No Child Left Behind fails its mission
Ohanian Comment: This teacher has the answer. You want children to perform better in school? Fight poverty. That's it. Go forth and wage the good fight.
by Chris Bowen
It's a bold name for a piece of legislation. You'd be hard pressed to find a dentist that claimed, "No tooth shall ever have a cavity ... ever." There is no emergency room with a sign on the doors that reads, "No one will ever die here again ... and this time we mean it." It's absurd, of course.
Some people don't brush their teeth. Some bullet wounds are bigger than others.
There's only so much any one doctor or dentist can control. The notion is almost as crazy as "No Child Left Behind." Many of our kids come in not knowing their alphabet. At other schools, all the kids arrive knowing the alphabet, with many already beginning to read. Still, at other schools, no children come in without any letter recognition at all, not even the ones in their names. There's only so much any one teacher can control. Some needs are just bigger than others.
Now, for us, the legislation has become tangible. It's easy to rail against something before the first shoes begin to drop. Just a few miles down the road from the school where I teach is another school in our district. Same teacher qualifications. Good people. It was one of the first schools to take on our district writing program.
Teachers from that school were out training the rest of us. When I was looking for the most effective ways to service kids in my Title I program, I asked the person running their program. Learned a few things, too. Top-notch administrator. Somebody I'd want to work for. Just a few miles down the road from us.
And, that's a potentially failing school under "No Child Left Behind." On the other hand, our school received an honorable mention from the state of California under their Distinguished School Program. And the schools are just a few miles down the road from each other. Just a few.
So, what's the difference? Same district. Same mission statement. Same practices and techniques. Same adopted materials.
Are we, as a staff, that much better? More dedicated? Harder working? If only it were that easy. Each school has its seasoned veterans, its shining stars. Even some rookies. Just like all schools.
So, why were we invited to apply to be a distinguished school, while this other school is allegedly failing? The answer is poverty, mostly. Though only a few miles down the road, they have a far greater number of kids receiving free lunch. Their parents are much more likely to hold jobs, rather than build careers.
Their families are also much more transient than ours. And they have greater language issues. Have you ever tried to take a standardized test in a foreign language? Don't bother. So what will happen if this school fails to meet testing goals again this year? Money will have to be diverted from the kids and put aside for transportation. Kids from this school will get to choose a new school in our area and this school will have to flip the bill to get them there. And which kids might actually leave? The kids who are doing well. The kids whose families are on top of it enough to make the move. This takes those kids away from their school testing totals. It takes away their brightest and best. And, once they leave, who will be "left behind"? Poor kids, the disenfranchised. Now we've got poor kids at an even poorer school.
And my school? Well, by luck, we may wind up with their brightest and best. We are, after all, just a few miles down the road. If that happens, our test scores will go up.
The real answer is easy. The execution is not, but the answer is no great stretch. It's the same answer for most of society's ills. Fight poverty. Don't seek to make people poorer. You want children to perform better in school? Fight poverty. Their poverty. Lower crime rates interest you? Fight poverty.
Teen pregnancy your issue? Less poverty, less teenage pregnancy. Want to wage a real war against terror? Fight global poverty. Is it any wonder that breeding grounds for terror are some of the poorest places on earth?
Putting legislation in place that will eventually punish the poor for simply being poor is never the answer, for anything. Fight poverty. Always fight poverty, and leave no poor child left behind. At home or abroad.
Chris Bowen is a teacher and a freelance writer. He lives in Norwalk.
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