...I'm okay with being REALITY-based.

Monday, October 06, 2003
      ( 11:03 AM )
Leave No Child Teacher Behind

The Leave No Child Behind Act is terrible in more ways than we can count so far. Here in Oregon, it is hurting our schools far more than it is helping. And now we find out from a teacher who wrote to the paper in yesterday's edition that it's hurting the teachers too:

Last year I was a finalist for Teacher of the Year.
Last year the National Geographic Society awarded
me a $5,000 grant to help build an outdoor classroom
with natural materials. Last year the Portland teachers
association and school board asked me to mentor
new teachers. Last year I trained a group of Portland
teachers in the Tribes process, which nurtures
supportive classroom communities.

Last week letters went home to the parents of my
students telling them I'm not a "highly qualified" teacher.
How can I fall so far in one year? Easy. I've been afflicted
with the No Child Left Behind Curse.

How can a teacher with these kinds of qualifications be labeled as "unqualified"? He explains:

In its push to "leave no child behind" the law disregards
my license, even though it's issued by the state, which
sets some of the toughest standards in the nation. My
'license says I'm qualified to teach English to speakers of
other languages and bilingual education in specified
subjects though grade 12.

But the new law doesn't recognize my qualifications
because I, like other bilingual teachers, was encouraged
to take college courses focusing on bilingual and special
education. That left me without a few teaching methods
courses, but prepared me extremely well for teaching
in both English and Spanish.

As an "under-qualified" teacher I have distinguished
company. One of the few Portland Public School
teachers who reached the highest and most difficult
level of qualification -- a National Teaching Certificate --
also had letters sent home to the parents of her students
informing them of her inadequate qualifications.

This is not even one of the more disturbing aspects of this law. This unfunded mandate, passed with the unthinking bipartisan support of Senate Democrats (who didn't seem to be paying much attention to anything until the last week), is giving schools failing reports based on an arbitrary set of requirements. It forces students to take more standardized (but unequal) tests and labels them as failures too if they don't meet qualifications that have nothing to do with how hard they try, what their potential is and how much they are learning outside of testing questions. And now we find that it's doing the same to our teachers. No wonder the teachers are calling it a Curse.

This is the curse that forces students who haven't
learned to speak and read English as well as students
with severe disabilities to take high-stakes standardized
tests they can't possibly pass. Those scores are then
used to judge school performance.

This is a curse on our public schools. What else can
you call it when arbitrary standards are imposed on
schools, curriculum is twisted and distorted into test
preparation packages, and "failing schools" are subjected
to state takeover and charter status?

The growing emphasis on standardized testing as the measurement of school and student progress and the pin on which school reform turns is not making our schools better or even more accountable. It's in fact hindering true school reform and the ability of teachers to exercise their own, good judgment in teaching their students. In fact, a 1992 study called the Testing in American Schools, done by The Office of Technology Assessment, concluded: "It now appears that the use of these tests misled policymakers and the public about the progress of students, and in many places hindered the implementation of genuine school reforms."

But who continues to push this kind of false "accountability" measures? That's right, the entrenched policy makers and the politicians. Promising a new era for education reform, George W. Bush ushered in the "No Child Left Behind" act, making the motto of the Children's Defense Fund a mockery and hurting, not helping the poorest and most vulnerable schools:

A huge increase in federally mandated testing will not
provide the services and strategies our schools and
students need to improve. Most states and local districts
have already dramatically increased the use of standardized
tests over the past two decades, without solving the
problems of poor schools. Some estimates are that the new
federal law will require states to give more than 200
additional tests at a cost of more than $7 billion.

Not only is the test-obsessed doctrine of Bush harmful, but he's lied to us all with his appointment of Rod Paige as the National director of it all:

He's the Texas miracle man who President Bush
brags turned the Houston schools into a model of
public accountability. The rave was based on the
claim that the dropout rate had fallen to 1.5 percent
in Houston's high schools.

Since Paige became secretary of education, a state
audit of the Houston Public Schools found the school
district under superintendent Paige swapped thousands
of students who should have been listed as dropouts
into other categories such as "transferred" or "moved."

The real dropout rate was nearly 40 percent, which would
have been among the highest in the nation. A New York
Times editorial called this "the educational equivalent of
Enron's accounting results."

It seems this president hasn't just lied to us about national security issues or war. He's made it a habit to mislead us and double talk us regarding our economy, our jobs and the education of our children. I hope that all parents of publicly-educated children will educate themselves about the travesty being wreaked upon our children by the government and not fall prey to the hollow and false calls for fake reform, like vouchers and more testing. Perhaps the accountability for the success of public schools should be on the shoulders of the politicians, not the children. Just an idea.

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