Warnings from the Trenches
A high school teacher tells college educators what they can expect in the wake of No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top.
By Kenneth Bernstein
You are a college professor.
I have just retired as a high school teacher.
I have some bad news for you. In case you do not already see what is happening, I want to warn you of what to expect from the students who will be arriving in your classroom, even if you teach in a highly selective institution.
No Child Left Behind went into effect for the 2002–03 academic year, which means that America’s public schools have been operating under the pressures and constrictions imposed by that law for a decade. Since the testing requirements were imposed beginning in third grade, the students arriving in your institution have been subject to the full extent of the law’s requirements. While it is true that the US Department of Education is now issuing waivers on some of the provisions of the law to certain states, those states must agree to other provisions that will have as deleterious an effect on real student learning as did No Child Left Behind—we have already seen that in public schools, most notably in high schools.
Let me end by offering my deepest apologies, not because I may have offended some of you by what I have written, but because even those of us who understood the problems that were being created were unable to do more to stop the damage to the education of our young people. Many of us tried. We entered teaching because we wanted to make a difference in the lives of the students who passed through our classrooms. Many of us are leaving sooner than we had planned because the policies already in effect and those now being implemented mean that we are increasingly restricted in how and what we teach.
Now you are seeing the results in the students arriving at your institutions. They may be very bright. But we have not been able to prepare them for the kind of intellectual work that you have every right to expect of them. It is for this that I apologize, even as I know in my heart that there was little more I could have done. Which is one reason I am no longer in the classroom.
This is one of the most devastating/condemning essays on the state of the contemporary American educational system that I have ever read. I am a credentialed teacher, by the way. I first leaned about this essay via Hacker News, pointing to a link on The Washington Post, from which I snagged this blog post's title: "A warning to college profs from a high school teacher." As of this posting, The WP column has more than 2,300 comments.
The essay's original publication was in the January-February 2013 issue of Academe, the journal of the American Association of University Professors. You will want to check out the dozen or so comments on this site as well.
Either link, this is a must read for all educators, parents, community workers, politicians -- hell, all Americans.
Thank you, Kenneth Bernstein, for your service to education.