Jonathan Kozol's Hunger Strike
No one can accuse education journalist Jonathan Kozol of being lukewarm about his causes. He is now 75 days in to a partial hunger strike protesting the impending re-authorization of No Child Left Behind. You can read about his strike here. He claims that NCLB is ruining inner city education with its emphasis on frequent testing.
Kozol is best known for his book Savage Inequalities, which documents the awful school conditions many poor, inncer-city school children endure. Roofs leak. Toilets overflow. Paint peels and heaters break. Kozol is wrong in his frequent assertion that no one would treat white children this way. He's wrong in his assertion that it's all about funding (in New Jersey, for instance, the state guarantees that high-poverty "Abbott" districts be funded at the same level as the best suburban districts, and many of these schools are still rotten). But he's certainly right that such conditions make it very difficult to learn.
The descriptions of awful school buildings hit you in the gut. But that's not the most disturbing part of Savage Inequalities. Kozol goes on about teachers watching soap operas, teachers letting kids entertain themselves while they read magazines, and other evidence of schools where adults simply do not care if the children learn anything at all.
There is much to lament about NCLB, as we often do on this blog. It raises the floor, not the ceiling. It tests schools, not individual kids' progress. But the one thing it has done is lit a fire under these so-called educators who've put no effort into actually teaching. There are consequences when schools fail year after year.
And yet, Kozol complains that NCLB "dumbs down" inner city education. He, of all people, should know that few failing schools were encouraging higher level thinking before the law. I wish all children were challenged by creative teachers who got the wheels in kids' heads turning. But if that's not yet possible, at least we should try to get kids reading and doing math at grade level. NCLB creates incentives to achieve that goal. You'd think Kozol might find something to like about the law.