Let's Stop Stigmatizing and Focus on Educating
Under a highly touted federal education law passed two years ago, it is not all right to leave any child behind.
But it is perfectly OK to stigmatize kids, teachers, entire schools and school districts.
It is all being done in the name of accountability and improving education.
The No Child Left Behind Act was supposed to be a hallmark of President Bush's administration, being modeled after the plan initiated in Texas when Bush was governor.
The idea was to get an accurate measurement of how well students all over the country are doing academically, reward those teachers and schools that are doing well, penalize those that are not and provide alternatives for students in failing educational settings.
To go along with these new requirements and expectations, the federal government was to provide a lot more money to help out the local districts.
While some funds were allocated, it was not enough -- far below the amount Congress had authorized.
Still we had to have that "accountability," so those charged with educating children were asked to perform miracles, in some cases by raising the standards without being given the resources and the time to do so.
The law requires that schools make "Adequate Yearly Progress," based primarily on standardized test scores, attendance and dropout rates.
When the results were released last month, 202 schools in Texas, including 36 in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, had been judged substandard for failing to meet federal improvement standards for two consecutive years.
In Fort Worth, four high schools and five middle schools fell into that category, as did Lake Worth High School.
Students in those schools have a right, under the law, to be transferred to another school in the district with the district providing transportation.
Although the nine Fort Worth schools were classified as substandard, they were ranked as "academically acceptable" in the state ratings, which only adds to the confusion of this accountability thing.
The state has four categories for schools and school districts: exemplary, recognized, academically acceptable and academically unacceptable.
With the tougher standards, several school districts in the area dropped in the ratings this year, causing some angst among teachers, administrators, trustees and parents.
In all of these schools, no matter their rating, we have teachers who are teaching and outstanding students who are learning.
Unfortunately, in many of these schools, the dropout rates are unacceptable and the overall attendance rates are clearly dismal.
These are issues which must be addressed along with academic achievement. It doesn't take a genius to know that a kid is not going to learn if he or she is not in school.
But what must the teacher or the principal do about the dropout rate? That is more a community and parental problem than it is a school problem.
I want our kids to achieve in public schools, and I would like to see the expectations set at a high mark -- a very high mark.
That said, I don't want us to become so blinded and so driven by testing and ratings that we forget about truly educating the kids.
It seems we have now turned our schools into one big testing ground, and our educators are spending so much time and effort on No Child Left Behind that we are going to allow too many to be left by the wayside.
I also want to see us get away from these labels, for what does it say to those committed educators and the academically gifted kids in a school that we have just designated "substandard" or "academically unacceptable"?
Accountability? I'm all for it.
Stigmatizing? Let's stop it.
Bob Ray Sanders
Fort Worth Star-Telegram
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