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Advocate condemns No Child Left Behind

By John Martin

The federal No Child Left Behind law is "taking us straight to hell."

That was the assessment Jamie Vollmer, a professional public speaker and education advocate, gave local educators attending an annual conference Thursday at the University of Southern Indiana.

Vollmer, an attorney who also spent several years as an ice cream company executive in Iowa, urged the audience of several hundred teachers and principals to work on building more community support for public schools.

That's important, Vollmer said, because emphasis on standardized tests have created a "box score mentality" with the public that can reflect badly on schools.

Vollmer was invited to address the Evansville-Vanderburgh School Corp. annual summer training conference, hosted by USI.

Vollmer said No Child Left Behind is well-intentioned but based on what he called a flawed premise that all children can learn at the same pace.

He said some children show up at school less prepared to learn than others, yet teachers are under the gun to teach all of them government-established standards in a timely manner.

"We have a system designed to leave children behind at a time we can't do that anymore," Vollmer said.

Once a critic of public education, Vollmer says he left the business world and become an education advocate once he decided his long-held assumptions about public schools were wrong.

He said used to believe schools were profoundly flawed, that teachers were to blame and that public schools could be better if they were run like a business.

Vollmer, who served a two-year term on the National PTA board of directors, said certain elements of the private sector can be placed in schools, but the two entities are hardly equal.

"You have to take whatever parents send you," Vollmer told the audience, "and I'm sure they aren't keeping the good ones at home."

He said teachers can build public support by focusing on positive aspects of their work and sharing those publicly.

He also encouraged teachers to not bad-mouth one another.

"If you're going to complain, complain to your spouse. That's why we have them," Vollmer said, drawing laughter.

While praising public education, Vollmer also said he realizes that schools must adapt to changing times.

Just teaching the three "Rs" isn't enough these days, Vollmer said.

Schools have to switch focus now to teaching what he called the three "Ts," thinking, technology and teamwork.

— John Martin<
Evansville Courier & Press


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