Being in media, it's easy to get inundated with convincing opposing data and so it's easy to understand why it can be confusing for the public who don't have hours each day to sift through it all. Over a decade ago, for example, people were concerned that American students tested poorly against students in Asia. No Child Left Behind, which established education performance standards for states, therefore had terrific bipartisan support when it was instituted - it passed 384–45 in the House and 91-8 in the Senate. Educators were that convincing in their concerns that students were losing ground worldwide.
Yet education unions were suddenly against NCLB when performance was to be boosted in kids by also demanding it of teachers and schools. Mumbo-jumbo terms like "not fully funded" and other efforts at passive and active resistance to a performance standard therefore made their way into the media but scores still went up for students every time the tests were given. Yes, students were learning the tests, just as Asian schools do. Lesson: If you don't want facts for tests taught, don't make fun of kids if they can't find Lichtenstein on a map. American culture instead prides itself on thinking and skepticism, not facts. If you teach kids critical thinking, they are not going to do as well on standardized tests, plain and simple.
Yet Pres. Obama is clearly under the gun going into 2012 and so a guy who was once so politically independent he defied the education unions and argued for both merit pay and charter schools has to now be concerned about the support of those same education unions so he is letting states opt out of No Child Left Behind. That means it is dead.
Unions cheered and progressives cheered, because teachers are on their side. But do you want one sectarian viewpoint of religion taught in science classes? Do you want balanced views of all science issues, regardless if they are equivalent? If you don't, not only should you shuck off the political blinders and embrace standards like NCLB even if a Republican president liked it, you should even be advocating increasing NCLB and a national curriculum that includes science.
Local standards in education can take things to a weird place. Take the Los Alamitos School Board in California. A recent vote mandated that teachers "teach the controversy" of science issues and present both sides. The specific catalyst was global warming.
You may be thinking "Yeah, make them teach global warming, global warming sucks and it's in California so they must think it sucks too" but there is a bigger issue. Atmospheric science is complicated - so complicated even Ph.D.s don't understand all of the knobs, and that means teaching it poorly will do a lot more harm than good. Science can be confusing, especially when it comes to the ugly uncertainties that make science what it is. Teaching 'thinking' means you have to teach both sides, teaching facts means young people have a lot less confusion and they can learn the subtleties in college.
And if this local standard for science schooling, rather than a national one like NCLB, says you have to force teachers to teach all sides of controversial issues like global warming, what about other complex issues, including maybe the most complex of all, evolution? If local standards and school board independence are the way to go and NCLB is not, what happens when a local standard thinks a sectarian viewpoint should be taught alongside evolution as part of the 'controversy'. If you teach 'thinking' rather than accepted science, evolution will lose. It is too darn difficult for the average student to understand adaptive radiation much less the ins and outs of all of the mechanisms of evolution. Even most biology teachers don't understand evolution.
Progressives are less likely than conservatives to dispute global warming. Progressives are less likely than conservatives to dispute evolution. But progressives are far more likely to object to a standardized national program like NCLB, because the education unions instead want the status quo of 60 years ago, except with more money each year, and progressives don't want to anger education unions any more than conservatives want to anger the military. The fact that NCLB had more improvement in education in its first five years than had occurred in the previous 28 years, along with an all-time high for black and Hispanic grade schoolers, was declared unimportant.
I'll leave it to left-wing snipe sites like Huffington Post and, by association, National Geographic, to post rants like that from Bill Allen (he was former editor-in-chief of National Geographic, so no surprise in his political persuasion) that hurl insults at the school board that is trying to make local parents happy under the guise of local standards. He's missing the point and the point is that American fairness - and fairness is the hallmark of progressive culture - says if you can do it in one place you can do it in another.
The solution is simple, if you care about science; stop marching with special interests that vote the same way and pick sides and endorse candidates based on issues, not the letter before the name of the person talking. If they can institute false equivalence regarding global warming, they can do it with evolution too. But a national education standard that has science in it - and which requires teachers to teach the same science in New York and California - would make these cultural issues go away.
The lack of a mandatory education standard is a win for unions but a loss for students who already have to endure being told by critics, both on the left and right, how stupid they are.
Teach Facts Or Teach Thinking? Why NCLB's Demise Could Hurt Science Classes
- The Knock On 'No Child Left Behind' Was Political Spin, Not Evidence
- Evolution Doing Better in State Curricula
- No Child Left Behind Didn't Hurt Teacher Job Satisfaction- Let's See How Common Core Does
- No Gender Difference In Math Any More: Did No Child Left Behind Get This One Right?
- Contrarian View: Science Standards In School Won't Help?