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[Susan notes: This fine letter makes the important point that teaching has changed dramatically in the last 30 years. It is far more challenging. ]

Submitted to but not published
06/11/2008

Dear Senator Sanders:



This letter will accompany a book titled, When Childhood Collides with NCLB by Susan Ohanian that tells the tragic story of education under No child Left Behind. I hope that you enjoy her mix of poetic verse and political drama as she recounts the tragic events that have taken place since this legislation was enacted in 2001.



Being an educator today is vastly different from when I entered the field in the early 1970's. It is also much more challenging. The vastness of content and high expectations of both students and teachers is daunting, especially to those who enter the field. Add to this, the current involvement of the federal government under the guise of No Child Left Behind and we have a disaster of monumental proportions.



As I wrote in a recent column for the Rutland Herald, it "is a bit like trying to push an elephant up a hill. The elephant as it turns out is accountability and the overwhelming reliance on standardized testing. â€Â¦ Schools, teachers and children are fighting an uphill battle. They can’t move the elephant because the incline keeps increasing and the hill keeps getting taller and taller. More and more schools are finding the climb to be too much. By 2014 it is predicted that there won't be any schools in the entire nation that will be able to make it to the top of the hill. The elephant will block the path completely and the elephant will be indelibly stuck. I wouldn’t like to be behind that elephant when he finally loses his footing and begins to slide backward."



The atmosphere that both teachers and students must survive in is strife with negativity. The emphasis has become not what we can accomplish so much as how great is our failure. This is exacerbated by the media reports of failing schools and the federal guidelines that punish schools when they don’t meet their Annual Yearly Performance (AYP).



The current educational climate diminishes quality teaching and discourages our best teachers by pressuring them to fit children into molds prescribed by a one size fits all mentality. The children that I work with, as a Supplemental Service Provider approved by the Vermont Department of Education, certainly do not fit the mold. They are autistic, emotionally disturbed, gifted, learning disabled and otherwise challenged in learning academics. Their talents become hidden in their failure to comply with strict structured teaching methods that are purged of personalized learning styles. The result is that they are clearly left behind.



I urge you and others who serve on the federal education committee, to abandon the precepts of NCLB that disguise efforts to dismantle the public school system, that feed the hungry mouths of the test manufacturers, and that support greedy professionals whose interests are self-serving. The aforementioned have not supported instructional programming that is in the best interests of our children. Monetary gain and prestige have taken precedence over educating the children.



It is critical that in the next revolution of educational reform, all parties be represented including those who represent personalized instruction that takes into consideration varying learning styles and abilities, diverse language and cultural backgrounds, and giftedness. The current focus on a limited view of scientific research has left those professionals who look at authentic learning out in the cold. This view must be expanded.



Members of professional organizations including the Vermont Society for the Study of Education, the National Council of Teacher Educators and The Center for the Expansion of Learning and Thinking must be heard. There are many forward thinking researchers and educators who would be willing to help dismantle NCLB and propose alternative legislation that would be based on sound instructional and assessment practices.



If I can be of any assistance in the process, I would be happy to participate in any way.



Respectfully submitted,



Dr. Alis Headlam, Ed.D


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