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NCLB Outrages

Observations from the NSBA Conference

by Gary Stager

I flew to San Francisco Sunday to see former President Clinton address the National School Boards Association. Clinton criticized NCLB's over-reliance on testing and the underlying assumption that public education is failing by sharing examples of real schools solving actual problems. The former President told the audience that excellence is defined in many ways, not just with test scores.

However, Former President Clinton dedicated the majority of his speech challenging the 13,000 assembled school board members to help combat childhood obesity. Changes in lifestyle, economic stagnation, lack of exercise and low-cost fast food were identified as causes of an "epidemic" that may cause this generation of young people to be the first in American history to have a shorter lifespan than their parents. Clinton argued that skyrocketing health insurance costs threaten our economy and that the growing number rates of childhood obesity and its related health problems, including diabetes, will doom any effort to reform our health care system.

This is why President Clinton's foundation has teamed with the American Heart Association to create the Alliance for a Healthier Generation. Visit the web site to learn what you, your teachers and your students can do to help young people stay healthy.

Immediately following the Clinton address I returned to the exhibit hall and looked at space-age playground equipment. This super cool stuff was expensive, but not that expensive. I estimate that you could build a playground that will keep hundreds of children active for decades for less than what some schools spend on detention each year. One of the larger playground equipment companies was advertising that you could pay for their products by fund-raising. I asked, "What sorts of fund-raising earns a school a $20,000 climbing castle?" The response surprised me. "Kids sell cookie dough," the salesman explained.

School Board Members, particularly elected ones, represent the noblest ideals of American democracy. They volunteer to spend long hours creating systems to educate children. That's why I was so surprised to learn that the top priority of NSBA, the organization representing school boards, is the reauthorization of No Child Left Behind. Sure there is talk of "improving it," but one must question if any form of Federal interference into fundamental school operation is consistent with the mission of elected school boards. This is especially true when the second highest-ranking Republican in the House of Representatives, Minority Whip Roy Blount, and original NCLB sponsor, conservative Senator Sam Brownback are now opposing its reauthorization. ( read more here)

A colleague remarked how the NSBA Convention Exhibit Hall seemed to contain so few vendors selling education products. Astro turf, bleachers and diet soda rules the day. While I realize that school board members are not principley focused on curricular matters, could the exhibits be a reflection of NCLB and resulting erosion of districts' decision-making authority?

One must ask why the NSBA is so eager to compromise on reauthorizng a law that seems against their own self interest.

Isn't pushing for the the reauthorization of NCLB, even with "improvements" the equivalent of peddling cookie dough to combat childhood obesity?

— Gary Stager
The Pulse: Education's Place for Debate


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