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NCLB Outrages

A Second Letter from a Parent

Comment from Annie: I am posting this and (my other) the first of my letters to a nationally read Education Reporter because I feel so strongly that, however difficult it is to read these stories, our stories must be told.

Dear Education Reporter:

Thanks for your reply.

Home schooling and private schooling are both on the table as my youngest child is experiencing the next tsunami-strength phase of our county's NCLB compliance. Her graduating class of 2009 has a stepped up set of tests, increased credits, and requirements to graduate.

My daughter has a December birthday and is, as a result, about a year ahead in school. She is also very bright and capable and, being the younger sibling to a very bright older sister, struggles with fierce determination to do "even better." That is only part of her story.

The most crucial part of her story now rests with her sadness, and her anger, and her knowledge that what she is being taught is controlled by a group of bureaucrats, not her teachers. She sees that her teachers rights have been stripped away, that her classes are packed with every imaginable kind of student, and that the pace is fast, the lessons shallow, and the entire curriculum is test-based, test results-focussed. No matter how hard she tries to "learn," within the structure of the artificial pace, and scripts, and benchmarks, and other testing, my daughter always feels distraught. There is no time for her questions. There is no way for her to move ahead, even if she is ready. There is no end to her work. There is no joy in her near future.

My daughter is brutalized. She is suffering in a system that lost sight of the fact that she is just a child; a child with her very own set of needs and potentials, a child with questions and interests, a child who needs more to keep her interested in many cases, and less rote, redundant, lessons for memorization to burden her evenings, and weekends, and holidays.

Please do remember my child. She is everything any teacher would want in a student: bright, cheerful, diligent, and she is suffering, and it is hell for her.

Last year, my eldest daughter suffered too...as she did for all the years of NCLB, and more. In our county, a lot of NCLB policy was implemented even before the act was passed. My eldest daughter had such a span of students in her AP classes that the lessons were mostly comical, if dark is how you like your humor. Neither her teachers nor her classmates were adequately prepared to take on the burden of the AP explosion in our schools. Good teachers tried, regardless of the futility, to teach these restrictive, test-dependent, rapid-paced, shallow-based classes to a wide range of students.

Now, alternative choices for students are even fewer. It is nearly impossible for any child to avoid taking AP.

Sadly, and as a result of this, and other policies that support "accountability" and "rigor" many of our best teachers have left, or are leaving. Few on the inside can tolerate the charade. Few teach with joy and enthusiasm. Still fewer, on the outside (of these classrooms) know the truth about what is really happening.

In AP, the good students, like my daughter, either learned "the game" and took their chances on the test, or raged through the classes with tears and frustration at the amount of work and the lack of true learning. The rest were humbled by the experience.

Don't ever let anyone try to convince you that when a child fails, it is still an opportunity for them; that is a lie. When a child tries and fails, they are mortified, forever changed, and the damage will last, perhaps a lifetime.

Keep that in mind when you think about the special ed. kids, or non-english speaking kids, or kids whose impoverishment bleeds into their ability to keep up with growing and inappropriate academic demands. Many are failing to meet the required pace, and tests. They fail to meet the demands placed upon them, not by their teachers, but by their government. Keep them in mind.

Keep all of them in mind, Mr. Reporter, please, because every one of them is a tiny piece of our future. The devastation of what harm is being done to each of these kids, in all of these classrooms, to all of their teachers, is going to haunt all of us for years to come. The act needs to be stopped. It should not be re-authorized. Go to the website and read the voices of these teachers on the petition. This is not time to waver, or wonder or wait; this is time to read and listen and act.

Both of my girls have been in public schools in Anne Arundel County throughout their academic careers. Even before the reins of NCLB kicked in, Anne Arundel County did very little for the brightest students. They did produce pamphlets and paperwork touting their (quite lacking) services for evaluating or meeting the academic needs of exceptional or talented children, but nothing very adequate ever evolved.

Both girls have managed to thrive with a great deal of support and encouragement. We dedicated ourselves to providing opportunities for enrichment outside of their schools and classrooms. Since NCLB, and you must know this, the situation for these kids is ever-so-much more bleak. And although they are bright, and reasonably well-balanced, both of my children are aware of the indignities they have suffered, and have witnessed, in the lack of adequate attention to theirs, and the abilities of their peers, by their schools.

They are not sentimental about any of this; they know what opportunities were lost and they know by exactly what measure to judge the system that cheated them.

When my girls were in elementary school, (my eldest now a college freshman, and her sister a high school sophomore,)recess was still a part of their school day. They happened to go to a well-supported, highly regarded, school in Davidsonville. This is a school with parents of power and influence. That is another story.

But, beyond the lack of meaningful programs to support a gifted student, the school system currently, in compliance with NCLB policies, ignores ALL appropriate thought or programming that reflects real learning theory, child development, or education principles for EVERY child.

And if this rare opportunity still exists, somewhere, that children, and their teachers, are still operating freely within these ideals, they will, in short order, be sought out and squashed if NCLB is re-authorized. The efforts and power behind NCLB are tightly tied to the profits that corporations amass, and business doesn't lend itself to cozy, sentimental feelings about what is right or good for children.

We have friends with children still in elementary school. The few who tough it out in public school are deeply concerned about their children. Their children are treated like prisoners. They are doomed to "study" reading in programs designed by for profit companies with lessons that bore and torture the children.

They have nonsense words drummed into their little heads. They have hours of drills. Their little bodies squirm and their minds go off in as many different directions as there are children in the classroom, because, children are unique; they are individuals. You know that and I know that from our own two children. Why on earth would anyone decide to teach to the children as if they were all the same; they are not. It is hellish, even to imagine.

This is not a case or a time to in which "balance" opinions. I say this because I know you are aware of how frightened and oppressed the teachers are by the manner in which the schools, counties, districts, and states, enforce the policies of NCLB. The teachers are being gagged. I know you know that they really CAN'T speak out about the tragedy that is their professional life or the impact of this on their students, our children.

In this case, it is impossible, even if some teachers are willing to talk to you, for you to get any word from the thousands upon thousands of teachers who are too afraid to speak, or be quoted, or write. And remember, there are thousands who we don't even know how to reach. So, there is no balance to be had.

But, we will do our best to reach as many teachers as we can. It is the teachers who will have to help us win this battle. And we will stand with them in strength together as our numbers and supporter's numbers grow.

Think about that as you try to write your "even-keeled" coverage of NCLB. Keep the teachers in mind. The teachers at our schools are so fearful of being found out that they whisper, and avoid eye contact, even in the grocery store; they are scared to death of losing their income, their livelihood, their futures, their homes.

But, get this clear, they are mortified about what they are being forced to do. And they have lost their freedom to think, freedom to try, freedom to speak, freedom to do what they so badly want to do: teach! Please remember their oppression and help us to help them fight against it.

And I thank you so much for keeping my daughter in mind. She is a precious spirit and she is turning 15 this week. She is but one child. She is different from every other child. And she is wonderful.

Children are wonderful, all of them, each in their own way, Mr. Reporter. And every one is different from the others. They are not a disaggregated group, they are not a color, or a race, and they are not a test score. They are children, one by one, each with special gifts and needs, and they deserve much better than what they are getting now in their classrooms.

Help us get out from under the rhetoric of NCLB. This upcoming decision to reauthorize NCLB or not is not the answer to ending racial equity, or "global economy," or povery. Much work is needed to address these pressing issues for humanity.

I hope that we can see programs developed in our future that realistically address the urgent problems our children. They need help with healthcare, and nutritional care, and affordable homes, and adequate extra-curricular resources. These issues are complex and urgent.

I hope we will see policies created that really do address the true and individual needs of all children. I also hope will will continue to strive to provide our children with opportunities to learn in their public schools.

I want the same potential opportunities for all of our children. It will take us years to approach all of these pressing issues. But, for now, lets just try to stop the policies that cause them further, increasing harm.

We need to expose NCLB for what it is and expose the harm it is doing. Our children deserve the input and experience of our trained and educationally specialized forces to make their schools better. They need their teachers back. The children need to be brought back into the spotlight and understood for what they really are: they are children, not cogs, not factory workers. And they do not need to satisfy anyone's idea about an artificially created "global workforce."

Our children and their teachers would learn and teach in a tent or a treehouse if they were simply given the rights back to do what they were meant to do in the first place. They need the freedom to follow their ideals.

The dialogue about changes and accurate measures to make our schools better has to come from teachers, students, parents and people who dedicate their lives to the study of education.

Time is urgent.

Help us get our word out, Mr. Reporter. Help us stop this horrible trend. Help the children, yours and mine included. And help their teachers. Please.

Anne E. Levin Garrison

— Anne E. Levin Garrison


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