Off-key

July 06, 2002

OLD INSTINCTS die hard.

When the Bush administration last year pushed through some of the most sweeping changes in the federal role in education, it was pleasing to find at their core an emphasis on research-based instruction. That meant the federal Department of Education would put its considerable weight and money behind only proven instructional programs.

This signaled a big change for this nation's schools, awash as they are in whatever programs local districts have happened to purchase or develop - too often without firm evidence of effectiveness.

So it was particularly depressing to recently learn that - to promote the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 - the education agency is toying with a gospel-like theme song, which goes in part like this:

We're here to thank our president,

For signing this great bill,

Yea, research shows we know the way,

It's time we showed the will!

The pat on the back given President Bush is bad enough, reminiscent of the Chinese Communist classic "The East is Red" ("Chairman Mao, he is our guide to build a new China ... ").

Worse, a self-congratulatory rah-rah song misses this message in the same way that too many Maryland principals missed the point in the 1990s by thinking that getting students fired up with pep rallies would somehow lead to gains on the state's achievement tests.

Achievement stems from the approaches promised by No Child Left Behind: programs based on science, early-grade reading grounded in phonics, and accountability via standards, regularly testing students and using the data to strengthen instruction.

With the off-key tune perhaps proving embarrassing, a spokesman for the education agency says a decision on whether to even use it has not been made - acknowledging that at one point it sounded like a good idea to, say, pipe it to agency callers on hold.

The department should put this little ditty on permanent hold. It's just more of the same old ineffective hoopla that's contrary to the valuable focus of No Child Left Behind - that learning depends on what's taught and how it's taught.

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