In spite of the scandal in the administration of Reading First uncovered in the Inspector General’s report and in spite of the alarming number of schools throughout the country being falsely labeled as failing schools, NCLB was not a major issue in the mid-term elections.
Now, however, we have an opportunity to begin a nation-wide campaign to make the public and our elected officials aware of the deeper scandals involved in NCLB and particularly Reading First. We have an opportunity to build awareness of the need for drastic change in the Elementary and Secondary Education Act to eliminate the punitive test driven changes of the NCLB law. ESEA needs to be returned to its original intention of supporting public education and making sure that it serves all American young people equally and fairly.
2007 is a key year. The first seven year cycle of NCLB ends and the law must be renewed by Congress for the following seven years. If NCLB continues as the law is currently written, by 2014 virtually every public school in the country will be labeled failing. That’s because the required AYP becomes increasingly unattainable. As currently written and enforced there are over 200 ways for a school or school district to fail.
Educators at all levels must take personal and collective actions to inform newly elected and reelected members of Congress of the need to save public education from NCLB.
District Administrators should invite newly elected and reelected Senators and Representatives to meet with them and to visit their schools so they can see first hand the damage being done by NCLB in its current punitive form. They should also invite the print and electronic media to these events.
We need to show them some of the things that NCLB has done to the students and teachers in their district and state.
Among the things they need to see:
- Experienced and highly qualified teachers forced out of the schools or required to send letters to parents informing them that their children are not being taught by qualified teachers because of the way NCLB defines qualification.
- Absurd reading tests and text programs teachers are forced to use against their professional judgement that are imposing a one size fits all approach on all pupils and hurting many of them.
- High levels of anxiety among pupils, particularly the younger ones, from stress caused by high stakes timed tests. Parents should be invited to share their children’s reactions to the pressures NCLB is putting on them.
- Low teacher morale which is driving many of the most dedicated teachers to leave teaching or take early retirement. Teachers should be invited to share their concerns for how NCLB constrains and limits their ability to serve their pupils as professionals.
- English learners and handicapped children forced to meet the same AYP criteria and take the same tests as all other children. If one group fails or 95% a group is not tested the whole school is labeled as failing.
- Limitations by NCLB on providing remedial help to students who need it within the district’s own resources while being forced to use Reading First money to contract with for profit companies who use unqualified and inexperienced staff.
- The impact of the NCLB policy requiring the district to transfer pupils from “ failing” schools resulting in overcrowding on some schools and heavy unfunded costs to the district. Parents should be asked why they have been reluctant to ask for their children to be transferred to schools outside their neighborhood.
We need to show our elected law makers that far from eliminating the gap between the middle-class and the disadvantaged pupils in our schools, NCLB is disproportionately hurting the disadvantaged pupils. They are defeated by unachievable goals and driven out of high schools when they reach the legal leaving age.
We need to show our elected law makers the costs to our schools not only in the inadequate funding of NCLB mandates but in impoverishing the curriculum and focusing our classrooms away from the pursuit of knowledge and toward a narrow focus on improving test scores.
This is the year we can save our schools and public education from the disaster that is NCLB.
Veteran educator Gary Stager, Ph.D. is co-author of Invent To Learn — Making, Tinkering, and Engineering in the Classroom, publisher at Constructing Modern Knowledge Press, and the founder of the Constructing Modern Knowledge summer institute. He led professional development in the world’s first 1:1 laptop schools thirty years ago and designed one of the oldest online graduate school programs. Gary is also the curator of The Seymour Papert archives at DailyPapert.com. Learn more about Gary here.