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Note to POTUS: Stop the Numbers Game in School Reform


Matthew Holland

With all due respect, the president should get out of the education business. Period. Let the profession be run by the professionals who work in our nation's classrooms.

Over the past 11 years, we have seen policies come out of Washington that seek to improve our nation's education through a game of numbers. The policies under President Bush had our nation's schools chasing ever elusive number in math and reading. We see the same with President Obama's policies on education. Now the ever elusive numbers game is spreading into more subject areas while children continue to be viewed as nothing more than percentages, subgroups, and a statistical means for closing gaps that exist in all aspects of our society. No longer are we simply leaving kids behind in education, now we are actually racing away from them in the quest to get to the top. The top of what has yet to been seen.

If I had the president's ear for a few moments (presumably I wouldn't hold an audience with him for long after telling him to get out of the business), I'd ask two questions. The first would be: "Why this fascination with numbers in education?" These numbers are not demonstrating that kids are enjoying learning, they don't indicate that teachers are good teachers, and they don't demonstrate that schools are successful. They are meaningless numbers which don't address real needs. Educator Jim Trelease was right on the mark in 2008 when he said the government's obsession with testing our kids to close gaps and show progress is paramount to "weighing the cattle more often to make them fatter." We are not producing better students or schools through this testing.

My second question would be: "How meaningful are these numbers that we are chasing?" The numbers often cited by the President and others when discussing the need for education policy tend to be our nation's results on the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA). According to PISA, we are ranked about "average." Yet, as an "average" nation, consistently produce Nobel Prize laureates year after year. As an "average" nation, we are the sole nation to put humans on another body in our solar system. As an "average" nation, we have successfully landed a rover on Mars and are in the process of mapping the world's oceans. Average according to PISA seems to be working for us.

After posing my questions, I would again implore the President to get out of the business of education. The interests of our children are not best served in our nation's capital, but are rather best met in the classrooms and school board rooms of our local communities.

Matthew Holland is a public school elementary school teacher in Alexandria, Va.

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