Sunday, April 08, 2007

I try to read the New York Times every day. I’ve found that if you know what happened in Washington yesterday you can have a good idea about what will happen in London today. Of course it’s easier when you are in new York, as I am today, as you can read the paper version more easily with a coffee.
Aside from the continuing problems of Alberto Gonzales, President Bush’s Attorney General, who seems to be hanging on by no more than his fingertips as the whiff of scandal surrounding him
gets ever stronger, I was struck by a piece on American education policy, which follows on nicely from my last entry. Education is clearly an area that should be left to the states under the Constitution, yet with support from both parties, the No Child Left Behind policy has been enacted. This represents an unprecedented centralisation of power, with intense Federal oversight of schools across the country. It includes exacting standards, detailed testing, and tracking of children from school entry to graduation. Of course, this sounds like a good idea – after all, who wants to have children left behind? Yet, as always, the devil is in the detail. Schools in Arizona complain that they are being judged on tests conducted in English in schools with large numbers of recent Hispanic immigrants. Isolated rural schools in Utah, where the students numbers are of necessity very small, are penalised by a requirement that to teach a subject you must have a college degree in it. It now looks increasingly likely that states will be allowed to opt out of the provisions without loosing the federal money that comes with it. Given what I said above about winds of change travelling across the Atlantic, could this be the stimulus for the reassessment of the British government’s plans to expand greatly their already exhaustive (and exhausting) programme of testing, whose sole purpose seems to be to increase the already massive volume of information that they seem determined to keep on every citizen? We can only hope.

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