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Posted at 5:00 AM ET, 02/24/2011

The day all the public schools died

By Valerie Strauss

This satirical post was written by Mark Phillips, professor emeritus of secondary education at San Francisco State University and author of a monthly column on education for the Marin Independent Journal.

By Mark Phillips

And if I laugh at any mortal thing, ‘Tis that I may not weep” --Lord Byron

Summer vacations will be extended in all public schools in the U.S. this year. They will now be year-round.

This announcement yesterday by the Secretary of Education, which shocked parents all over the country, has been directly traced to the combined effects of the government programs No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top. As one local teacher, now an applicant to teach on Mark Zuckerberg’s new Textbook, put it, “Now that the schools are closed, maybe we can get back to real teaching.”

A full analysis from The Institute for the Deconstruction of Twisted Logic in Palo Alto is due next week, but preliminary findings released help explain the events leading to the permanent closing of all public schools.

First, the Institute notes, there was evidently a major intelligence failure, detailed in the first chapter of the report, “Act First, Think Later.” None of the policymakers understood that their reform programs were solutions to the wrong problems.

“They were largely a solution to the problem policymakers have of needing numerical data quickly without wasting time doing a lot of research.” noted Lionel Mangrove, Institute spokesperson. “And it worked. They wasted none of their valuable time observing or listening or thinking, and got a lot of test results quickly.”

Few reforms have ever been more effective in changing statistics. Unfortunately, the real problem appears to have been low student engagement -- and the testing bombardment just made that worse. For some further understanding, read the earlier Institute report, “The Use of X-Rays and Marathon Running to Improve Lung Congestion.”

The likely effect of all of this on teachers was considered superfluous. Something had to give and a story out of Boston finally caught front pages across the country. A despondent teacher stood on the roof of his school screaming, “I’m mad as hell and and I’m not gonna take this anymore. Let’s just teach to the tests and give up the rest. Let’s give them exactly what they want!”

Soon, “Teach to the tests, the hell with the rest!” became a rallying cry for frustrated teachers throughout the country. Bumper stickers and t-shirts flourished. Eminem even wrote a hit rap song with that title and the lyrics:

“Our teaching is lousy
The laws are a scam
Test scores are rising
But we don’t give a damn
So teach to the tests
The hell with the rest
At least we’ll get funding
By the government blessed.”

The song reached No. 3 on the rap charts and won a Grammy.

Third, notes the report, almost no one noticed that more and more students just stopped showing up. One student, interviewed for 60 Minutes, stated, “When I decided to give up drugs, I knew I had to also give up tests. They were both making me homicidal. Now I’m really learning again. We hang out on Textbook, use Google and Twitter, discuss movies and books, real ideas and stuff, not that testing b.s.”

Zuckerberg’s brilliant spin-off from Facebook proved to be a colossal hit with students and teachers alike, helped by a nationwide ad campaign featuring the slogans “No Boredom on Textbook” and, “Tired of testing? Join a Textbook learning group today.” Soon, few students were showing up at school and even fewer for the tests.

The final blow was the Wikileaks report, Over the Top, based on a secret government study showing that almost 80 percent of American high schools had gone over the top, simultaneously achieving new highs in test scores, vandalism, and dropouts.

Still, the end came rather suddenly in recent weeks. It occurred to the few dedicated teachers left behind that if there were no students it was foolish to come to work. Besides, Zuckerberg was paying better, actually listening to teachers, students and parents, and, in an agreement with Amazon, providing all students with Kindles.

With no students and no teachers, the government stopped funding schools. As the Secretary of Education put it, “Let those guys foot the bill! We can use the money to improve the American family. Our great new program, No Family Left Behind, will do just that!”

Davis Guggenheim’s plans for another film, "Waiting for Close Encounters," about benevolent aliens who come from outer space after being contacted by Michelle Rhee to institute a lottery to rescue the schools, have apparently been shelved.


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By Valerie Strauss  | February 24, 2011; 5:00 AM ET
Categories:  Guest Bloggers, Laugh and cry, Mark Phillips  | Tags:  amazon, eminem, facebook, mark zuckerberg, no child left behind, public schools, race to the top, school reform, secretary of education, textbook, wikileaks  
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Next: Sick of highly paid teachers? Here's what to do


I continue to ask and continue to hear nothing about the relationship of the test to material. To test for the sake of "gotcha" results will never improve. To test for the sake of learned results is crucial.

Everything we do daily is a test of previously learned behaviors, knowledge, and skills. It is called living. If we cannot associate living and learning the learner does not see a reason to invest the energy.

Posted by: jbeeler | February 24, 2011 7:17 AM | Report abuse

Where's the "LIKE" button?

Posted by: valerie11 | February 24, 2011 8:32 AM | Report abuse

Isn't it amazing where logic takes us to sometimes? Hoisted on their own petard!

Posted by: 1bnthrdntht | February 24, 2011 3:08 PM | Report abuse

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