Bush Says He’s Ready to Fight for Renewal of NCLB
Comments from Annie:
Dear President Bush:
You mentioned that you are ready to take on the critics of NCLB and I want to let you know that I am here for you.
I know that your mind is on a lot of other issues these days but one thing I would like you to understand is that you really should rethink your promise to reauthorize NCLB next year as planned.
The truth is, Mr. President, in all honesty, we do not want your lousy policy and we don’t want to see you expand it.
If you had the time, I am sure you could become informed about the destructive outcomes of NCLB. But since you are since you are so busy with the war and stuff like that, I would like to simplify the issues for you.
The policies of NCLB have allowed the business community to infiltrate and control our schools and our educational system and have left a path of destruction and devastation in our classrooms. You can compare this to the situation in New Orleans except in this case the forces were money and control instead of wind and water. Remember that catastrophic event called Hurricane Katrina? This is Hurricane NCLB.
I know some of the investors enjoying the largest profits are your closest friends and relatives, but, as our president, sometimes you have to step outside of the interests of powerful peer pressure to evaluate the effects of your own decisions. In this case, the decision to help your friends buy bigger yachts and go on nicer vacations was also a decision to allow textbook and other educational businesses to control the curriculums and make other academic decisions while teachers, who are trained to teach, are left farther and farther behind in power and control of their classrooms. You can find another way to help your friends have fun, can’t you?
The problem with this is simple and therefore, even you should be able to understand it.
Business people are not prepared to make good decisions about school policy. Let me give you an example. Say for instance, one of your wars is running low on weapons and we will call that “inadequate proficiency.” At the same time, you have decided that it is time for you to re-evaluate how successful a tactic of war is in light of your goal. Let’s call your goal “national security.” Now, let’s analyze this situation. We can make the following statement: National Security is being substantially compromised because of inadequate proficiency.
If you happen to have friends whose business it is to sell weapons, they will gladly agree with this statement. But if you go to someone who does not profit from the sales of more weapons, they might ask you to rethink your goal. They might remind you of the loss and destruction of human life.
Suppose that another set of friends is in the business of evaluating the social and cultural value of wars. They are selling ideas, not guns. They might ask you to consider the relative value of the devastation that war inflicts on human beings. They might ask you to reconsider the investment you had planned to make relative to your goal. And you might want to reconsider your goal to include the feelings and ideas of learned and objective people rather than continue to support a concept that has grave effects on the quality of lives for everyone involved and serves to allow greedy people to receive profits from such devastation.
You can turn things around in this case with a simple redefinition of terms. You can call spending more money on your war “inadequate progress.” And you can call the war off if you suddenly can no longer make any connection between the battle to control oil and a contrived and illogical goal of “national security” masterminded to divert attention away from the reality of your desire to control oil. You might simply rename the state of not being at war: “national security.”
So, you see, Mr. President, you can safely refuse to buy more weapons and end a war and still be able to swagger around saying that we have made “adequate progress for national security.”
Words, you see, are very powerful. But, words can be manipulated.
I for one am getting very tired of hearing how much “progress” we are making in our schools since NCLB. As a matter of fact, I am tired of hearing the phrase: “No Child Left Behind.” That is because the phrase is such an insult to the intelligence and knowledge of anyone who sees what is going on in our public schools since you passed the law.
The truth is, Mr. President, the business community knows very little about the effects of curriculum and programs which are (since NCLB) modified to meet the demands of poorly developed tests on our students and our teachers. And I don’t think you realize anymore how important our students and teachers are and what we should be doing for them in order to give them a fair shot at being educated.
It concerns me, for instance, that in your speeches you say that you intend to expand AP classes. The truth of the matter is these AP classes are simply another product of a business that is seeking profit. The quality of these classes has suffered immensely under the expansion of support and profits you gave them with NCLB.
I happen to know this because I have two very bright children who suffer through these classes. They are taught by teachers who suffer with them. And the classes are nothing more than a very restrictive, test-based waste of good potential. A lot of my children’s teachers have become friends and they are very forthcoming about the low quality of these classes. So, I have to ask you, Mr. President, why you don’t bother to listen to the teachers and the students before you act in their interest?
That, in my opinion, is the key to your mistake. You have not attempted to ask or hear about the effects of your policies from the people who are in the best position to give you an accurate answer. Instead, you listen to people who already have a lot of money and are planning to make more from the reauthorization of NCLB.
If I didn’t know that you were already very wealthy, I would consider asking you if you are trying to make some money yourself. I hope not since I would consider the money that is made on the mistreatment of our teachers and students very dirty money.
I am sorry but with all due respect, I have to question your fundamental approach to governing when I ponder your gapping ignorance about education. I keep remembering the picture of you in an American classroom “reading” a book to students who had to be struck by the fact that you held the book upside down. I think this picture explains a lot about your point of view in relation to learning.
I would love the opportunity to meet with you and bring the scores of students, teachers and educational scientists that I know along for a really important discussion about the core problems with NCLB. I think, if you gave it a chance, you might even learn something, and more importantly, you might begin to understand why sometimes it is better to actually learn something for yourself than to let your friends convince you to go along with their ideas.
I know that you are probably not the smartest president we have had; my daughter boasts all the time that her SAT scores were higher than yours. But I have to have faith that somewhere inside of you there is still a place in your heart that knows right from wrong. I am begging you to try, at least, to understand why so many people are suffering with the policies of NCLB and asking you to consider educating yourself before you sign on to your friends’ agenda to reauthorize this damaging act.
Thank you for your time and best to you, your friends, and your family,
By Michele McNeil
President Bush said last week that it would be a priority of his administration to reauthorize the No Child Left Behind Act next year, and that he was prepared to take on the law’s critics.
“Instead of softening No Child Left Behind, we need to strengthen it. The law is working,” Mr. Bush said to more than 100 students, teachers, and community leaders at Friendship-Woodridge Elementary and Middle School here.
The president reiterated his calls for Congress to expand the accountability law at the high school level, to give parents more educational options for their children, and to reward teachers for performance.
Mr. Bush has proposed those ideas before, but his renewed attention to No Child Left Behind comes as Congress gets closer to formally taking up the reauthorization of the law next year. Many observers believe final action could take longer, however.
Signed into law in January 2002, the measure overhauled the Elementary and Secondary Education Act to beef up its accountability provisions. Its centerpiece is a requirement that schools test students annually in reading and math in grades 3-8, and once in high school. Schools that fail to meet performance benchmarks face a series of consequences, including the loss of federal aid.
Shortly before visiting the school on Oct. 5, President Bush met with Department of Education officials at the department’s headquarters to discuss the law.
“No Child Left Behind is working, and we’ve been strategizing here as to how to make sure we not only defend it during the reauthorization process, but how we strengthen the law,” Mr. Bush told reporters after the closed-door session.
Dana Perino, a White House spokeswoman, had told reporters the day before that the president’s stop at the Education Department would be similar to other recent forays he has made to the Pentagon and the Department of State.
“It’s a chance for him to go to the departments, hear from the Cabinet official and their supporting casts,” Ms. Perino said.
General criticisms of the No Child Left Behind law include that it promotes too much testing in schools and sets unrealistic expectations about the ability of all students to achieve at high levels.
At Woodridge Elementary and Middle School, which serves 334 Washington students in prekindergarten through 8th grade, Mr. Bush said members of Congress “feel the pressure because people say, ‘Look, we’re tired of measuring.’ They feel the pressure because, ‘you know, we’re just teaching to the test.’ I mean, there’s every excuse in the book.”
While a majority of the District of Columbia’s traditional and charter public schools haven’t made adequate yearly progress as required under the law, Woodridge has met that benchmark for the past three years and was one of only four charter schools, out of 62, in the city to do so this year.
During Mr. Bush’s speech, more than 50 Woodridge students sat in the crowd, dressed in white polo shirts and khaki or navy pants, and nearly all raised their hands when the president asked if they planned to go to college.
The president was scant on the details behind the changes he mentioned he’d like to see in the reauthorization of the law.
He wants Congress to devote more money to a teacher-incentive program that will award bonuses to high-performing teachers and to those who choose to work in inner-city or rural districts. He also wants the No Child Left Behind law to include a provision to encourage math and science professionals to teach in public schools. And, he wants to expand the law’s accountability standards to high schools, which are struggling to rein in dropout rates.
“One out of every four 9th graders in America does not graduate from high school on time,” Mr. Bush said. “That’s unacceptable.”
To that end, he promoted his proposal, unveiled in his State of the Union Address in January, to train 70,000 teachers over five years to teach Advanced Placement classes.
The Front Line
Rep. George Miller of California, the ranking Democrat on the House Education and the Workforce Committee, criticized Mr. Bush for what the lawmaker says is the failure to provide enough funding to schools to meet the law’s requirements.
“Over the last five years, the Bush administration has severely undermined the law’s success by failing to give schools the resources and guidance they need to meet its demanding standards,” Rep. Miller said in a statement after the president’s school visit.
For teachers who work under the No Child Left Behind law every day, such as Woodridge’s Andrew Lakis, Mr. Bush’s calls for improving the teaching profession struck a chord. But Mr. Lakis, whose 5th grade students took a break from reading and subtraction to attend the speech, isn’t sure programs such as cash bonuses will do that.
“I don’t think we’ll see significant changes until we start treating educators as professionals,” Mr. Lakis said, “and expecting them to do a good job from the beginning, and not rewarding them after they do a good job.”
Michele McNeil, with comments by Annie
INDEX OF NCLB OUTRAGES