[Susan notes: When a local paper allows letter commentaries, take advantage of it.]
Published in News Herald
I am writing in response to two letters published on Wednesday, March 31, 2004. **** only reiterate the Republican rhetoric when they attack State Representative Hoon-Yung Hopgood for his criticism of the "No Child Left Behind" (NCLB) legislation. It is clear from the two letters that they desire to further weaken the public schools by diverting more tax money from the public schools to private schools (some religious and others for profit).
Representative Hopgood is an honest politician who cares about the people he represents. Any implication that his motives are anything but for the good of the students is an insult to a good man. He is a product of the public school system and comes from a family of educators. He knows more than most about the problems and strengths of public education.
The truth is that there are many problems with the implementation of the NCLB. There is no doubt that NCLB is under funded by billions of dollars. Beyond the actual promised dollars the administration has failed to provide, President Bush's mishandling of the economy and his tax cuts for the rich have forced the state government in Michigan to not increase school funding for two years. With inflation and increase in costs, especially health care, this amounts to significant cuts in public school funding. Educators are expected to do so much more with so much less.
The president is the master of using misleading names for his policies. The "Clear Skies Initiative" allows more pollutants to be released into our air. The "Healthy Forest Initiative" is used to gut environmental protections and allow more forest to be logged and destroyed. The NCLB is designed to destroy public education. The education budget for the nation as a whole is about $500 billion. This represents the largest pool of money in the country that is producing no billionaires. There are many people salivating to take a big bite of this "pie".
The model for NCLB is the Houston, Texas School District under the direction of now U. S. secretary of education, Rod Paige. The truth is now out that that "success story" was done with "smoke and mirrors". A reported drop out rate of 1.5% turns out to be 40%. Students who were not expected to pass the tenth grade test were held back in the ninth grade and the next year promoted to the eleventh grade. Without these students, the percentage of students passing the test improved significantly.
I am a resident of Taylor and a teacher in Dearborn. I am the Union (Dearborn Federation of Teachers) representative in my building. The most common complaint I hear from the teachers in my building and from other teachers at union meetings is that administrative policies are negatively impacting their ability to do their job. It is my experience that teachers care more about the welfare of their students than anyone except the parents. Unfortunately, we care more than some parents.
We, as teachers, are frustrated with NCLB. It is hard to meet the standards of "Highly Qualified Teacher" when the definition is vague and changes from month to month. The measures of annual yearly progress for students, especially the MEAP, in no way measure the skills needed to be good citizens and to secure economic stability. Where is there a job where the workers spend their time taking multiple choice tests? We are now teaching this skill at the expense of more important skills. I am not opposed to accountability, but I am opposed to evaluations that are designed to produce failure.
I am tired of hearing about the failure of American public schools. Do we have problems? Yes. Do we need to improve? Yes. Do we need to reach those students who are now being left behind? Yes. Yes. But are we doing a lot of good? Yes. Our public schools are dynamic institutions that accept all students. We in the education community are constantly striving to improve our performance. Unlike other countries, there is no cut off point where the opportunity for education is denied. I have known high school drop outs to go back to school in their twenties or thirties and become college graduates.
We in public education resent being demonized by those who only wish to get their hands on the money now going to public education.