Friday, October 22, 2004


First of all, I work as a special education teacher in the public school system... so you may be ready to generalize that I'm a goose-stepping member of the National Education Association who disagrees with everything the current administration does and says about education in the U.S. You're partially correct, I am a member of NEA... but not a goosestepper. And I do agree with Bush's "No Child Left Behind" program, at least in principle.

Public schools need some reforms. They are not the end-all when it comes to education. However, it seems to me that the current administration would like to see public schools come to a painful end.

I won't whine about NCLB being an underfunded mandate. Being in public education, I'm used to unfunded or underfunded mandates, and that just seems to be the way of the political world. On the other hand, I think it's time to do some constructive whining and complaining about the way NCLB is setting up the public school system for failure... which will ultimately results in our kids being the losers.

When Bush says parents need more choice in where their children attend school, I cannot completely disagree. Choice is part of the American Way. His voucher programs have not been approved because many Americans don't want their tax money going toward the funding of education in private/religious schools. In a sense, NCLB represents a way to get around that problem in the following manner: if a school is determined to be a failing school under NCLB guidelines, the student is then allowed to attend another school within the same district, with transportation provided at that school district's expense. If enough schools fail under the guidelines, then "choice" comes into the picture.

How does a school "fail"? There are many ways, but one of the most nefariously designed parts of NCLB is the way in which school testing results are tabulated. School populations are divided up into various ethnic groups. If the level of passing students in any group does not meet or exceed the standard in Math or Reading, the whole school gets a failing grade. Thus, in districts with large populations of people who do not speak English as their first language, certain ethnic groups will not meet the standards due to the language barrier, and the whole school will "fail".

The standards are not unreasonable, at least not this year or next. The last time I looked, every school was to have all students meet or exceed 39% or 40% in the areas of Math and Reading. That should be laughably easy to accomplish for nearly all schools. The government has indeed set the bar at a very low level for starters. However, within ten years all schools are supposed to be at 100%. While this may be a good goal in an idealistic sense, it is very impractical when it comes to schools receiving or not receiving funding depending on success/faliure rates on administered tests. Many people don't realize that the mentally retarded populations in the schools are counted as "failing" in a school's results.

When the success/failure bar gets a little higher every year, and when there isn't enough money coming in to support the schools in their efforts, we should be able to see what will happen: the school system is gradually defunded because it cannot meet unrealistically high expectations. More schools will become "failing schools" each year. I believe this is by design, and that it is a thinly-veiled attempt to privatize the public school system. Talk radio pundits like Rush Limbaugh will cite this as "proof" that the school system is a failure... "See, I told you so!" This in turn will lead to further erosion of church-state separation, as more schools would allow prayer and religious teachings.

One of the primary ways in which the administration believes we can measure student success or failure is by increasing the amount of tests our students must take. With the pressures placed on schools by NCLB, you can rest assured that teachers will be "teaching to the test" in order to at first save their jobs, but to ultimately save the public school system by desperately trying to keep their schools from being labeled as "failing schools" under NCLB rules.

If teachers are pressured to "teach to the test", they do not spend much time teaching students to think critically. What better way to ultimately control the population than to "educate" a generation of people who will not question the government, the church, the Democrats, the Republicans, or anything much at all? Large groups of people who don't want to know, who are incurious (even more than we currently seem to have)? In that regard, George W. Bush's "No Child Left Behind" plan seems nothing more than a way to raise a generation of children in his own image.

Our public schools do need help... so let's revise the NCLB plan so our public schools will be guaranteed to succeed, not fail. John Kerry, not George W. Bush, will provide the answer to this problem.


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