There’s a good reason why they don’t make movies about quiet, level-headed subordination: people would rather watch a group of oppressed college students stand up to authority and go down fighting in a blaze of rowdy mayhem than watch those same kids curb their excesses, buckle down and apply themselves to their studies.
Likewise, when the federal government applies pressure to a state in order to force compliance to an education agenda with which that state disagrees, the natural impulse is to stand up for our integrity and accept whatever consequences might follow.
And that’s exactly what happened in Washington. Arne Duncan followed through on his threat to withdraw our waiver from NCLB because our legislature didn’t mandate the use of standardized test scores in our teacher evaluation system. We stood up to our oppressor and lost. And now we face the consequences.
Here’s what that looks like in my fourth grade classroom. I have a student named Lamar who began the year reading seven words a minute. He struggled with basic addition facts. He had no idea how to write a sentence and his behavior was keeping himself and his classmates from learning.
Lamar now reads 70 words per minute. He can solve long division problems and add fractions. Last week he wrote a story with a credible main character, a clear setting and a cohesive plot. His behavior isn’t perfect, but it no longer compromises his learning.
Although I would love to claim credit for this turnaround, I can’t. Lamar gets thirty minutes of extra help for reading fluency every morning; he meets with a small group for reading comprehension and writing skills; he has a ten-minute meeting every day with a para-educator to go over his behavior and study skills; he meets with a math specialist for 45 minutes every afternoon. In other words, Lamar gets as much support as our school can possibly throw his way.
The reason we’re able to do this is that our school qualifies for Title 1 funding under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. When our state was granted a waiver from NCLB, the previous restrictions for how that money was spent were removed. Consequently, our school was free to spend money on kids like Lamar as we saw fit.
And it’s working.
But now that waiver has been replaced and Title 1 money comes with a lot of strings. Instead of paying for learning support and para-educator time, we now have to spend part of that money for teacher training and private tutoring. With all due respect to teacher trainers and private tutors, I doubt Lamar will benefit from either one as much as he’s benefiting from his current program.
I like standing up to authority and sticking it to the man as much as the next guy. But I’d much rather see Lamar grow up to be the first person in his family to go to college. And when he gets there, I’d like him go a little crazy and make a few mistakes; and then learn from those mistakes, buckle down, finish school and become a quiet, level-headed family man.
But that just got a little harder.