Thursday, January 10, 2008

My, How Times have Changed

Last night I watched an episode of Andy Griffith, one of the older ones in glorious black and white. Opie had gotten straight As on his report card, and Sheriff Taylor was so elated that he heaped praises on the boy. The next day at school, however, Miss Crump called Opie forward and apologized, explaining to him that she had made a mistake in transcribing the grades - not only did Opie not get straight As, but he had gotten an F in math. Opie tried to tell his pa about it, but when he came home from school Andy and Aunt Bee surprised him with a brand new bike. Guilt-stricken, Opie declined to ride it, and after other attempts to enlighten his dad, ended up running away from home. Of course, Miss Crump happened to stop by the courthouse and wound up telling Andy the situation. In the end, Andy found Opie and apologized for putting such an undue emphasis on grades, etc.

The thing that struck me while I watched this was how students in the 21st century would have reacted in the same situation. If a teacher had accidentally given the wrong grades to a student, the student and/or the parents would try to leverage that mistake to their benefit and insist on getting the higher grades anyhow, even when undeserved. If the teacher were to hold her ground, the parents would escalate the situation into a lawsuit, or at least threaten to do so. Students are so hung up on grades and scores that they miss the forest for the trees. If they'd concentrate on learning, the good scores would follow. But to focus on GPA constantly fosters an environment where cheating thrives.

By the same token, focusing on learning means that No Child Left Behind wouldn't be a big deal, either. I know that NCLB happens to be a favorite whipping boy of the teachers' unions, but the fact of the matter is that if the kids are learning, they'll do fine. If they're not learning, though, then, yes, NCLB will hang over their and their teachers' heads like a ton of bricks. There has to be some objective, measurable method of determining whether or not kids are getting a solid education built on the three Rs, and NCLB acts as a metric for that. If kids can't read, write, or do arithmetic, then what are they learning?

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