Archive for Thursday, August 18, 2011

No Child Left Behind has opposite effect

August 18, 2011

It seems hardly possible, but it is back to school time. I know in the old days, school never started until after Labor Day, however, as far as education is concerned, things are far more complex than when we of the “older generation” were in school.

This may be among the toughest times the U.S. public has ever faced. There are dwindling financial resources and state and federal governments that continually hand down unfunded mandates. It is certainly time for legislators to take a realistic look at public education. And, yes, all of us may have to change some of our ideas and bring our thinking into the 21st century.

First, I believe that No Child Left Behind is an ill-conceived plan. I am not a teacher but after a decade as a substitute teacher, I can tell you there are students who are left behind because they choose not to move forward. There are students who refuse to work and to make an attempt to learn. In the days when I was in high school, a student who didn’t want to be in school was rather quickly eliminated. Certainly, times were different then. If you quit school, you joined the military and when your enlistment was up, you came home and took a good paying union job at a factory. Quite frankly, if you worked hard you had a good, secure life. Well, those days are long gone.

I would caution any student that education and training are important. In this day and age you have to have a saleable skill to make a good living. I don’t believe that college is for everyone, however, post-secondary training is necessary. While school may not leave you behind, the real world will. This means that students have a responsibility to get all of the knowledge they can. To me the most vital skills to learn are reading and comprehension, in addition to math and life skills.

Unfortunately, during the past several years we have come to believe that the quality of education and teaching can be evaluated through competitive testing. While the idea seemed to be a reasonably good one, it has evolved into a monster controlling every facet of education. Not only is it controlling what is taught, it also has become a bragging right for districts. While that wasn’t the goal, now high test scores are used by some as a method of rating schools. While no one admits it, curriculums are built around what is expected to be asked on the test, not what knowledge might be best for the student and his or her future.

The need to do well on tests has led to a scandal in Atlanta, where teachers and administrators are alleged to have changed test answers to increase final results. In Texas a couple of years ago, the state canceled all school activities the night before the test so students could rest. I’ll bet that wasn’t the case with most high school students who considered this a free night without homework.

I think that it is time to seriously evaluate our entire education system. Yes, there are some innovative ideas out there, but they are both controversial and expensive. I wouldn’t look for any major changes for several years.

However, there is one change that would not cost more money and might just solve a lot of problems.

First, I would require a young person to have a high school diploma or a GED before being eligible to have a driver’s license. Parents need to become more involved in school. I don’t mean complaining to the teacher or school board. What parents must do if we are to improve education is to make sure their children do their homework, and they make it to school on time and behave. Yes, that means sacrifice on the part of parents, but it is a small price to pay to help insure a successful future for children and, yes, our nation.

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