Saturday, November 12, 2011

No Child Left Behind -- Ironic Isn't It?

“We need not to be let alone. We need to be really bothered once in a while. How long is it since you were really bothered? About something important, about something real?” 
- Ray Bradbury

I'm really bothered.  There is a dirty little secret in education and it is called No Child Left Behind.  Ask any educator what they think of it and you will get an earful. It has a fantastic premise: "Setting high standards and establishing measurable goals can improve individual outcomes in education."  Who can be against such a thing?  
Which is why the bill passed with huge bi-partisan support in 2002 and the heavyweights of politics signed on: proposed by George W. Bush, co-authored by John Boehner (R-OH),  George Miller (D-CA), Ted Kennedy (D- MA), Judd Gregg (R- NH).  It sounded great.  It was going to reform education and make teachers accountable. It was going to make sure that every child in every school improved and made progress or else.  It was the "or else" that changed everything.  If the improvements didn't happen every single year, your school went into "Program Improvement".  Eventually your entire district would go into Program Improvement.  

After ten years of NCLB, 80% of the districts in the state of California are in Program Improvement.

Should we guess which districts these are?  The poorest and the most diverse.  No duh.

What happens when your entire district is Program Improvement?
no field trips
no art
no science
no social studies
no writing of any significance
no literature
no PE
reading and math take up most of the day -- with constant re-teaching and fill in the bubble testing

Here's where it gets really bad.  The teaching is literally taken out of the teachers' hands and a "scripted curriculum" is given.  The teacher must be on the same page, on the same day, at the same time as all of the other teachers at the same grade level in the district.  People come in and check and make notes of where you are.  Any professional respect has vanished.  Any feeling of competency is gone.  Teachers with 20-30 years of experience in the poorest, most diverse districts are treated with derision and disrespect.  Morale at these schools is at an all time low.

It used to be that if you taught in a poor, diverse district your students had a chance, a real chance to grow and learn and make progress and lift themselves out of poverty.  They had opportunities afforded them that their family life would never provide: science camp and outdoor education in 6th grade, a field trip to a farm, an observatory, a play.  As a first grade teacher in one of these districts I started out my year with a field trip to the city library by city bus.  We had them get their first library card and check out their first ever book; 75% had never been to a library and sadly, many did not even know what a library was.  Although the economic and family situations of my students were often disastrous there was always the hope and love of school.  Reading big books or fantastic stories and poems, singing songs, playing outside games, creating art projects and doing science experiments naturally ignited their curiosity and fired up their wonder.  
That is all gone now.

Today, students in Program Improvement districts are treated to heaping mounds of reading drudgery and worksheets.  There are math worksheets and the unforgiving pace of constantly moving ahead regardless of mastery and leaving behind most of the class.  The second language learners are given ever more opportunities of re-teaching and more worksheets.  It is grim.  
And yes, I'm bothered. 
Real bothered.

I keep waiting for the big wigs to shout this insanity down.  But, how can you say out loud that you are against NCLB without looking like a teaching lightweight?

Of course, I am for high expectations and equal opportunity.  Who isn't?
But, I am not for condemning an entire segment of our society to educational gruel while the haves continue to have all of the enrichment and joy of learning.  

Most of you don't know education's dirty little secret because you are part of the lucky 20%.  Your district is wealthy or perhaps your children attend private school -- either way your child's school is full to the brim with opportunity, joy and educational privilege.  You naturally thought all children were given real opportunities for learning. Well, No Child Left Behind left behind an entire chunk of our population. Check out the drop out rates. 

And where is the grace in all of this?
It is in the incredible resilient spirit of both the students and teachers in the desperate schools.  After ten solid years of this, those teachers still come to school each day with hope in their heart and faith that their students can learn and grow even with drudgery.  They work to provide a moment of lightness: skipping to recess and calling it PE, singing while they take attendance, assigning the fun stuff for homework.  
The students still come to school with bright eyes and high hopes.  Their parents, with no real knowledge of the system, still put their faith in the school. 
Those teachers are heroes.
They haven't left town, retired or put their hands up in the air and waved a flag of surrender.
They are still there, regardless of the rancor, the disrespect and the impossibility of their situation.  
They believe in the kids.

And now here is the Kryptonite of No Child Left Behind that no one wants the poor and diverse to know:  we can dismantle it.  We have the power.  All we have to do is to choose not to take the test.  If enough parents make that choice, the test becomes invalid.  Suddenly, Program Improvement has no weight. 
Trust me.  No one wants you to know this or do this as a parent.   
There will be incredible push back and repercussions but what can be worse than TEN years of drudgery??? TEN more years?  Entire generations of learners thinking this is the only way?

I'm ready for a fight.  Bring it on.

As a parent at one of those schools, I'd opt out of the test. Bring the legislators with no educational knowledge to task.  Ask them to think up some new way to have high expectations and accountability.  I'm all for it.  I'm against teaching to the test and pure drudgery.
Our poorest, most disadvantaged kids need way more than that.  
They need the wonder and joy and excitement of school.

"Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter."
-- Martin Luther King, Jr.

Today, I'm not quiet any more.

1 comment:

  1. I love everything about this. It's all so true. Everything about it. We need to make HUGE changes in schools or else everything is going to go to poop. So perfectly expressed. More people need to hear this.