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NCLB Outrages

No Child Left Behind law may be flawed, but it should not be abolished

Ohanian Comment: Hey, I don't know that I was ever denounced in an editorial before.

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  • And now about this editorial. I'm reluctant to give much time to this but here are a couple of points. The editorialist asserts,"All children should be reading at least at grade level." "Grade level" is more a political concept than a legitimate educational one. And this assertion sounds surprisingly like Lake Wobegon, where all children are above average.

    As long as we continue to educate English learners and students with emotional, cognitive, and other problems, ALL children aren't going to read on grade level.

    The editorialist brags, "Four out of five Tennessee public schools, including the ones in Sevier County, have met the requirements of the federal law." Are they ever in for a shock. Here are the projected targets for Tennessee in Reading/Language Arts,Determined by the Percent of Students at the Proficient or Above Levels

    School Year Reading/Language

    2002-2004 77.1%
    2004-2007 82.825%
    2007-2010 88.55%
    2010-2013 93.1%
    2013-2014 100%
    They have to jump 18% between now and 2014


    Before we admit failure and chunk all that is good and worthy about No Child Left Behind, maybe we ought to step back and see just what that would mean. The intent of the federal law pushed by President Bush was to improve standards and performance in our public schools. Who among us could argue that is not needed? Test scores have dropped and colleges are forced more and more to offer remedial courses in their core curriculums.

    No Child Left Behind set as a goal to have all children reading at grade level by 2014. All children should be reading at least at grade level. Four out of five Tennessee public schools, including the ones in Sevier County, have met the requirements of the federal law. It can be done.

    So what's the problem? Susan Ohanian, a senior fellow at the Vermont Society for the Study of Education, said during a recent Nashville conference of educators that teachers ought to sign a petition urging that No Child Left Behind be abolished. She says it is setting up schools for failure.

    Schools that can't teach children to read at grade level are failures. They are failing the students entrusted to them to teach. Setting reasonable standards and making teachers and administrators work hard to meet those standards is neither unrealistic nor unfair.

    However there are flaws in the No Child Left Behind law, to be sure. It makes little distinction between regular and special-education children. It does not allow flexibility for children with established reading and learning difficulties and disabilities. And it sets the guidelines for what degrees and experience teachers must have to teach certain subjects. It's not always easy to find good math and science teachers these days.

    Those legitimate concerns should lead to reforms of the law, not the killing of it. To destroy the law sends the signal that public schools cannot be improved, that children are doing the best they can and can do no better, and teachers should not be held so accountable for their students' performance. That is not the signal that should be sent out to a public already skeptical about the quality of our public schools.

    Fix the law's weaknesses. Allow for some distinction among students. But don't destroy a law whose intent is good. Susan Ohanian is wrong.

    — Editorial
    Mountain News


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