Human element left out of No Child Left Behind Act
by Kelly Flynn
Something's missing. Something big. The most sweeping education reform ever has a big, fat hole in it.
Last month, Education Secretary Margaret Spellings took public schools to task because only a fraction of students took advantage of the options for free tutoring or transfers out of failing schools, provisions of the No Child Left Behind Act. Only 17 percent of eligible students signed up for free tutoring, and less than 1 percent of eligible students actually transferred to other schools. She contends that they were not made aware of their choices.
I don't think that's the whole story.
Think for a moment about the so-called "failing" schools. Most are in urban areas of blight and poverty. There is a reason why the students at those schools are failing, but it's not because they can't learn.
In urban areas, students often fail because education is the furthest thing from their minds as they cope with day-to-day survival - financial, physical, social, mental and emotional. Poverty, drugs, gangs, street life, homelessness - these are not just words for them. They are a seemingly inescapable way of life.
Many kids raised in a culture of failure think that what goes on at school - education - has nothing to do with them. And in all fairness, it probably doesn't, not in any immediate sense. It doesn't protect them from the gangs in their neighborhoods. It doesn't pay for doctors if they get sick. It doesn't get drug pushers off their corners. It doesn't give their moms jobs. It doesn't put food in their refrigerators. It doesn't get their dads off drugs or out of jail. School is irrelevant to them in a huge way.
That's what's missing from NCLB. The human element.
Why on earth would students sign up for after-school tutoring if they don't do their regular schoolwork? Why on earth would they go to the trouble to get the voucher (yes, it is a voucher) to transfer to another school when they've been absent more days than not in the school they're enrolled in now?
It's not low expectations. No one's telling them they can't succeed. No one's telling them anything; they aren't there to hear it.
Yes, even in so-called "failing" schools in bad neighborhoods there are motivated kids who care about their education and who will take advantage of tutoring or transfers. For them, the options work.
There's a lot we can do to improve the educational system in this country. But NCLB is an incomplete solution. Because NCLB is about rules and regulations and tests and statistics and paperwork and politics. It does not address, never even mentions, the mindset, the culture, of the nonlearner.
So are some kids going to be left behind? Sadly, yes. And NCLB has nothing to offer that will fix that.
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