No Child Left Behind: Right Idea Wrong Plan
When I first heard about NCLB, I was thrilled. I have long felt that education is the key to keeping kids on the path of becoming productive citizens and out of a life of crime.
I soon learned, however, that past the big promises, there is not much there. We don’t need a mandate requiring that all teachers teach their students. Teacher’s don’t want their students to fail. They want to see every child succeed.
I was expecting to see more funding fro tutors in the schools so that students who were falling behind could get the extra help they need without the teacher having to slow down the rest of the class so this one student can catch up. That didn’t happen.
I was expecting to see smaller classes so that teachers would be able to spend more time with each student. Not only did that not happen but in my school district, schools are closing to save money. Students from the closed schools are being sent to other already over crowded schools. Though I have to say that I don’t know much about other school districts around the country but I am quite certain that this is not the only area where this is happening.
There is no funding for instructional materials. If we expect schools to do something different, they need to have funding to buy new books, materials, and software. If we don’t give them money to buy these things, how can we be surprised when they use the same materials they always have?
Many materials and buildings around the country are out dated and need to be replaced but without funding, that won’t happen.
One complaint I have heard from teachers over and over again is that instead of teaching skills and things that they will remember and use in their lives, they are teaching students to pass a test. This is not the same thing. When teaching to the test, teachers stick to teaching answers to questions that will be on the test. They don’t waste time explaining how or why. They don’t have time for class discussions or to ask the children to think about anything. They are just giving facts for the children to memorize. Memorizing facts is not real learning. The children will forget what they have memorized as time goes on.
We should ask ourselves this: Do we teach History in schools so that kids can memorize dates and names for a while then forget them? Or do we teach History so that the children can learn how and why things happened and learn from experiences in the past?
I have witnessed first hand the frustration of teachers and administrators who are trying to meet the requirements set for them when parents just don’t want to or can’t participate in their child’s education.
Part of the requirements of NCLB is attendance. Even if the school meets the academic requirements, if the attendance is low, the school will still fail. In reality, there is not much a school can do if a parent refuses to send a child to school. Some of the administrators that I work closely with have spend an entire work day several days a week, trying to track down children who are not coming to school. They will make phone calls and knock on doors. If they don’t get results, they take the parents to court. This takes a long time. Once a court order is issued and the parents still don’t send their child to school, then they have to go back to court and get a warrant issued for contempt.
School officials don’t have the authority to go to the home and force the child to go to school. Whose fault is it really that these children are not in school? If it is a young child, the parents should be held accountable for this. If the student is older, the student should be held accountable for their own actions. It is not fair to hold schools accountable for that. Think about how much time is taken up trying to track down truant students and what could have been done with that time instead.
Motivation and effort are also big factors in a child’s learning. I don’t believe that students who are falling behind are completely blameless. When one student is working above grade level and another is below grade level when they both have the same teachers and resources it is not just luck. It is true that some students have an easier time learning than others, but all students have the ability to learn. One difference is the effort that the student is willing to put in.
An example of this can be found in my own experience in the schools. I was tutoring students in reading one day. The first student was given a paper with 2 words she had missed and their definitions. I told her to take them home and study them because I was going to ask her about them tomorrow. She left that paper on the table. When I took it to her, she wouldn’t even look at it. At the end of the day, I found her paper on the floor. Another student was given a paper with words that she had missed. She took the paper and studied it. The next day, she knew the words and definitions and did not miss those same words again. The first girl did not do so well. She acted like she had never heard those words before when I asked her about them the next day.
Until this first girl decides to put some effort into her learning, she will never be able to learn. Spending more time with her resulted in a longer time for her to sit out of class and complain that this is boring. Trying different tactics didn’t get any different results because she refused to participate in anything I tried to do. This is an attitude problem, not a learning problem, not a teacher problem.
The teacher cannot visit each child’s home and make sure they are studying and doing homework. That is the parent’s responsibility. Unfortunately, some parents don’t do this. It is no coincidence that the students who are falling behind are the same students whose parents never come to the school, not even for parent teacher conference. If the parents don’t find out what is going on with their child in school, don’t check homework, don’t look at papers that come home, it is only natural that the child will behave as though education does not matter.
NCLB places all of the responsibility on the schools and none of the responsibility on the students and parents. Education requires the involvement and effort of the school, parents, and students. For a program to be effective in improving schools, it needs to provide adequate funding and provide ways to get parents involved and taking an active role in the education of their child.
NCLB also does nothing to address the stratification of the school systems. Poor school districts are held to the same standards as districts that have more resources. The school that is still using textbooks from 25 years ago because there is no money for new ones, is expected to achieve the same standards as the school district that has the most recent books published. If we are serious about every child succeeding, resources should be distributed more evenly. The student should have access to the same resources as every other student regardless of where they live and how much money their parents make.
The biggest problem with NCLB is that it withholds funding from schools that are struggling. If a school is not up to standards, it makes sense to give that school money for teaching aids, tutors and what ever else is needed to improve education quality.
We can do better. We should listen to the teachers and give them what they say they need to teach our children. They are the ones who are there every day and know what is needed. I don’t believe that teachers are “in it for the money” and don’t care whether or not the kids learn anything. If they were looking for money, they would have picked a different major in college and done something else. They wouldn’t have gone to school for four years to become teachers.
We can do better. Our children deserve more than just a noble sounding title. They deserve something that is actually going to work.