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NCLB Outrages

Government needs to let schools assess own progress

Ohanian Comment: Although I support the author's assertion that methods to reach student needs must be local, decided in each classroom, I don't support his assertion that goals can be set nationally. I guess it depends on what one means by goals.

by Marty Schwimmer

What could possibly be wrong with a law named No Child Left Behind? Nothing, until we learn more about it. The law's goals are as laudable as its title, but the devil is in the details.

The goal of No Child Left Behind was to bring up underperforming students and schools, hold educators accountable, and rescue those perishing in less than adequate learning environments. This was to be accomplished by setting academic standards for math and reading, creating a system of school assessment and accountability, employing only highly qualified teachers and permitting parents to move their children from "failing" schools.

How has this law fared? I speak with some expertise about law and education. I am a California attorney, a federal lawyer who worked for years in Washington, D.C., and a credentialed California teacher. The No Child Left Behind Act became law in 2002, while I was teaching at Raymond Cree Middle School in Palm Springs.

According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress in October 2005, reading scores that had been flat for years and have remained flat. Math scores that had been rising for years now rise more slowly.

Labels counter-productive
The problem is that the new law provides a "one-size-fits-all" method of measuring student performance and bases success on a percentage of students meeting fixed goals. Accountability focuses on punishing children and schools rather than giving them the support they need to improve.

The solutions? As a teacher, I know that children learn at different paces, and varied measurement methods are needed to capture their progress. As an attorney, I know that Congress can ensure your child is not left behind by allowing the states flexibility to measure student performance and address accountability within their own systems. Congress should let our school administrators and teachers evaluate why students don't meet learning objectives and make the necessary adjustments. National policy can define the goals, but state educators should be permitted to prescribe the methods and management to meet the standards of those goals.

The No Child Left Behind Act provides that the federal government will pay for the costs of meeting performance objectives and complying with testing and reporting requirements. Yet funding for education has been cut by billions and has actually fallen below the previous year for the first time in a decade. Congress must ensure that education funding for No Child Left Behind Act requirements is adequate, so that our schools and teachers can succeed.

Here in Coachella Valley, some schools are labeled as "failing" under the No Child Left Behind Act. While such labels certainly get our attention, they are counter-productive. To improve education law, Congress must recognize that the main event in education, the one that produces individual success in school, is the relationship between each student and teacher. No brilliant educational scheme will replace a teacher's hands-on ability to help a child learn.

Congress shouldn't micromanage
California teachers in particular meet high standards and possess advanced college degrees. They work countless hours, spend their own money on school supplies and are grossly underpaid compared to others with comparable responsibilities and skills. Behind every teacher is a dedicated principal, administrative staff and school district who care that our children learn. These are the people who ensure your child is not left behind.

Congress revises federal education law every few years. Next time, Congress needs to respect the expertise and ability of schools and teachers by not over-managing the process, and by providing them with the funds necessary to get a hard job done.

Marty Schwimmer is seeking the Democratic Party’s nomination for the 45th Congressional District.

— Marty Schwimmer
The Desert Sun


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