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Similarities found between book, bill

February 21, 2008

The fantasy world of witches and wizards created by J.K. Rowling in her best-selling Harry Potter novels may be more realistic than it seems, according to professor Hilary Pollack, who Tuesday discussed her essay, “No Wizard Left Behind,” in the University Center.

Pollack, a professor in the teacher education department, is a fan of Rowling’s work, as well as an opponent of No Child Left Behind (NCLB), the education bill introduced in 2001 by the Bush administration, meant to improve achievement and accountability in public schools. She said she began to notice “ominous similarities” between the two while reading “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.” In the book, the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry is infiltrated by Delores Umbridge, a representative of the Ministry of Magic, the federal body of government in the magical world. While there, Umbridge implements strict and sweeping education reform, leading to controversy, confusion and rebellion among students and faculty.

“It’s so right on when we look at the problems of NCLB,” Pollack said. “It jumped out at me. I thought it needed to be said, and I said it.”

After preparation, Pollack presented her findings in May at the Phoenix Rising Conference in New Orleans.

In Tuesday’s discussion, Pollack said the goals of the NCLB legislation are unrealistic because they ignore the theory of averages: that 50 percent of students must technically rank below the mean.

“Educators predict that in 2014, when it will be required that all children reach levels of proficiency or above in reading and mathematics, that there will be confusion and turmoil in the schools.” “Turmoil,” Pollack said, “is played out in the novel when students are faced with a test of their own.”

Pollack also said she believes the overload of high-stakes tests included in NCLB creates an overly-stressful environment for students, and is not always an accurate measure of student achievement. She quoted Professor Umbridge from Rowling’s novel, comparing it to the rationale of the Bush Administration.

“Theoretical knowledge will be more than sufficient to get you through your examination, which, after all, is what school is about.”

To which Pollack countered: “The impact of the mandated testing that is at the core of NCLB will have profound and dramatic effects on the public education system.”

Dee McCollum of the College of Education and Professional Studies (COEPS) reiterated Pollack’s assertions about standardized testing as the single aspect of measuring proficiency, saying it forced teachers to “teach to the test.”

While many of the attendees agreed that the public education system in the United States is flawed, some, including professor Geoff Scheurman, were hesitant to point to NCLB and its policies of standardization as the sole culprit.

“I just figured people would fix it by the time it affected me,” she said “If there’s a problem, it will get fixed.

Editor’s note: In the article “Similarities found between book, bill” published Feb. 22, a quote attributed to Professor Geoff Scheurman was actually a statement made by a female stu- dent who also attended the presentation.