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NCLB Outrages

On Your Rating Scale, Where Do you Put Niceness? And Happiness?

Ohanian Comment: What struck me about this teacher's comment about working in a federally 'labeled' school is his assertion, "Clearly, we, the staff and students at Barnard-White, had been doing a lot of things right. Many of these things--such as creating an environment where most everyone felt safe, supported, cared-for, and happy (one of our strongest suits)--would never show up on a standardized exam."

Those words are in the school's mission statement. Yes, the mission statement contains a lot of verbiage, but these words are significant: All persons have the right to be treated with respect, kindness, and courtesy

"All persons" means children too. And I fear too many educators have forgotten this.

When I wrote Dave Ellison, asking him about this happiness thing, I was struck by the fact that he credits the staff and the students. Together. With an emphasis on the students. In his e-mail, Dave wrote to the fact that the kids at Barnard-White are just plain nice kids. How refreshing to hear from a teacher, and a middle school teacher at that, who holds such a good view of his students. Dave wrote: "We notice that our kids are more mannered and kinder when all the district's middle schools' bands get together, or the color guards, etc. These kids are just nice kids."

I find it refreshing that nobody is trying to ascribe these kids' good manners and kindness to some sort of behavior mod program. Simply put, 30 miles south east of San Francisco, in Barnard-White Middle School, in a building housing 856 kids, 75% of whom are students of color speaking 22 languages, you'll find a whole lot of nice kids.

And teachers who put high value on this quality.

by David Ellison

“We are a very caring and hardworking staff,”
one of my colleagues wrote in defensive frustration
last week, “with a spirited student population, and we
all take a lot of pride in what we do here. We deserve
better than to be painted with a broad brush by NCLB
(No Child Left Behind), and hence the media, as
‘under-performing.’ We are always looking for ways to
improve; but having to send a letter home to our
students which implies that our other two middle
schools are somehow superior to ours hurts our pride
and, even more importantly, sends our kids
indirect message that somehow they don’t measure up….
Our staff knows better.”

Two weeks ago, my school had to draft such a
letter to all parents inviting them to transfer their
children to one of the other two middle schools in the
district. “For the past two years,” the letter read,
“Barnard-White Middle has not met the NCLB criteria
adopted by the State Board of Education and so has
been identified by preliminary reports as needing
program improvement.”

What the letter didn’t explain, however, is that
those other middle schools didn’t meet NCLB criteria
either. The difference is that we are a Title I
school: A substantial portion of our students are
eligible for free or reduced lunch. As a result, we
receive additional federal funds, but now face
sanctions most schools don’t.

The letter was a bitter slap in the face to us
at Barnard-White, because, frankly, we’d been quite
proud of our recent, hard-won success. For example,
we’d improved our Academic Performance Index (API)
steadily and dramatically for six straight years. And,
even though our raw score was lower than those of our
two sister district middle schools, when all three
schools were compared to others with similar
socioeconomic student populations, Barnard-White
emerged on top. In fact, last year, almost across the
board, we raised the percentage of students proficient
on the tests used to determine NCLB criteria,
including the California Standards Test, at a rate
superior to the district average.

Clearly, we, the staff and students at
Barnard-White, had been doing a lot of things right.
Many of these things--such as creating an environment where
most everyone felt safe, supported, cared-for, and
happy (one of our strongest suits)--would never show
up on a standardized exam. Nonetheless, according to
NCLB, we were in need of “program improvement” ; and
so, because we were a Title I school, our students
deserved the opportunity to “escape” to purportedly
more successful ones.

The irony is that we must tap Title I funds to
pay for the transportation of those who elected to
leave, instead of using the money to assist struggling
students who remained; and that those who left
generally had among the highest test scores-- a
student brain-drain making it even more difficult for
Barnard-White to meet NCLB standards in the future.
Most everyone in education recognizes NCLB will
eventually collapse under this and many other
misbegotten absurdities. For example, the benchmark
for success will gradually rise until in the year
2014, every single student in the nation must be
proficient in every single subject, or his/her school
will be similarly labeled in need of program
improvement. Obviously, most schools will eventually
fail (twenty-three have so far in the Tri-Cities),
even elite ones with predominately advantaged
students. Then, of course, the law will change.
That is no consolation to us here at
Barnard-White. We will continue to do what we’ve
always done: push ourselves above and beyond, demand
the highest standards while taking tender care of each
other--all with our enduring Bronco pride. But now we
will do so in spite of NCLB, not because of it.

— David Ellison, teacher



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