May 22, 2013
No Child Left Behind Fails Us All
Posted on Oct 21, 2008
The last question in the final presidential debate between John McCain and Barack Obama had to do with what moderator Bob Schieffer suggested might be the most important issue of all: education. Both candidates expressed a deep need to reform education, and both conceded—as did their vice presidential candidates in their own debate—that the federally mandated program No Child Left Behind, embraced by many Democrats and Republicans, was underfunded. While this may be the consensus of legislators, I could not help but be left with feelings of distrust and discouragement.
Rather than approach the challenge and reward of education with the promise of cooperation, the presidential contenders offered a recipe calling for charter schools and school vouchers and an incentive for parents to move their students out of “failing schools,” a decidedly competitive approach to education. This divisive strategy can only lead to a greater divide between the haves and the have-nots. This is not what Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall had in mind when he successfully argued in the landmark Brown v. Board of Education case 54 years ago that “separate but equal” can never truly exist in education, or in society.
Amid perhaps the most important presidential election since 1932, the statements about education by our presidential and vice presidential candidates, even in the face of our current economic crisis and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, stuck with me more strongly than any other utterance in the debates. There is no secret why: I am a high school teacher. The night of the final debate, I was exhausted. My feet were aching—a consequence of standing on the job for the better part of 10 hours every day as a teacher of United States history. I wanted to relax, but my mind was racing; there is a lot to think about these days.
We have seen a “bailout” of corporate and Wall Street swindlers, with the working class being forced to pick up the tab. The administration has continued to escalate defense spending while cutting taxes, never seeming to consider the dire social, international and economic consequences. With all the burdens being loaded upon Americans today, we deserve a break. Struggling homeowners deserve a break, not the devastation of foreclosure. Hardworking families deserve a break, not the shock of unemployment. And public educators deserve a break, not the damaging mandates of program improvement and the threats of state takeover that have fallen on my high school and countless others like it due to the draconian quotas of the No Child Left Behind Act.
Sadly, NCLB doesn’t care about strong relationships in the classroom; NCLB cannot measure smiles, teamwork, camaraderie or the overcoming of adversity. It doesn’t allow for creative and authentic assessments and engaging activities in the classroom. And, tragically, it has demanded that we educators check our hearts and souls at the classroom door.
Desert Hot Springs has the highest poverty rate, the highest dropout rate, the highest crime rate and the lowest per capita income of any city in the Coachella Valley and therefore the Palm Springs Unified School District. Moreover, the city and its high school are met with the challenges of increasing documented and undocumented immigrant populations, mostly from Mexico or elsewhere in Latin America, and transient populations, both struggling to assimilate into the community and the school system. I did not know any of this when I decided to become a teacher nine years ago and No Child Left Behind did not exist.
I was one of identical triplets born in August 1975 in Anchorage, Alaska; I later was diagnosed with cerebral palsy. I spent much of my youth unsure as to what career I might pursue. That is, until I walked into an educational foundations course at Northern Arizona University in the fall of 1999. I expected a mundane environment as I entered the auditorium filled with students, but then I heard Michael Jackson’s “Man in the Mirror” bellowing from the loudspeakers. I thought I had mistakenly entered a dance class as I glanced toward the auditorium’s stage, where I saw a middle-aged woman dancing wildly to the music. Though she lacked rhythm she had me and nearly a hundred other students awestruck by her enthusiasm. Holding a mirror high and repeating the song’s chorus of “Make that change!” her charisma lit up the room. Before I knew it, I and nearly all the other students were repeating, “Make that change!” The dancing woman’s message was that, as future teachers, we would change ourselves, change the lives of our students and by doing so change the world. She was Dr. Rhonda Beaman. On that day, I was first inspired to change the world as a teacher. I have continued to strive to do that ever since.
My experience at Desert Hot Springs High School has been a series of ups and downs. I am fortunate to work among the most dedicated and collaborative professionals in the entire school district. I have always been treated fairly and with the utmost respect by everyone in the school and throughout the community. I have been honored as “Teacher of the Year” for the Palm Springs Unified School District (2006-07) and a Golden Apple Award recipient, and I have been listed in Who’s Who Among America’s Teachers several times. Most rewarding of all, I have had the opportunity to touch the lives of thousands of teenagers and their family members throughout the community in my eight years as a teacher, and they have touched mine.
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