President Barack Obama has suggested new ideas for excellence in the nation’s school system: a curriculum-based process that will include a variety of subjects ranging from literature to mathematics, science, arts and social studies, apparently no longer based on standardized tests. This sounds like an excellent idea, but it will be interesting to see it all explained.

The current system of financing schools based on test scores has done little to promote education beyond the mediocre level. Every child in the school was given the same test at “grade level,” but the pass-fail rate was based on all the children in the individual school, even those who may have been functionally impaired or fluent in a language other than English. Therefore, the schools that needed the most help with their student body got failing grades and help taken away, while schools in more stable neighborhoods reaped the rewards. One city went so far as to fire every teacher in the school, regardless of what the caliber of students—or teachers—may have been. It’s a good bet that the new teachers in that school won’t fare any better.

My wife, a former third-grade and high school teacher, got “hooked” on the TV show, Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader? The whiz kids who supported the dopes trying to win money were usually far better at correctly answering the questions than the competitors. I can see why some would miss a math question, as current mathematics language is quite different than it was in the 40s and 50s when I was in school. However, some didn’t know east from west, couldn’t answer a simple geography or history question, and walked away looking dumber than a dodo bird, let alone a fifth grader.

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