Monday, October 31, 2016


In the 1990’s the Oklahoma State Board of Education imperiously declared that by the year 2000: "All schools will focus instruction on the needs of each individual student at all levels within the framework of an integrated curriculum."
How could a secondary teacher assigned an average of, say, 110 students per day, possibly individualize instruction for each and every one of them? This is plainly impossible. And teachers had to accomplish this within the framework of a newly “integrated curriculum” — whatever that meant. 
This “reform” was borderline impossible for elementary teachers as well. Designing and implementing instruction for small groups of, say, 5 or 6 youngsters is demanding, but doable. But truly individualizing newly integrated subject matter for each of 20 or more children is just ridiculous when the teacher had to keep the rest of the children orderly and learning simultaneously. [1]
This so-called “reform” actually was a mind-numbing combination of wishful thinking and political hot air. But Oklahoma educators had to appear to comply. This doubtless gave rise to dozens of mind-numbing meetings and vast amounts of useless paperwork. Meanwhile, from Kenton in the panhandle to Sallisaw on the Arkansas border, this top-down  “reform” interfered with educators actually doing their job.
Years have passed since the Oklahoma “reform” deadline. Was the state’s public education improved? Of course it wasn’t. The whole “reform” effort was an odious, time-wasting, paper project inspired by hollow slogans "individualizing instruction" — “integrating the curriculum.” Worse, it was forced on educators by self-important political hacks that either didn’t have a clue about the day-to-day realities of classroom teaching, or didn’t give a damn.
One day, far in the future, a janitor will be tidying up the Oklahoma Department of Education’s back offices. In a musty corner he or she will stumble across yellowed old documents submitted by every one of the state’s 520 school districts in order to document how they managed to accomplish the impossible.
“What is all of this?” the janitor will wonder as he or she struggles to carry the overflowing boxes to the trash. Meanwhile, in State Education Department board-rooms across the country, not to mention the Department of Education in Washington, a new crop of clueless political appointees will be crafting still more top-down reforms to convince gullible voters that their particular administration really does care about children — provided it isn’t costly.

[1] These numbers are based on 2016 Oklahoma averages as compiled by the National Center for Educational Statistics.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016


Gary K. Clabaugh
Professor Emeritus of Education, La Salle University

23 October 2016

School reform efforts typically employ key terms that are vague and undefined. Consider the late unlamented “No Child Left Behind Act” of 2001. What exactly did “left behind” mean? That remained conveniently obscure. It came to mean that any child, including special education students and non-English speakers, who failed to pass high stakes tests in math and reading had been "left behind." But that is clearly nonsense. How in hell can a child pass a reading test when they don't understand English? How about a badly damaged special needs child with a 30 IQ? Were they left behind because they failed a high stakes math test?
Who established such  mindlessness? An unholy amalgam of crafty politicians, federal and state bureaucrats and professional test makers. All of whom were far, far removed from the realities of the classroom.
Here's another thing. In the past learners had at least some responsibility for learning. This “reform” placed the entire burden on educators. Even youngsters who adamantly refused to learn had no responsibility for failing. They were victims, carelessly, even callously,  “left behind.”
I once heard a youngster defiantly tell a teacher: “You aint gonna teach me shit.” Was he being “left behind," or willfully refusing to get on board? Youngsters like this young man were not a rarity then, nor are they now. Nevertheless, the NCLB Act placed 100% of the responsibility for learning on the shoulders of his teachers. How did such a one-sided  arrangement ever become reality? Well, for one thing the term “left behind” was a slogan.
  Slogans are useful if we want to establish a broad but very shallow consensus among people of varied interests. That is why they’re employed in harmless ceremonial situations such as marriage, award ceremonies, ship christenings, building dedications, funerals, and so forth. They create the momentary solidarity necessary for common celebration. But it is an entirely different matter when slogans are used to sucker voters, justify wars or, as in this case, sneak entirely unrealistic education “reforms” goals into law.
 So what will the next generation of presently gestating “reforms” produce? If past is prologue, they will produce nothing but distraction, wasted time and superfluous effort on the part of frontline educators. But at least they will provide protective cover for wily politicians and busy work for a lot of otherwise largely useless bureaucrats.

[1] These numbers are based on 2016 Oklahoma averages as compiled by the National Center for Educational Statistics.