I recently visited a grade school classroom that would make a great ad clip for the No Child Left Behind act (NCLB). Over the past few years, students in this classroom have scored high on standardized tests. The class runs like clockwork. Sitting in straight rows facing the teacher, busy children complete work in an orderly fashion, handing over finished papers and picking up new work from stacks on a long gray table with the precision of well-supervised assembly-line workers.
The teacher works with her red pen flashing, giving feedback so the children know exactly what they have accomplished and on what they need improvement. Children groan quietly to themselves when they get bad marks and give a soundless self-congratulatory thumbs-up when they get good marks.
This teacher cares about student success and calibrates learning activities with specific state standards. She posts names of children who have risen to the top in reading and math on a weekly basis and holds once-a-month certificate assemblies to honor student benchmarks. In the afternoon, the children participate in discussions, partner reading, read-alouds, and fact games.
The teacher says she carves out time for occasional field trips and such hands-on activities as salt-dough maps, shadow boxes, and, she hopes, an end-of-the-year play. But the bulk of time is spent on learning competencies and standards assessed by paper and pencil tests, since spring tests will also be paper and pencil.
Everything runs smoothly, the kids are bright-eyed, and their scores are high. This is a classroom of poster children for NCLB.