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NCLB Outrages

School District Cancels Spelling Bee

There was large public outcry over the cancelling of the spelling bee, so, as the second story indicates, it's back on track.

LINCOLN -- Karen Adams always enjoyed receiving her invitation. The WPRI-TV news anchorwoman and Lincoln resident looked forward to penciling in the school districtís spelling bee in her appointment calendar.

But thereís no note in her calendar this year. The Lincoln district has decided to eliminate this yearís spelling bee -- a competition involving pupils in grades 4 through 8, with each school district winner advancing to the state competition and a chance to proceed to the national spelling bee in Washington, D.C.

Through the years, it had become a tradition for Adams to pronounce and define spelling words used in the bee.

"It was just fun," she said last Monday from her office at the television studio.

Assistant Superintendent of Schools Linda Newman said the decision to scuttle the event was reached shortly after the January 2004 bee in a unanimous decision by herself and the districtís elementary school principals.

The administrators decided to eliminate the spelling bee, because they feel it runs afoul of the mandates of the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

"No Child Left Behind says all kids must reach high standards," Newman said. "Itís our responsibility to find as many ways as possible to accomplish this."

The administrators agreed, Newman said, that a spelling bee doesnít meet the criteria of all children reaching high standards -- because there can only be one winner, leaving all other students behind.

"Itís about one kid winning, several making it to the top and leaving all others behind. Thatís contrary to No Child Left Behind," Newman said.

A spelling bee, she continued, is about "some kids being winners, some kids being losers."

As a result, the spelling bee "sends a message that this isnít an all-kids movement," Newman said.

Furthermore, professional organizations now frown on competition at the elementary school level and are urging participation in activities that avoid winners, Newman said. Thatís why there are no sports teams at the elementary level, she said as an example.

The emphasis today, she said, is on building self-esteem in all students.

"You have to build positive self-esteem for all kids, so they believe theyíre all winners," she said. "You want to build positive self-esteem so that all kids can get to where they want to go."

A spelling bee only benefits a few, not all, students, the elementary principals and Newman agreed, so it was canceled.

While she concedes sheís not familiar with the specifics of No Child Left Behind, Adams, nevertheless, is befuddled by the school departmentís decision.

"I donít see where that (No Child Left Behind) has anything to do with a spelling bee. It was just a fun time," Adams said.

Winning a spelling bee, she added, "just meant you were a good speller."

One aspect she enjoyed about participating in her hometown spelling bee was the openness of the competition.

"Itís not always the straight "A" student who wins the spelling bee," she said.

A spelling bee also is a chance for children to shine before their peers, family and friends, Adams points out.

"Itís a big deal for the kids. Itís a nice recognition for them," she said.

Competing in a spelling bee is also a learning experience, the anchorwoman believes. "It was fun for the kids because it gave them poise and confidence to stand in front of a crowd."

Adams admits sheíll miss the bee.

"I just loved the kids. They were so cute. My heart broke every time a kid missed," she said. "I really enjoyed it."

Adams wasnít the only one caught off guard by the spelling beeís cancellation.

"I had no idea this (spelling bee) was called off," School Committee Chairman Jeff Weiss said last Friday.

The chairman reserved further comment until he could get more information. "I have no comment because I donít know whatís going on," the chairman said.

Canceling the spelling bee is an administrative decision that doesnít require School Committee approval, Newman said.

Karen Martin, whose daughter, Brianna, won last yearís bee, said she was surprised the bee had been eliminated, describing its cancellation as "strange."

Although her daughter was nervous, Martin believes it was a good experience for Brianna. "It was exciting to go to the state competition," the mother said.

Like Adams, Martin said sheíll miss the bee.

"Iím disappointed. I thought it was a fun activity," she said.

The administratorsí decision to eliminate the bee wasnít a difficult one, Newman said.

"There was no debate at all. It was one of the easiest decisions," the assistant superintendent said because "there was no question among the administrators" that a spelling bee was "contrary to the expectations" of No Child Left Behind.

Lincoln Spelling Bee Back on Track

February 2, 2004

LINCOLN -- It seems the children in Lincoln will be buzzing after all.

The districtís elementary school principals and Assistant Superintendent Linda Newman unanimously decided to cut the grades 4 to 8 bee in January of last year. Superintendent John Tindall-Gibson -- who was not superintendent when the decision to drop the spelling bee was made -- has decided to reconsider the canceling.

The districtís decision was based on the No Child Left Behind Act. Officials said they wanted to spare children in younger grades from feeling left out. They also worried the district couldnít afford to spend time, money and energy on the bee, when meeting federal and state mandates required so much attention.

Tindall-Gibson, however, saw things differently.

"You canít focus all of your energy on test scores, but you also need to focus resources on things that keep a school from failing," he said. "My job is to make sure schools arenít dull and dreary places. These sorts of competitions can be motivational and exciting for students, so thatís something we will have to consider."

Mary Carvalho, principal at Lonsdale Elementary, was among those who agreed to cut the spelling bee, though she said she has hosted the bee before and enjoys it. She said the decision was based on research discouraging competition at lower grade levels and standards that say, "all children should be given the same opportunities."

While Tindall-Gibson said bees require several months of preparation and man-hours to pull together, the Lincoln school department will hold school-based spelling bees this week -- beginning Wednesday and continuing through through Feb. 8 -- and its district-wide spelling bee at 4 p.m. Feb. 17 at Lincoln High Schoolís auditorium.

— Ronald R. Blais
Woonsocket Call


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