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NCLB Outrages

One Teacher's Cry: Why I Hate No Child Left Behind

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By Susan J. Hobart

Iâm a teacher. Iâve taught elementary school for eleven years. Iâve
always told people, âI have the best job in the world.â I crafted
curriculum that made students think, and they had fun while learning. At
the end of the day, I felt energized. Today, more often than not, I feel
demoralized.

While I still connect my lesson plans to studentsâ lives and work to
make it real, this no longer is my sole focus. Today I have a new
nickname: testbuster. Singing to the tune of âGhostbusters,â I teach
test-taking strategies similar to those taught in Stanley Kaplan prep
courses for the SAT. I spend an inordinate amount of time showing
students how to âbubble up,â the term for darkening those little circles
that accompany multiple choice questions on standardized tests.

I am told these are invaluable skills to have.

I am told if we do a good job, our students will do well.

I am told that our district does not teach to the test.

I am told that the time we are spending preparing for and administering
the tests, analyzing the results, and attending in-services to help our
children become proficient on this annual measure of success will pay
off by reducing the academic achievement gap between our white children
and our children of color.

I am told a lot of things.

But what I know is that Iâm not the teacher I used to be. And it takes a
toll. I used to be the one who raved about my classroom, even after a
long week. Pollyanna, people called me. Today, when I speak with former
colleagues, they are amazed at the cynicism creeping into my voice.

What has changed?

No Child Left Behind is certainly a big part of the problem. The
children I test are from a wide variety of abilities and backgrounds.
Whether they have a cognitive disability, speak entry-level English, or
have speech or language delays, everyone takes the same test and the
results are posted. Special education students may have some
accommodations, but they take the same test and are expected to perform
at the same level as general education students. Students new to this
country or with a native language other than English must also take the
same test and are expected to perform at the same level as children
whose native language is English. Picture yourself taking a five-day
test in French after moving to Paris last year.

No Child Left Behind is one size fits all. But any experienced teacher
knows how warped a yardstick that is.

I spent yesterday in a meeting discussing this yearâs standardized test
results. Our team was feeling less than optimistic in spite of
additional targeted funds made available to our students who are low
income or who perform poorly on such tests.

As an educator, I know these tests are only one measure, one snapshot,
of student achievement. Unfortunately, they are the make-or-break
assessment that determines our status with the Department of Education.

They are the numbers that are published in the paper.

They are the scores that homebuyers look at when deciding if they should
move into a neighborhood.

They are the numbers that are pulled out and held over us, as more and
greater rigidity enters the curriculum.

I was recently told we cannot buddy up with a first-grade class during
our core literacy time. It does not fit the definition of core literacy,
I was told. Reading with younger children has been a boon to literacy
improvement for my struggling readers and my new English-speaking
students. Now I must throw this tool away?

In an increasingly diverse public school setting, there is not one
educational pedagogy that fits all students. We study and discuss
differentiated curriculum, modify teaching strategies, and set âjust
right reading levelsâ to scaffold student learning. But No Child Left
Behind doesnât care about that. It takes no note of where they started
or how much they may have progressed.

As a teacher, I measure progress and achievement for my students on a
daily basis. I set the bar high, expecting a lot.

I donât argue with the importance of assessment; it informs my
instruction for each child.

I donât argue with the importance of accountability; I believe in it
stronglyâfor myself and my students.

I have empathy for our administrators who have to stand up and be told
that we are âchallenged schools.â And I have empathy for our
administrators who have to turn around and drill it into our teacher
heads, telling us we must do things âthisâ way to get results. I feel
for them. They are judged on the numbers, as well.

No Child Left Behind is a symptom of a larger problem: the attack on
public education itself. Like the school choice effort, which uses
public funds to finance private schools and cherry-pick the best
students, No Child Left Behind is designed to punish public schools and
to demonstrate that private is best.

But I donât think weâve turned a corner that we canât come back from.
Public education has been a dynamic vehicle in our country since its
inception. We must grapple with maintaining this progressive
institution. Policymakers and educators know that education holds out
hope as the great equalizer in this country. It can inspire and propel a
student, a family, a community.

The state where I teach has a large academic achievement gap for African
American and low income children. That is unacceptable. Spending time,
money, energy on testing everyone with a âone size fits all testâ will
not eliminate or reduce that gap.
Instead, we need teacher-led professional development and more local
control of school budgets and policymaking. Beyond that, we need to
address the economic and social issues many children face, instead of
punishing the schools that are trying to do right by these students.

Weâve got things backwards today. Children should be in the front seat,
not the testing companies. And teachers should be rewarded for teaching,
not for being Stanley Kaplan tutors.

Ten years ago, I taught a student named Cayla. A couple of months ago, I
got a note from her, one of those things that teachers thrive on.
âMs. Hobart was different than other teachers, in a good way,â she
wrote. âWe didnât learn just from a textbook; we experienced the topics
by âjumping into the textbook.â We got to construct a rainforest in our
classroom, have a fancy lunch on the Queen Elizabeth II, and go on a
safari through Africa. What I learned ten years ago still sticks with me
today. When I become a teacher, I hope to inspire my students as much as
she inspired hers.â

Last week, I received a call from Niecy, another student from that class
ten years ago. She was calling from southern Illinois to tell me she was
graduating from high school this month and had just found out that she
has won a scholarship to a college in Indiana. I was ecstatic in my
happiness for her. We laughed, and I told her I was looking at a photo
of her on my wall, building a pyramid out of paper bricks with her
classmates.

I also had a recent conversation with Manuel in a grocery parking lot.
He reminded me of my promise eight years ago to attend his high school
graduation. I plan to be there.
Cayla and Niecy and Manuel are three of the reasons I teach. They are
the reasons that some days this still feels like a passion and not a job.
When I pick up the broom at the end of the day to sweep my class due to
budget cuts, I remember Cayla.

When I drive home demoralized after another meeting where our success is
dissected with a knife manufactured in Texas, I remember Niecy.

When another new program that is going to solve the reading disparity,
resulting in higher test scores, is introduced on top of another new
program that was supposed to result in the same thing, I remember Manuel.

They are the fires that fuel my passion. They are the lifeboats that
help me ride this current wave in education.

Eight or ten years from now, I want other former students to contact me
and tell me a success story from their lives. I donât want to be
remembered as the teacher who taught them how to sing âTestbustersâ or
to âbubble up.â I want to be remembered as a teacher who inspired them
to learn.

Susan J. Hobart, M.S. Ed., is a National Board Certified Teacher living
in the Midwest.

The Progressive
2008-08-01
http://www.progressive.org/mag/hobart0808


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