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NCLB Outrages

BACK TO BASICS: A Call to Action: A Moral Imperative to Save Vermont’s Children

On September 14, 2006, the National Council of Churches, an ecumenical voice of 35 Protestant, Orthodox, Anglican, historic African American and peace churches comprising 45 million members in 100,000 congregations, launched a letter writing campaign against the federal education mandate No Child Left Behind (NCLB). The Council has created a webpage for people to lift voices for justice in preparation for the scheduled 2007 reauthorization of NCLB. They urge participants to write their elected officials ten letters, each based on one of the Ten Moral Concerns in the Implementation of the No Child Left Behind Act.

In their call, the Council states, "As people of faith we do not view our children as products to be tested and managed but instead as unique human beings to be nurtured and educated."

We at the Vermont Society for the Study of Education issue a similar call to the people of Vermont. We are particularly concerned about the way our State Department of Education has allowed the federal notion of the âscience of readingâ to hijack the education of our children., and in so doing abandoning the rich heritage embedded in the Vermont Design for Education.

The U. S. Department of Education claims to be delivering a model of "scientific instruction" to our nation's classrooms, but our nation has good reason to be suspicious of any federal definition of science, and we Vermonters have a tradition of direct involvement in our schools. Look at the language of the Vermont Design for Education, issued by the Office of the Commissioner, State Department of Education, in 1968. This proclamation describes "a basic philosophy which combines the best which is known about learning, children, development, and human relations with the unique and general needs and desires of Vermont communities.

The Vermont Design is not available on the Vermont State Department of Education website. Today, when the Vermont State Department of Education issues documents how they want children to be educated, words like "unique" and "communities" are missing. Take Vermontâs application for a Reading First grant for federal monies distributed under NCLB guidelines. This document applies to Title 1 schools, that is, schools with a high percentage of students receiving free or reduced lunch. Children of affluence still get uniqueness and community concerns. Children of poverty get rigorous expectations, data based decision making, scientific reading instruction, and the promise of close monitoring of scripted, systematic, explicit instruction. All children on the same page at the same time, with their teacher reading from a script shipped in from some publishing conglomerate. The federal government insists that hildren in these classrooms be treated as commodities; when standardization is the goal, no uniqueness is allowed.

In 1968, before issuing a vision statement about educating Vermont children, the State Department of Education held community forums, gathering information from Vermonters. In 2003, while writing the grant proposal for federal eyes only, State Ed functionaries talked only to Washington D. C., carefully inserting language government functionaries would find acceptable. The Vermonters werenât careful enough, however, and the first application was rejected. Federal reviewers complained that grant writers hadnât offered assurance that all students would receive the same scientific instruction; they complained that all teachers werenât required to receive training in the same scientific instruction; they complained that there was no safeguard for making all participating schools select the same "scientifically based instructional materials."

The Vermont State Department of Education rewrote the grant proposal, assuring the federal government that all children in participating schools would receive the same lockstep instruction, defined as "scientific" by the federal government.

Nobody at 120 State Street in Montpelier asked Vermonters if this is what they want for their children. This same process has been repeated across the country, which is why the National Council of Churches has issued a moral imperative for citizens to demand a redress of grievance. Our redress must begin right here in Vermont.

— Susan Ohanian, VSSE Senior Fellow
Vermont Commons


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