Reader writes: Federal programs hinder education

January 3, 2014 

A student’s perspective on modern education

Recently, I was generously allowed the opportunity to spend time in a second-grade classroom at Powhatan Elementary School as part of my graduation project. While I was there, I was able to get a teacher’s perspective on the programs and federal influence in the public school system.

In the interests of full disclosure, I am a conservative. I am against any federal intrusion into my personal life – and at the moment, that life is school. To me, it made sense to want to know why I am learning what I am learning and why schools are structured the way they are.

Research, combined with daily news reading, uncovered two main programs: No Child Left Behind, which was passed just before I entered kindergarten, and Common Core, which has just recently come onto the scene. During the process of my junior paper, I learned quite a bit about these programs and could go on about them for pages, but I won’t. I’ll just tell you my experience with them as a child who has grown up in the public education system.

From what I know, and what I have seen firsthand, No Child Left Behind drags students down by promoting the children who don’t need to go on and focusing on the students who don’t want to be there. For years I have been in classes with students who don’t want to be there and weren’t trying; yet they were the ones who got focused on, and the class was slowed down so they could keep up. This has lessened, admittedly, since I reached middle and high school. I’ve been put in all honors classes, and nearly everyone is able to keep up.

On top of that, the method used to gauge a student’s growth now is standardized testing; it is the be-all, end-all of the school year. One set of tests gauges how well students are learning. The only problem is that we’re not really learning the information, we’re learning how to pass tests. I can tell you that what a majority of us do is learn the information for whatever test and then we forget it, unless we want to know it.

Unfortunately, this is what’s almost encouraged. If we don’t score high enough on the tests, our school’s ranking will go down, and we will lose funding from both the state and the federal governments.

This past year was worse than usual, because the state implemented a new type of testing for Common Core. None of the teachers knew what was on them, and students were for the most part unprepared for what was on the exams. It was a mess.

Not everyone sees it that way, however. The teacher whose class I shadowed, a dear family friend, has been teaching for 13 years and has experience with both Common Core and No Child Left Behind. Her students have benefited from the new program, she told me. No longer are they struggling with subjects and then becoming lost when the class moves on and builds on the previous subject. All of the children have the chance to learn the subject now more completely, and they aren’t required to build on it afterward.

And her students are doing well, as evidenced by their eagerness to learn. I do not know what it is that helps them learn – the curriculum, the teacher? I’d say a little of both, because to my mind, a good teacher can teach with any curriculum. I just hope they stay as eager to learn, no matter what federal program they are put into.

Anna Francis

Clayton

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