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NCLB Outrages

Letter: Get facts straight

U. S. Department of Education flaks get paid to write letters to local papers defending NCLB. . . but it takes a while. Note that the "objectionable letter" was written nearly two months ago.

Enjoy the article that set Earling off, and see who won the argument.

by Eric Earling

A recent column in The Daily Astorian ("Lawmakers need to wake up to harm of No Child Left Behind mandate," March 29) misrepresented federal education reform efforts, while promulgating an assortment of mistruths. In truth, No Child Left Behind (NCLB) has sparked real progress in student achievement.

States choose to participate in NCLB - as all 50 states are doing. Each state created its own system of tests and standards for K-12 schools in return for a substantial increase in funding. Oregon alone is scheduled to receive nearly $219 million for NCLB in the president's next budget, a 60 percent increase since 2001. States are then held accountable for getting students to state-selected benchmarks of achievement. That's common sense.

There's evidence NCLB is working in Oregon. Last year, a significantly higher percentage of Oregon's Title I schools met state benchmarks than other state schools. Title I schools receive the bulk of federal funding, and serve economically disadvantaged communities whose students have historically struggled. The success of Oregon's educators in helping improve their performance is a testament to their dedication and commitment, but also to the power of NCLB.

Good people can disagree on how best to achieve K-12 education reform. But first critics need to get their facts straight. The truth is NCLB is having a positive impact in education and it deserves to be renewed.

Eric Earling
Deputy Secretary's regional representative
U.S. Department of Education, Region X

And here's the article in question.

Lawmakers need to wake up to harm of No Child Left Behind mandate

By Russell Sadler

Efforts to reauthorize the Bush regime's signature No Child Left Behind Act are facing a formidable backlash.

At least 50 Republican members of Congress have signed onto a bill sponsored by Rep. Peter Hoekstra, R-Mich., that allows states to opt out of the act's testing mandates.

The backlash against the No Child Left Behind Act should surprise no one. Like so many policies of the Bush regime, it is based on a foundation of false assumptions. No Child Left Behind takes the worst of the industrial education model and imposes it on every school district in the country by congressional fiat.

No Child Left Behind treats students like interchangeable widgets sitting in their assembly line seats getting their daily dollop of knowledge from an authority figure who stands in front of the class - the sage on the stage. Then tests are administered to insure the prescribed knowledge has been absorbed. In some cases the curriculum is provided by a private contractor, and the classroom teacher is not permitted to deviate from the "script" to assure uniformity of results.

No Child Left Behind assumes all children learn the same information at the same rate in the same way at the same time. It assumes the accumulation of this information can be measured by tests. Any student who cannot pass the test is labeled deficient. It's the school's fault. The law assumes equality of outcomes. Every student will "succeed." And this rhetoric comes from self-proclaimed conservatives who usually criticize programs like affirmative action for demanding equal outcomes instead of equal opportunity.

Children are not widgets. They are individuals who learn with different styles and methods at different rates and they require individual attention at times.

Teaching is an art, not a science. Following formula curricula designed by contractors who make campaign contributions to the Republican Party is not education. It is indoctrination. It is driving creative teachers into early retirement and discouraging potentially creative teachers from entering the profession. You cannot make teachers solely responsible for a child's education when some of that child's learning problems are the result of home life beyond the teacher's control.

Testing simply measures how well students take tests. Real education is measured by active, creative projects that show how well students can apply what they are expected to learn to real-life situations. But there is no time for teachers to do that now because it's not on the federally mandated tests.

And the paperwork! Teachers tell me of long hours of filling out forms and reports so administrators can prove they are "accountable to the taxpayers." This congressionally imposed bureaucratic paper shuffling reduces all teachers' classroom time with their students.

Parents are realizing this. The Republicans who are bailing on Bush have heard from angry parents, and Democrats who want to reauthorize No Child Left Behind Act with some tinkering and more money had better start listening. In poor and affluent districts alike, many voters believe the No Child Left Behind Act has harmed their schools.

Creative or innovative schools are forced into a one-size-fits-all straitjacket by federal testing standards. Subjects not on the tests are dropped from the curriculum.

No Child Left Behind is underfunded by a penurious Congress, so local money is siphoned from field trips and music and programs for talented and gifted students. These voters are not wrong. No Child left Behind is a prescription for uniform mediocrity.

Oregon is not immune to these problems. They have arguably been made more acute by what teachers and administrators tell me is an increasingly sluggish bureaucracy at the Teacher Standards and Practices Commission and the Department of Education.

Oregon's burgeoning education bureaucracy is the result of voters passing conservative Don McIntire's Ballot Measure 5 in 1990. McIntire's property tax limitation shifted Oregon school finance from property tax dollars controlled by local voters to income tax dollars controlled by the Legislature. Control of Oregon schools moved from local school boards to the Legislature. and the state education bureaucracy has grown commensurate with the money it now controls.

There is simply no evidence that any of these state or federal schemes have improved classroom teaching or student learning.

It is clear a growing number of voters actually believe these "reforms" have hurt the schools and are voting to do something about it. It appears about 50 Republicans in congress get the message. It's not clear anyone else has. Perhaps we should reserve judgment until we see what the Democrats who now control Congress and the Oregon Legislature actually produce.

— Eric Earling and Russell Sadler
Daily Astorian


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