on Friday.

According to a spokesperson for the U.S. Department of Education, the Cessation of Teaching Agreement will have no noticeable adverse effects on the nation's "gazillion or so states, while creating more time to implement one-size-fits-all solutions. It also validates our growing belief that teachers have no right to interfere with the business and politics of education."

Under the new plan, teachers will still receive sufficient wages to purchase some of their own classroom supplies, including one pack of No. 2 pencils and a Hello Kitty decal. In exchange, teachers must agree to confine their meddling to "the three R's": rigid, rigorous and rabid testing.

"We certainly have no wish to see teachers criminalized for their previous experimentation with individual-based teaching," said one White House source. "We realize that their failure to refrain from teaching in the past was based on a misinterpretation of the President's educational philosophy. For example, many teachers, parents, and even people who matter believe that, in referring to himself as 'the Education President,' George W. Bush was affirming some sort of commitment, but as subsequent events have shown, this was clearly not the case. In fact, the President was, like any good entrepreneur, claiming ownership, just as he did when he reportedly increased his share of the Texas Rangers baseball team from 2 percent to 12 percent without investing any additional capital."

Under the federally approved Business Ownership Model, accountability shall rest solely with employees and consumers, in this case "teachers slash testers" and "students slash innocent victims," says the White House. All others will fall under the Enron Umbrella safeguard, which allows for people charged with protecting public resources or the common good to set in motion disastrous policies and then retire to a gated community.

To show that it really means business, Washington has threatened to withhold millions of dollars in administrative funds to any states that fail to pass accountability legislation that is both inhumanly stringent and impossible to interpret. "If states are unwilling to jump through a few hundred hoops, develop Byzantine procedures for bogging down their own efforts, and spend inordinate amounts of time, energy and resources supplying more and more information to the Education Department in exchange for a miserly share of what is, in essence, the taxpayers' own money, then there's just no pleasing them," said one government source.

By contrast, the transition to full-time testing will make teachers' work into child's play, which the Department of Education has re-defined as "any activity that is evocative of scenes from Bleak House and Oliver Twist." This is expected to include the reinstatement of such breakthrough learning methods as rote memorization, fill-in-the-blank drills, and diagramming the sentence, "Is our children learning?" after writing it on the chalkboard 900 times, or once for each day the current administration has broken its promises.

Proponents of the "All Testing All the Time" provision believe that keeping teachers too busy to actually teach will better enable them to prove that they are, as the law now demands, "highly qualified teachers." Proponents also believe that allocating $8 billion less than you authorize, while imposing additional mandates and gutting support for Head Start, AmeriCorps, Pell grants and special education is "just good math. After all, if a school is struggling, what better way to ensure success than to cut federal spending on education, allow cash-strapped states to cut what little is left, force schools to lay off teachers, stop buying books, cancel classes, shorten the school year, and abandon after-school programs -- and then insist, in the 'Adequate Yearly Progress' provision, that all children learn the same information at the same rate?"

As an example of the new math, some schools in Ohio, where President Bush signed the No Child Left Behind Act, may add the following word problem to their battery of annual tests: "If Ohio faces a $720 million deficit, and the governor cuts $99.9 million from the education budget on top of $50 million in previous cuts, and the state spends more than $16 million in a single year just trying to implement the Ohio Graduation Test, how many schools will be left standing in June of 2004?"

More conservative supporters of underfunded federal mandates claim that the new education standards can be met even more affordably. Citing presidential models, conservatives recommend replacing textbooks, which many states can no longer afford, with Teleprompters that display complex ideas as short, monosyllabic slogans. Some schools may rely on daily briefings by smart people, while still others could limit educational materials to the Literalist-of-the-Month-Club Bible.

Most extracurricular programs would be cut, except for those that meet federal approval, including naptime, T-ball and any play dates that occur on ranches in and around Crawford, Texas. History curricula will become "easy peasy," thanks to a combination of revision and deletion, and other subjects will be renovated according to such criteria as "need to know" and relevance to empty rhetoric.

But consequences for failure to meet the new standards will be harsh. Students who do not make the grade will end up with few prospects in life beyond eating bugs on "Fear Factor" and serving on federal committees. Still, concerns that any child will be left behind are groundless, say supporters. As proof, they point out a little known provision tucked into the new Education Act that gives the military unprecedented access to all high school directories of students. As one supporter said, "We're confident that parents will be a lot less worried about whether Johnny or Janie can read once they understand that Army recruiters can virtually follow their minor children into their own homes and help move them that much closer to Baghdad."

By Joyce McGreevy

Joyce McGreevy is a writer in Portland, Ore.

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