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[Susan notes: Three cheers for Sandra Thaxter. Among other things, I don't recall anybody else pointing out that our tax dollars pay for the prominant placement of Secretary Spellings' opo-eds in papers across the country.]

Published in Newburyport Current

To the editor

On the recent “Sitting In” by the deputy secretary of education in The Current, I beg to disagree (“No Child Left Behind is working,” March 30, 2006). It is incredible that our tax money is being spent for such editorials to be placed in local newspapers. I suspect that every principal, school administrator and teacher in the district would probably disagree as well, if they weren’t worried about whether the state education board would target them for speaking out. But I don’t even try to speak for them, I speak for the students, my children and your children who now attend or have attended public school. They are all losing because of the No Child Left Behind Act. I am concerned that there is little opportunity for them to learn about the issues that affect their lives.

The New York Times front page just last week included an article on what some schools have done to comply with the NCLB. In some schools failing students are required to spend their entire day (except for one period of gym) doing math and reading. Successful principals have their training, not in any academic or educational area, but in the military. The U.S. Secretary of education Margaret Spellman gave her hearty approbations to these school programs.

Maybe neither she nor the deputy secretary have ever read some of the many texts and forums on education we have been blessed with over the last forty years, from Horace Mann, T. Berry Brazelton, Maria Montessori, Ted Sizer. We all thought that we had made progress by enriching the curriculum of students to include subjects that used all the sensory learning faculties of students. We thought we had made progress by including a broader view of American history, reading literature from other cultures, adding psychology or media studies.

The ADHD kids forced us to recognize that children have different learning styles. Teachers developed more interactive and engaging learning styles. We recognized that growing children, especially boys, are not developmentally suited to sitting in a desk for hours on end. Isn’t math but an explanation about how the world around us works? Don’t we also know that music develops the same set of preceptors and skills as math? Music and social studies are not educational froth. They are the reason to learn reading and math.

These ideas have been so proliferated across the educational literature for years I cannot believe that our seat of expertise is making claims that devoting an entire curriculum to the basics is going to bring results. Yes there are those critics who say that these learning-lite activities do no teach the basics. Failures of learning are most often linked the wealth of the community. The federal government pays only a small part of the school bills.

Most of the teachers I know have seen many theories and national campaigns on educating come and go. They continue to do their job because they care about their students, have a love of learning and know what kind of teaching brings results. I can imagine them just shrugging at the latest NCLB demands, and thinking that they will find a way to endure yet another national campaign, and continue to focus on the students. Others may have become calloused, feel that their work is not valued, knuckle under and hope that the students survive. Some schools may have received some benefits from NCLB, but I suspect that these benefits shrivel in the face of damage done by the increasing push for performance and conformance pressed by discipline.

Students who can’t conform are more likely to be labeled as “bad,” because their schools are censured if they fail to perform. Continuing to support this charade is a disgrace that any educated person should be crying out to stop.

Can we just dismiss this as another bad deal from Washington and wait for the politicians to move on to other things?In the meantime, what is it doing to our children?

Sandra Thaxter

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