Saturday, September 24, 2011

Who Should Set Education Standards?

In a rare moment this morning, I read a newspaper article in which I found myself agreeing with President Barack Obama.  Today’s newspaper article notes how the President wants to give each individual state the ability to override the “No Child Left Behind” laws.  These laws, in place since President Bush signed them in 2002, mandate a federal requirement for individual student testing at the state level.  The standards are left (somewhat) to the states to create.  In essence, they require “bubble tests and dumbed-down standards that are based on arbitrary standards of proficiency” (not my words, but actual words from  A great deal of time is spent getting every student up to the same basic level of proficiency, often at the expense of exceptional students, who are not allowed to progress at a rate which matches their ability.  Said more succinctly, the system “dumbs down” education standards to a lower level, in the hope that every student will be deemed “successful”.  I have often called “No Child Left Behind” a misnomer for “No Child Allowed to Get Ahead”.

Without a doubt, every student is different.  And let’s face the fact that some students are more proficient than others.  A system should be tailored both to help the lagging, and simultaneously allow the proficient to advance at an accelerated rate.

”No Child” is one of the reasons that our family has been homeschooling for these past eight years.  At a time when our second child was going into first grade in public school, we consulted with the school principal and teachers, who told us that their goal was to get the other twenty-four students in his class to an identical level by the end of the school year – a level that our child had already achieved before classes had even begun.  Consequently, they proposed that our child would likely be put out in the hall during class time, armed with some “advanced” worksheets to work by himself (a story I love to recall when people tell me that public school is so much better for socialization than homeschooling!).  It’s just one more example of godly, well-intentioned public schoolteachers trying to do the right thing, but whose hands are tied by a federal mandate over which they have no control.  Our elementary school principal, in a God-ordained moment, actually recommended that we home educate all of our children.  In a leap of faith, we did just that, and we have looked on that day as a watershed moment in our family history.

I have attempted to find an exact measure of where the United States high-school ranking stood among developed countries in 2002 versus today, in an effort to see exactly how “No Child Left Behind” affected the relative quality of education.  I’m unable to find the comparison (so far).  I wonder if it is because no one wants to talk about it.  To be sure, US education in science and reading was scored as average this last year, and we received a “below average” in mathematics.  All of these are far worse than we were ranked when I was in public school.  Bottom line – the relative quality of US education is getting worse, not better.  Federal and state oversight is not succeeding.

Moving from a federal mandate on schooling to a state viewpoint is one thing.  I’m very much in favor of the idea of increased power at the state level on certain freedoms, and less from the federal viewpoint.  It invokes a spirit of creativity and competition – no state wants to be ranked “number 50” in any category.  But in my opinion, it still does not go far enough.  I am fully of the opinion that family-based education is the best way to ensure children receive the best and most directed method of instruction.  Wherever possible (and I realize that it is not an option for every family), homeschooling succeeds because it permits the low student-to-teacher-ratio, individual tailoring, and creative student adjustment required to bring students along at a pace that matches their abilities.  Moreover, as a Christian homeschooler, it allows my wife and I to positively teach God’s laws and ways as the fundamental underpinning, just as He commands in Deuteronomy 6:7-9, when we are told to “Impress them on your children.  Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.  Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads.  Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.”

In our eight-year journey, we have come more and more to the conclusion that neither the federal government nor the state government will have any influence over our children’s education.  Though our children are learning math, science and history, it is through the worldview lens that my wife and I choose for them, and the one that we believe God would have for their education.  Again, put in very simple terms, it is the parents who ultimately should have that authority.  And fortunately for us in the United States, we still do have that authority over our children, as homeschooling is still legal (and a growing movement) in this nation!  But I worry about the day when this option might be removed from us, and the concept of state-led or federal-led education are our only options.  Some countries have already adopted the stance that parents cannot determine what their children learn, and so have outlawed home education in favor of a state-led platform only.  Were that to ever happen in this country, I would fight it with all my being, to the point of leaving our country, if necessary.  The state will never have my children.  Again, fortunately, home education is on the rise in this nation, and the results have been nothing short of excellent.

1 comment:

Scott RBW said...


I was in the same boat this morning, thinking, "What? I actually agree with Pres. Obama on something?" It's not all I would like to see with respect to education, but it's a start!