Telling the truth
Ohanian Comment: Many things about this editorial will cause any knowledgeable educator to levitate, but perhaps the biggest lie is the claim that it isn't about money, that high standards can be instituted without it costing a dime.
And the editorialist also claims that "using engaging teaching methods in classrooms" isn't a financial issue. True. These days it's a professionlism issue. NCLB demands allegiance to scripts, which are the opposite of "engaging teaching methods."
Yes, the truth does need to be told. You won't find it here. Even more disturbing, the U. S. Department of Education circulated this article through their e-mail list.
The drumbeat of opposition to No Child Left Behind was once again heard in the General Assembly. And once again it caught the ear of legislators and persuaded them to pass some misguided legislation. This year's crop directs the Board of Education to develop plans to abandon all aspects of the act that aren't part of the state's own programs, such as Standards of Learning. Hundreds of millions of federal dollars that now go to schools are at stake.
Much of the pushback against No Child Left Behind comes from teachers and school administrators. Some object to the accountability it has imposed. Before it, there was little accountability in public education - astoundingly little, given the billions of dollars involved and the importance of the enterprise to our collective future.
And No Child Left Behind is, undeniably, imperfect in design and execution. The biggest flaw is the mishmash measure that is the centerpiece of its accountability scheme, the one that gauges whether students, schools and school districts are making Adequate Yearly Progress, or AYP.
But many of the criticisms levied against No Child Left Behind are unfair and untrue. It is not massive federal intrusion. States devise their own standards, craft their own curriculum, set their own goals, write their own tests and concoct their own definitions of progress.
FACING THE FACTS
And there are good reasons why we need No Child Left Behind. Until it came along, some of the most significant problems in public education - problems with enormous implications for the health of our society and economy - were resolutely ignored by our schools and our state Department of Education.
No Child Left Behind forced us to pay attention to a profound and troubling inequity in public education - the fact that many schools are not doing justice to minority and poor children. Except in rare localities - Newport News and Williamsburg-James City County, for example - the truth about this was neither acknowledged nor addressed.
Virginia set up its accreditation system so a school can earn top honors if the overall student body hits the pass rate target. If the goal is 70 percent passing, for example, it doesn't matter if 85 percent of white kids pass but only 55 percent of black kids. But that kind of gap exists in school after school, and it does matter. It matters because the American system can't work if poor and minority children grow up without the education that will make them productive, contributing members of society.
Until No Child Left Behind mandated that achievement data for various groups be made public, school boards and the state of Virginia generally ignored this issue, perpetuating a problem with far-reaching and costly consequences.
No Child Left Behind forced us to pay attention to the dropout rate. Until it did, the state and school systems masked the problem with bogus numbers. Now, real numbers reveal its enormity.
When we calculate the dropout rate the only way that makes sense - the percentage of students who don't complete high school - we know that at least one in four does not graduate, and in some schools and among some groups, it's one in two. The consequences are enormous for our society, our economy, our safety: New studies show that most young black men who drop out end up unemployed and in prison.
But rarely does a school board address this issue. And the fact that the state Board of Education asked the federal government for a waiver so high schools wouldn't be held accountable for graduation rates shows how eager the educational establishment is to go in the wrong direction. No Child Left Behind pulls us in the right direction.
No Child Left Behind forced attention on teacher quality by mandating that all core academic classes be taught by teachers who have bachelor's degrees and, within three years, earn state licenses. Until the law raised the bar, some districts, including Hampton, found ways to keep on teachers who couldn't pass the certification exam (which is just a high school level test). A lot of "improvement" came when Virginia redefined "highly qualified" to include more teachers, but the federal law also forced schools to stop hanging on to teachers who couldn't meet standards.
IT'S NOT ABOUT MONEY
The argument that No Child Left Behind imposes unfunded mandates is largely a smokescreen. Many of the things that are required to improve education don't cost a lot of money. Instituting high expectations - of all children, no matter their race or background - doesn't take money. Neither does establishing nurturing school environments. Aligning curriculum with standards and tests is a one-time expense. Putting real instructional leaders in principals' offices isn't primarily a financial issue, nor is using engaging teaching methods in classrooms. And No Child Left Behind did bring extra money for reading, tutoring and other interventions.
No Child Left Behind has made educators, school boards, legislators and communities think about education differently. It revealed significant problems, and that has made some people uncomfortable. But fixing those problems will make public schools, and the public they serve, much better off.
INDEX OF NCLB OUTRAGES