There have been many bitter complaints from teachers and principals about the Bush administration’s “No Child Left Behind” act — and more specifically about having to “teach to the test” instead of doing whatever teachers and principals want to do. Now the results are in.
Not only have test scores in math and reading shown “solid gains” in the words of the New York Times, young black students have “significantly narrowed the gap” between themselves and white students. All this is based on official annual data from 28,000 schools across the country.
It is especially revealing that the young black students have made the largest gains while older minority students “scored as far behind whites as in previous decades.”
In other words, the children whose education has taken place mostly since the No Child Left Behind Act show the greatest gains. For those whose education took place mostly under the old system, it was apparently too late to repair the damage.
Do not expect either the New York Times or the education establishment to draw these conclusions from the data. Nor are black “leaders” likely to pay much heed, as they are preoccupied with hustles like seeking reparations for slavery.
“By their fruits ye shall know them” may be an ancient adage but results take a back seat to dogma in the education establishment. That is why there has been so little to show for all the additional billions of dollars poured into American education during the past three decades.
Ironically, there was another recent report, giving results of opinion polls among professors of education, who train our public school teachers. It is also very revealing as to what has been so wrong for so long in our schools.
Take something as basic as what teachers should do in the classroom. Should teachers be “conveyors of knowledge who enlighten their students with what they know”? Or should teachers “see themselves as facilitators of learning who enable their students to learn on their own”?
Ninety-two percent of the education professors said teachers should be “facilitators” rather than engage in what is now called “directed instruction” — what once was just plain teaching. The fashionable phrase among educators today is the teacher should not be “a sage on the stage” but “a guide on the side.”
Is the 92 percent vote for the guide over the sage based on any hard evidence, any actual results? No. It has been the prevailing dogma in schools of education in all the years when our test scores stagnated and our children repeatedly scored below children from other countries in international tests.
Our children have been particularly outperformed in math, usually ending up at or near the bottom in international math tests. But this has not made a dent in our education establishment’s dogmas about how to teach math.
What is more important in math, that children “know the right answers to the questions” or that they “struggle with the process” of trying to find the right answers? Among professors of education, 86 percent choose “struggling” over knowing.
This is all part of a larger vision in which children “discover” their own knowledge rather than have teachers pass on to them the knowledge of what others have already discovered. The idea children will “discover” knowledge that took scholars and geniuses decades, or even generations, to produce is truly a faith which passethall understanding.
What about discipline problems in our schools? Fewer than half of the professors of education considered discipline “absolutely essential” to the educational process. As one professor put it, “When you have students engaged and not vessels to receive information, you tend to have fewer discipline problems.”
All evidence points in the opposite direction. But what is mere evidence against education dogmas? We need more “teaching to the test” so dogmas can be subjected to evidence.
Thomas Sowell is a nationally syndicated columnist.