How to Improve No Child Left Behind

It looks like Congress will recess for the holidays before they take up the re-authorization of the No Child Left Behind Act. That means it's probably a safe bet to assume education will emerge as a central campaign issue in the run-up to regime change in Washington -- the 2008 elections.

In the meantime, plenty of suggestions will be offered as ways to improve NCLB 2.0. So like an open source programmer, I'll just contribute a bit of code just to get the idea ball rolling.

But, first, let's test your knowledge of noted achievers.

What did the famed attorney of the Scopes trial, Clarence Darrow's parents and teachers say about him when he was a school boy? That he would never be able to speak or write.

One of the intellectual giants of the 20th Century, philosopher Jean Paul Sarte had to pretend to do what? Read.

The towering literary figure Marcel Proust had problems in school. Why? He couldn't complete a paper.

What terrified Carl Jung as a student? Math.

What did Beethoven's tutor think about his pupil, who, by the way, is said to have never learned how to multiply or divide? His tutor thought he would never be a very good composer.

Fill in the blank. Behind his classmates in reading and writing, Pablo Picasso ___ school? Answer: Pablo Picasso hated school.

President Woodrow Wilson couldn't do what until he was eleven? Read.

Why did Thomas Edison run away from school? His teacher caned him for not paying attention or being able to sit still in class.

Okay, here's where the test gets a bit more challenging.

Harvard University Professor of Cognition and Education Howard Gardener made a name for himself with his work on "multiple intelligences." What are Gardener's seven intelligences?

Answer: linguistic, spatial, kinesthetic, musical, interpersonal, logical mathematical, intrapersonal.

Psychologist and dean of arts and sciences at Tufts University, Robert Sternberg is known for developing what theory? Answer: The "triarchic theory of intelligence," which is a fancy way of saying that there are three kinds of human intelligences: componential, contextual, and experiential.

"Intelligence tests and other tests of cognitive and academic skills measure part of the range of intellectual skills. They do not measure the whole range. One should not conclude that a person who does not test well is not smart. Rather, one should merely look at test scores as one indicator among many of a person's intellectual skills," Sternberg points out, which would explain why he served on the American Psychological Association task force that told Charles Murray and Richard Herrnstein where to stick their Bell Curve.

The New York Times Education Life page reports had an article recently highlighting Sternberg's most recent effort. For the second year in a row, "Tufts is inviting applicants to write an optional essay to help admissions officers pinpoint qualities the university values -- practical intelligence, analytical ability, creativity and wisdom."

"These attributes make students intellectual leaders, according to Sternberg, a psychologist whose work on measuring intelligence inspired the experiment." I have no idea how to reconcile Gardener's seven types of intelligences with Sternberg's three, but the essence of what they're saying is articulated in psychiatrist and educational consultant Dawna Markova's book How Your Child Is Smart.

"Because of extensive research that has been done, and our own experience, we believe that children who have been taught through their natural learning styles become the achievers in school; those who experience difficulty do so because they are not being taught in ways that respond to how they learn."

OK, test over.

Here's my code (idea): before any new fill-in-the-bubble crazy NCLB legislation is considered, let's develop a test that measures multiple intelligences and think up a way to identify teachers’ teaching styles.

Then, parents and teachers would have a better way to assess and adjust long-term learning plans that should be required for every student entering elementary school, matching them with the appropriate teaching styles along the way.

Is there a better learning environment than a place where a child's natural will to learn and their innate intelligence is tapped by a conducive teaching style? And what's more motivating to a teacher than a student willing to learn?

In the meantime, my oldest daughter and I have been college-shopping. With a passion for Spanish and poetry and genuine intellectual interest in cognitive science, she's due to graduate from high school next May (holding down a 3.8 cumulative GPA after three-and-half-years on strict AP/Honors diet). I'm going to encourage her to fill out an application for Tufts.

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