Basic training

I got a little heated at an MPS school board meeting this week. The board, of which I am a member, was gathered to hear State Superintendent Libby Burmaster inform us about the intervention strategies that the state will be using on MPS now that we have been designated a District Identified for Improvement (or, a DIFI — say it like “die-fie” if you want to sound fluent in No Child Left Behindism).

The intervention strategies are tolerable (some state-paid monitors, a mandate for designated amounts of reading and math instruction, plus a few other bells and whistles) and I know that Supt. Burmaster is a strong advocate for the children in MPS, but I couldn’t help snapping on NCLB, the law that produced all this nanny-ness.

We in the public schools world have been shuffling through the red-tape distractions and jumping through the mindless hoops of NCLB for six years now, seeing how it works for kids or doesn’t. The law is up for reauthorization in Congress and I thought for sure that key congressional leaders would, at minimum, object to the shaky math used to set performance goals that increasingly become more statistically impossible to reach by the 2014 deadline set in the original law.

But no. There’s no leadership in Congress against NCLB, which only meaningfully applies, by the way, to low-income districts with diverse populations. White, middle- and upper-class districts are largely off the hook. If you’re a district with immigrant children, with poor children, with children with a lot of special needs, you will become a DIFI. If not today, then soon.

NCLB is a racist, classist law designed to keep poor children’s noses to the basic-skills grindstone (Reading! Math! Reading! Math!) while preventing their teachers from helping them develop critical reasoning skills like logic, statistics, media literacy and the scientific method; or a sense of history and the citizenship skills needed for resistance against a repressive regime. Heaven forbid that we be allowed to support children’s development into well-rounded participants in a free society!

MPS graduation rates are way up. A new focus on high-quality instruction, organized around a research-based plan called The Characteristics of the High-Performing Urban Classroom, and new accountability rubrics for school principals are changing the level of expectation in the district. We’re changing, but it’s not thanks to NCLB.

On a related matter, the Army announced this week that it was increasing the basic training program from 9 to 10 weeks at all five of its basic training bases. Apparently, the Army – another public system populated mainly by low-income and racial minority people – needs more time to reinforce submission and mindlessness there, too.

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