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[Susan notes: An Iowa teacher answers the critics--in her local press. May others follow her example.]

Published in Cedar Rapids Gazette

To the editor

"No Child Left Behind" is a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde . It is a wolf in sheep's clothing. It is rhetoric not reform.” These words were delivered in an address on July 3, 2003, by Reg Weaver, the president of NEA (National Education Association).

A wolf in sheep’s clothing - what an apt figure of speech to describe the disaster that is President Bush’s No Child Left Behind Act, or NCLB. A recent letter to the editor lauded the president for supporting this legislation and referred to “additional resources”, “historic levels of funding” and “positive changes” coming schools’ way.

Sadly, this writer is woefully misinformed about the realities of what this legislation will bring down upon us. Well-intended it may be, but the fact is that NCLB is not adequately funded and has other serious flaws. First, NCLB wrongly assumes that all children are ready to learn the same content at the same time. Its focus on gauging student progress through annual testing (in most states this will be reading and math scores) will force a narrowing of the curriculum and will short-change students at the lower and upper ranges of achievement. Students will be coached to pass a test. As a teacher, this scares me to death. I’m not afraid of accountability, or any measure of my teaching ability you want to throw at me. No, I’m afraid of being forced to spend valuable class time, daily or weekly, as thousands of teachers all across America already are, giving practice tests and more tests at the expense of quality experiences with literature and writing.

I recently attended a workshop in Atlanta and spoke with teachers from all over the country who are sick about what their states’ testing requirements are forcing them to do in the classroom. With NCLB, teacher autonomy and expertise are denied. Who can possibly believe that requiring teachers to follow mandatory pacing charts so every teacher is on the same page at the same time is a good thing for students? Sound absurd? It is, but it’s happening all over the country now.

I want to maintain the freedom I have to deviate from my lesson plans because I found an important article in the newspaper to discuss or some other “teachable moment” presented itself. If teachers are forced to abandon these kinds of learning experiences, we will be depriving your children from being the kind of well-rounded citizens our society needs.

It sounds good to say that schools which fail to meet the standards will be held accountable, but in reality, sanctions intended to force school improvement will do the opposite. They will pit parents against teachers and against other parents, and schools against schools. Funding meant for all students will be channeled to be used for relatively few students. Is this progress?

The NEA is not just whining about this problem; they have launched an effort called "Great Public Schools for Every Child Action Plan,” which proposes specific amendments to the federal law. A bill has been drafted which specifies action steps necessary to do the following: 1) Fund, fully, No Child Left Behind programs; 2) Grant flexibility to states and schools to put in place workable accountability systems; 3) Grant flexibility to states and school districts to target help to schools with the most severe problems; 4) Close loopholes in the definition of a "highly qualified" teacher; 5) Ensure that paraprofessionals are provided with the resources to pay for the required professional development, and 6) Require all entities receiving NCLB funds to fully comply with federal civil rights laws.

I have only scratched the surface here – there is much more to this issue, and I urge you to visit the following websites for some enlightening information: http://www.nea.org or http://www.susanohanian.org.

The complete address by Reg Weaver can be found here.

Let me conclude with his words: “NCLB is setting up public schools to fail. It is setting up children to fail. It is setting up teachers and other education professionals to fail. It will drive inspired and experienced teachers and paraprofessionals from the classroom. And it will definitely leave millions of children behind. Millions!” Think twice before you applaud this fiasco.

Bonnie Dodge

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