Teachers respond to column on 'No Child Left Behind'
Teachers' reactions to NCLB range from blaming the kid and the parents to blaming I. Q. Both responses seem to put faith in some absolute standard. Clearly, teachers need to understand the corporate forces driving this legislation.
Usually my weekly column receives little response, except for a family member who sends a brief "atta-boy" once in a while.
Sometimes, though, I write something that seems to strike a nerve. Last week's missive on "No Child Left Behind" was one of those pieces.
For the record, I said I hate the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 because it represents an unwarranted intrusion of the federal government into what is essentially a state and local responsibility - and because it has unrealistic goals and expectations.
No teacher wants to leave any child "behind." I wish I lived in the Land of Lake Wobegon, where "the women are strong, the men are good looking, and all the children are above average," but Lake Wobegon exists only in fiction.
In the real world, both the intelligence and performance of children tend to follow the bell curve, with most children scoring somewhere in the average range.
Still, I'd like to be Super Teacher, the kind of teacher who can inspire students to aspire and perspire to reach the highest spires of learning.
One teacher expressed her frustration at seeing nearly one-third of her kids earning failing grade. These kids fail because they do not do their work. She said. Even when the students do the assignments, they do it haphazardly and half-heartedly.
She shared part of a blog she posted:
"I always talk to these kids and I think I have the key to the problem. My starting question is, 'What do your parents do when you get an F in a class?' And the answer is ALWAYS, 'Oh, they just yell at me.'
"When I talk to the parents of these kids, the parental response is equally mind-blowing to me. The parents will say, point-blank, "I can't control him. What are you going to do?' and they sigh, having given up the whole parenting idea when their kids are 14."
"I can't think of a good way to say this live and in person, so I'm going to use my blog for it in the hopes that MAYBE one of the parents out there will take it to heart...Here's what you can do: YOU CAN PARENT YOUR CHILD."
Her answer to this perennial parenting problem is discover what your child values - and then take it away until school performance improves.
In short, invoke some discipline.
A teacher from the Northwest attacked the one-size-fits all approach to high stakes testing.
This recently retired teacher wrote: "In [our state], benchmark testing has been done at 3rd, 5th, 8th, and 10th grades. All students take the tests, even those designated 'special education.'
"A student with an IQ of 85 is expected to take the 8th grade test at 8th grade, even though he has not met the benchmarks at 3rd or 5th grade. This student will NEVER meet a benchmark test. This student will ALWAYS be left behind.
"What do I say to this kid when I place the test on his desk? 'Here, Johnny, yet another chance for you to fail.'"
She then used an interesting analogy:
"I had a thought. What if we required No Dog Left Behind? Every dog must meet the standards set for all dogs: fetch, sit, stay, rescue drowning people, walk on hind legs. Chihuahuas and St. Bernards alike will dig skiers out of avalanches and pirouette 4 times without stopping. Dogs will be tested, and if they don't meet the standards, the owners are branded 'not highly qualified' and have to take classes to be better dog owners.
"I think we would just give up on dogs entirely.
"Fortunately, we don't give up on children. Every teacher I have ever known has been well educated, devoted to students, desirous of doing even better the next year. School is a haven for students, where they are loved, respected, offered opportunities, given a chance and a second chance and a millionth chance.
"And, yes, some of them are left behind. But not for the fault of the school or its teachers."
I could share more of their comments, but space is always an issue. Their remarks echo many responses I received from teachers to No Child Left Behind.
The words of these veteran teachers should give us all something to think about.
Mike Parker is a columnist for The Free Press. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or in care of this newspaper.
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INDEX OF NCLB OUTRAGES