Opinion

Joel Faltermayer: Standard education

Frustration with education methods from the No Child Left Behind Act will remain even if the act is overhauled.
Around 4 p.m. every Monday and Thursday, as many as 15 antsy, young students stumble into a dusty one-room annex at the Christ Baptist Church in Olney, where they receive a hot meal, hang out and have one-on-one homework guidance.…

Frustration with education methods from the No Child Left Behind Act will remain even if the act is overhauled.

Around 4 p.m. every Monday and Thursday, as many as 15 antsy, young students stumble into a dusty one-room annex at the Christ Baptist Church in Olney, where they receive a hot meal, hang out and have one-on-one homework guidance.

Though it’s difficult for any K-12 student to continue focusing after school hours, those at the Motivating Our Students Educating Scholars after-school tutoring program experience particular frustration around Pennsylvania System of School Assessment time.

“They come in delirious and frustrated from all the pressure,” said Kendrah Butler, a MOSES tutor.

As the No Child Left Behind Act has dramatically increased the stakes of standardized testing, skeptics question the relevance of crucial standards. Both teachers and administrators alike nervously approach PSSA testing, while the students passively endure empty, or otherwise irrelevant, incentives for better performance.

But the future of state-sponsored education returns to the public eye again, as President Barack Obama calls for an overhaul of the No Child Left Behind policy.

“We need to make sure some of our best teachers are teaching in some of our worst schools,” Obama said in an address at Kenmore Middle School in Arlington, Va., on March 14. “I’m not talking about teaching to the test. We don’t need to know whether a student can fill out a bubble.”

But equally euphemistic overhauls on the largely defunct No Child Left Behind will continue to have the same frustrating, damaging effect on students and teachers alike. Regardless of whether the 10-year-old system is receiving the appropriate attention now, one thing is clear: All recent plans have placed unprecedented constraints on Philadelphia teachers’ ability to teach outside of the PSSA curriculum.

Obama praised programs’ extracurricular efforts, such as the MOSES program, as “heroic” examples of how teachers are “taking on the problems that follow students into class.”

But new avenues for school funding led to increased pressure, as third-grade teacher Felicia Manners experiences at Jay Cooke Elementary School.

“Teachers, students and principals all feel a different type of stress,” Manners said. “Teachers are expected to pull students who are low-achieving into these massive achievement goals that seem to appear out of nowhere, when [the students] hit third grade.”

However, while both Butler and Manners realize the necessity of supplemental tutoring, it’s difficult to measure the arbitrary definition of “progress” as dictated by No Child Left Behind.

“Many of the students that partake in the program feel as though their teachers are not fully preparing them even to complete their homework or succeed on exams that they’re expected to take,” Butler said. “[If] these kids want to partake in higher education, they need to be prepared.”

Constraints placed on Philadelphia school teachers like Manners show how “[suddenly] much of the country began focusing on teacher reform,” New York Times education reporter Sam Dillion said at a recent lecture given on Main Campus, stressing the “painstaking quantification of good teaching.”

In the last few years of No Child, Adequate Yearly Progress has seemed to spread from PSSA scores to the misleading pursuit of the “perfect teacher,” which is exactly what Obama calls for in the No Child overhaul.

Though No Child Left Behind fixed inherent flaws in the pre-2001 public education system in Philadelphia, the emphasis on competitive improvement still remains an ambiguous force in the re-structuring of the School District of Philadelphia. If the act is truly on the “way out,” then how can we gauge its impact on primary education in the city?

No Child Left Behind fixed an enormous gap between impoverished inner-city schools and their more prosperous suburban counterparts. By emphasizing the AYP over population income, former President George W. Bush’s 2002 act channeled much-needed funding into schools that previously suffered from sparse state funding and inadequate tax revenue.

A 2007 TIME article noted the shift from the number of fifth– and eighth-graders who were reading at their respective grade levels as having jumped from 13 percent to 36 percent across a three-year period.

Because of the proposed overhaul of No Child Left Behind, trends toward school liability and “quality teaching” at the primary level stand in stark contrast to the growing reliance on disposable non-tenured track professors at the university level.

While state budget cuts have universities attempting to maintain profitable hiring practices, public schools in Philadelphia will compete with less-liable charter schools, in order to retain high-achieving students.

Joel Faltermayer can be reached at joel.faltermayer@temple.edu.

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