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No Child Left Behind Fails Us All
Posted on Oct 21, 2008
Sadly, however, the goal of changing the world as an educator has become increasingly unattainable as the metal vise of the NCLB machine and its iron-fisted standardized testing approach has begun to squeeze the life out of educators and the students we teach. Though I still do my best to smile in the classroom and bring students out of their adolescent shells, public education is being cruelly poisoned by NCLB. The only thing that seems to matter, from the state superintendent down to the district office and the school administration, are California Standardized Testing and Reporting data.
As a result of the federal government’s industrial approach to education, my school must improve test scores in every major core class—math, history, science, English—and at increasingly high rates. Additionally, every student subgroup—including white, Hispanic/Latino, African-American, Asian, socially/economically disadvantaged, English language learners, special education students—must meet these yearly growth targets regardless of the inherent obstacles. The tests must be taken by 95 percent or more of the students in each subgroup. If just one subgroup fails to meet the performance or test attendance standards of NCLB, the school is put into “program improvement.” Moreover, these growth targets must be met or exceeded for two consecutive years. Though my school, amazingly, met its growth targets last year, we are in program improvement for the fourth year. In fact, the entire district is in program improvement.
NCLB is not only impacting certain minority populations; unattainable goals of NCLB are cutting across distinctions in class and race as more and more schools are being labeled as “failing schools.” Finally, as many educators are aware, in just five years all students in all schools in every state in the nation must pass their standardized tests at a “proficient level.” That’s right; 100 percent of all students must be proficient by 2014. No Child Left Behind has not been adjusted in any way to fit the reality of education. I guess I should not only check my heart and soul at the classroom door but my sanity as well.
I am not suggesting we disregard the need for testing accountability, content standards and standards for the teaching profession. As in all professions and workplace environments, standards must be in place in the schools. I see nothing wrong with the California High School Exit Exam as a requirement for high school graduation. Students at the high school level (or perhaps even at the primary or middle school levels as well) should have to prove they are proficient in major subject areas to earn a diploma. However, expecting 100 percent of students to be “proficient” is much like setting a high-jump bar at four feet and mandating that every single student clear the bar. Not only would many students not clear the bar, they would not have been given coaches (teachers) who had the resources to adequately train them for the jump.
Square, Site wide
You can imagine how a disabled teacher like me sees the impossibility indicated by this high-jump metaphor. Now imagine what the learning-disabled or English language learner faces when taking standardized tests. If we continue down this business-approach road, treating students as products and teachers as robots, we will see the tragic collapse of it all. Education will fall flat in humiliating defeat. It is my wish that our next president, be it Barack Obama or John McCain, as well as our federal legislators—whether Republican or Democrat—heed my call and that of many of my peers to end No Child Left Behind. For once, let us put partisanship aside so we can address an issue as important as our economy and our entanglements overseas: education.
At the local level, we can do something even more important. Educators, administrators and parents can breathe life back into education. We can—and must—re-emphasize the joy of learning, the rewards of teamwork, the unique qualities of performance, animation, humor, role-playing, individual and group-based projects, and the overall life skills, relationships and memories that students and teachers are exposed to every day in a truly high-quality classroom within a school that cares. After all, students are still kids. They must have fun and they must want to learn in order to compete, collaborate and achieve beyond secondary and post-secondary education.
In my years as a professional educator, I have never been inspired by the numbers of standardized tests or NCLB. And I have never met a fellow teacher or former student who truly has been either. Teachers are remembered by students because of how we make them feel. We educators must be the teachers we always wanted to have. We must not let the media’s overemphasis on the “failure” of public education discourage us. I could not disagree with the media more. My school has not failed me. My community has not failed me. My students, most of all, have not failed me. Rather, No Child Left Behind has failed us all.
No matter, I still love teaching and I will never leave my inspiration behind. At the end of the day, students leave my class smiling because of a joke I have told. Or they are left sobered by the real-life experiences shared by other students in the classroom. Or they are changed by the indelible emotional experience of taking part in a three-day dramatic play on the Holocaust. This is proof to me that my students have been inspired and have grown stronger intellectually and emotionally because of that inspiration.
At year’s end when students are promoted beyond my class and visit me with the sentiment, “I miss your class, Mr. Sinor,” I realize that a relationship has been built that won’t soon fade. Further, as those students graduate, go on to college, get married and share stories of classroom inspiration with their own children, I realize that my dream is no longer just that; it is real, a certainty that I have made a difference in students that will last a lifetime.
I never want this dream to end.
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