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NCLB Outrages

NCLB Leaves Children Behind

The No Child Left Behind Act is a stirring rallying cry for many of the nation's top political leaders. Signed into law by President Bush two years ago, it conjures the most noble ideals of our American life - that the combination of a first-rate education offered by towns and hard work by students would result in high academic achievement and ultimately overall success in life for individuals and a strong economy fueled by well-educated workers.

The No Child Left Behind Act is based on the conviction that stronger accountability for schools, more freedom for states and communities in using federal education dollars, use of "proven" education methods and more choices for parents will result in this desired outcome.

In practice, the act is painfully simplistic and the results are remarkably different. This pretense at education reform takes our eyes away from the child who lives in poverty, comes to school hungry and has parents who themselves cannot read. Rather, it focuses us on test scores and throws criticism at the school that cannot seem to educate this child. And it pretends that the 25 to 30 percent of young people who drop out of school before graduation simply do not count.

President George W. Bush has expressed his concerns that "too many of our neediest children are being left behind." And he is correct. But the act focuses on schools, not on children and their families. It focuses on annual testing and public reports of the test scores, not on inadequate health care, homelessness, hunger and poverty.

The numbers are most alarming in Rhode Island, where 16.5 percent of children younger than 18 are living in households with incomes below the federal poverty line. Providence recently tied for fourth among cities of populations greater than 100,000 for having the highest percentage of children living in poor families - 40 percent.

No Child Left Hungry would be an enormously important piece of legislation. This would respond to the 13 million children in our country who are food insecure, that is, living in a household in which income is not adequate to ensure enough to eat. Children who are hungry cannot learn effectively. It makes no sense to test them.

No Child Left Unhealthy would respond to the 44 million Americans, about 15 percent of the population, who have no health insurance. Sick kids do not attend school. Kids whose teeth are decayed and aching, who do not get important immunizations, whose parents cannot afford to take them for either routine or emergency medical attention do not achieve in school.

Finally, a No Child Left Homeless Act would do wonders for children, for their families and for the building industries. In Rhode Island the shelters have been completely full for the past month or two, mostly with families. The description of typical people with no place to live has changed - it is families with small children who simply cannot find affordable housing.

Mandatory standardized testing, as imposed by the No Child Left Behind Act, does not and cannot identify and address any of these problems that fundamentally affect our ability to educate children. No Child Left Behind is disingenuous and duplicitous. It has almost nothing to do with the approximately 30 percent of all children who, because their basic needs are not being met, are being left behind. And almost no one is talking about them.

Dr. William Lynn McKinney is dean of the College of Human Science and Services and professor of education at the University of Rhode Island.

— William Lynn McKinney, Dean University of Rhode Island


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